Tag Archives: activism

Germantown City Hall Opens!

Thursday saw the opening of Germantown City Hall, our collaboration with Jacob Wick and Information Department which is part of the 2013 Hidden City Festival.

In this project, we are transforming a long-shuttered building known as Germantown Town Hall into a multipurpose public space offering a performance and meeting area, a reading room/lending library, an office/copy center, and workshop room. Residents of Germantown will have free access to City Hall and are invited to schedule meetings, performances, and events in the building. It is our hope that the City Hall become, first and foremost, a civic space in which dialogues amongst and between the citizens of Germantown may occur.

As residents of Germantown, we are thrilled to be working on this project and making this space available to our neighbors. The people we have met over the last few months and the relationships we’ve created have been inspiring and humbling. And we look forward to meeting so many more folks during the next six weeks that the project is open.

To get involved, find out more, or share leads, please contact info@gtowncityhall.net or call us at 575-446-3676. Stop by Germantown City Hall and say hello. Visit the website and online calendar to learn more about the various events happening in the space or to schedule your own events.

22 Readings on Research, Activism, the Academy and Conduct: Think Tank Reader Vol. VI

22 Readings on Research, Activism, the Academy, and Conduct is Volume VI in the Think Tank’s reader series. Developed by Heath Schultz and Katie Hargrave in May 2010 for Open Engagement: Making Things, Making Things Better, Making Things Worse, the reader explores how to conduct research and deploy it in the world.

22 Readings on Research, Activism, the Academy and Conduct is part of an occasional series of educational readers by the Think Tank that has yet to be named. This reader was created as part of the conference Open Engagement: Making Things, Making Things Better, Making Things Worse.

In compiling this reader we are interested in what it means to research and how to implement that research in a socio-political context. How does one breech the barriers that render theoretical inquiry and expression useless? What is the role of the student? What is the role of the intellectual? What might the researcher look like or create if she exists outside the academy? How are we implicated in activist projects and communities? We are interested in thinking through what it means to embody research and produce affective action in its wake.

Download the reader → 22 Readings on Research, Activism, the Academy and Conduct

Publicly Held Private Meetings

During the first years of the Think Tank that has yet to be named, the Publicly Held Private Meeting was a format we often used to investigate with others pressing and localized issues within the space of the city. These conversations were performative, collaborative, and site-specific interventions organized according to the logic of the absurdist bureaucracy that once characterized the Think Tank.

What Happens When Governments Collapse?

What Happens When Governments Collapse? convened on September 9, 2009 in the courtyard of Philadelphia’s city hall to explore the possibility of government shut down in the midst of the global economic crisis. Participants included Jethro Heiko, Meredith Warner, Jeremy Beaudry, and Mike Seidenberg.

Scrutinizing the Cartography of Talent

Scrutinizing the Cartography of Talent convened on May 22, 2007 outside a lecture by Richard Florida, who first theorized and describe the Creative Class. It was a conversation about the utilization and marketing of the creative city and the artist as an economic savior. The conversation was initiated by Meredith Warner and included Jeremy Beaudry, Lena Helen, and Kenny Deprez.

So What is Metaphorical Agency Anyway?

So What is Metaphorical Agency Anyway? occurred on December 26, 2006 on the sidewalk in front of vacant riverfront site in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The conversation investigated the use of metaphor to narrate social movements and complex political problems. The conversation was initiated by Jethro Heiko and included Meredith Warner, Jeremy Beaudry, and Kenny Deprez.

How do we decide where “from” is?

How do we decide where “from” is? was held on August 20, 2006 in a moving train car of the Market-Frankford El in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The conversation was initiated by Jeremy Beaudry and included Lena Helen, Meredith Warner, and Sharif Pendleton.

On the Sidewalk with Lawn Chairs Looking Professional

On the Sidewalk with Lawn Chairs Looking Professional explored the role of artists in communities and their relationship to gentrification and economic development. It was held in the Kensington section of Philadelphia on July 11, 2006. The conversation was initiated by Lena Helen and included Jeremy Beaudry, Jethro Heiko, and Meredith Warner.

25 Texts on “Community” in Question: Conversations on art, activism, and community: Think Tank Reader Vol. IV

25 Texts on “Community” in Question: Conversations on Art, Activism, and Community was developed in April 2009 as Volume IV of the Think Tank's ongoing reader series as a way to explore the idea of community and the assumptions that inform this powerful concept. This reader was created by Katie Hargrave, Heath Schultz, Meredith Warner, Nick Jehlen, Jethro Heiko, and Jeremy Beaudry.

Volume IV in a series of occasional readers by the Think Tank that has yet to be named explores the idea of community and the many assumptions, ambiguities, and boundaries that inform this powerful and oft-cited trope found in contemporary urban society. We believe that to better understand how community is defined — that is, created, delineated, cohered, dissolved, complicated, contested, infiltrated, invaded, and generally transformed — will prove instructive for guiding our — artists’ and activists’ — capacity for collaborating with diverse groups of people in the struggles for social, spatial, and economic justice.

This reader accompanied the walking workshop “Community” in Question: Conversations and readings on art, activism, and community vis-à-vis the Green Line Expansion, which investigated the proposed public transportation expansion (MBTA Green Line) into Somerville-Medford and examined how residents respond to (both for and against) changes in transportation and how transportation affects their cities.

The reader is organized into the following sections: Theoretical discussions on Community, Learning from Activists/Organizers: How to participate in a community, [Common] Space, Artistic responses to Community, Building Communities.

Download the reader → 25 Texts on “Community” in Question: Conversations on art, activism, and community

As an appendix to the reader and to the “Community” in Question project, the Think Tank that has yet to be named also complied History & Resources on the MBTA Green Line Expansion. This is an incomplete but useful glimpse into the historical record regarding the Green Line and Red Line transit expansions in Boston.

Download the appendix → History & Resources on the MBTA Green Line Expansion

“Community” in Question: Conversations and readings on art, activism, and community vis-à-vis the Green Line Expansion

“Community” in Question: Conversations on art, activism, and community was a walking tour exploring the notion of community in early April 2009 for the conference entitled “Convergence: The Intersection of Arts and Activism” at Tufts University. Participants included Katie Hargrave, Heath Schultz, Meredith Warner, Nick Jehlen, Jethro Heiko, and Jeremy Beaudry.

This multi-layered project was presented as part of a conference entitled “Convergence: The Intersection of Arts and Activism” at Tufts University in early April 2009. Co-sponsored by the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service and Massachusetts Campus Compact, the conference gathered together artists, activists, and educators interested in social justice and the arts.

The walking tour and conversations investigated the proposed public transportation expansion (MBTA Green Line) into Somerville-Medford and examine how residents respond to (both for and against) changes in transportation. Leaving from the Tufts University campus, our walking and talking followed a portion of the proposed route of the Green Line expansion, visited 2 proposed T stop locations, and then culminated at Davis Square Red Line T stop.

This project proposed to explore the idea of community and the many assumptions, ambiguities, and boundaries that inform this powerful and oft-cited trope. Our project involved two convergent courses of research with respect to community — one general and one topical. Generally, we addressed the nominal subject of the conference: the relationship between art and activism. Topically, we undertook a case study local to Somerville-Medford: the relationship between gentrification and the expansion of Boston’s public transit system.

Turning to the specific and the local, the problems of defining community became very apparent when we considered the proposed expansion of the MBTA Green Line into Somerville and Medford. The expansion, with stops in Union and Ball Squares, proposed to effect the areas immediately surrounding Tufts University, much like the 1980s expansion of the Red Line into Davis Square. By looking into the historical record and colloquial memory surrounding the Davis Square extension, we revealed a precedent for questioning the effects of the newly proposed transit expansion.

The character of Davis Square is said to have changed quite a bit since the completion of the Red Line station in 1984. More money and business came to the Square, more public art and new infrastructure; but with this also came increasing rents that, when coupled with the loss of rent control and other public housing assistance, ultimately displaced lower income residents away from the new station. This indicated a tension between the desire for more public transportation with the potential gentrifying consequences of such public transportation expansion– especially those expansions that connect high-end urban centers with outlying neighborhoods. We hoped to examine how residents respond to (both for and against) changes in transportation and how transportation effects their cities and neighborhoods in order to further investigate key questions about the nature of community.

The tools and tactics used to execute these overlapping analyses of community were: creating an educational reader on community, organizing PHPM’s within Somerville-Medford involving key stakeholders of the MBTA expansion, and facilitating a workshop within the Convergence conference that created a dialogue in order to frame a critical conversation with conference participants about the notion of community and how artists (and activists) engage productively in the communities.

Download the reader → 25 Texts on “Community” in Question: Conversations on art, activism, and community

Download the appendix → History & Resources on the MBTA Green Line Expansion

Radical Orations on Art, Activism & Education

Radical Orations on Art, Activism, and Education was developed in April 2008 following an online conversation about our experiences as artists, activists, and educators. Participants included Heath Schultz, Meredith Warner, Jeremy Beaudry, and Katie Hargrave.

As part of an ongoing conversation on art, activism, and education, we present documentation of radical educational texts broadcast throughout Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago in the style of public orations. The orations are sited in the location of each individual participant, documented, combined, and distributed in this pamphletRadical Orations on Art, Activism & Education was publicly presented by the Bureau of Open Culture in its Agency for Small Claims series of exhibitions during August and September of 2009.

The live interventions draw on the history of the street corner soapbox as a form of sited, distributable education. The documentation presented here intends to combine the temporal, performative, educational, and site-specific nature of the project into a (re)distributable form. In particular, the remixing of the audio documentation is an assemblage of the orations in content and context. This editing down attempts to create connections between both the content of the radical educational texts and the ambient aural experience of the three distinct urban locations where the oration occurred.

Also important here is the prelude conversation that led us to this experimental project. This ongoing conversation is as important as this project. As you will see from our conversation, we believe our learning process is integral in a continual praxis dedicated to emancipatory education, critical discourse, and strategies for resistance.

Download the accompanying reader → 23 Readings on Art, Activism & Education

Radical Oration of Public Education (DICP)

Radical Oration 01: Henry Giroux, “When Hope is Subversive” (DIM)

radical oration pt 1 – paulo freire (DITE)

Radical Oration 01: Pauo Freire “Pedagogy of Freedom” (DIF)

23 Readings on Art, Activism & Education: Think Tank Reader Vol. III

23 Readings on Art, Activism and Education was developed as Volume III of the Think Tank's reader series in April 2008. It was created in conjuction with the Radical Orations project as a way to further explore the spaces between art, activism, and education. This reader was created by Heath Schultz, Meredith Warner, Jeremy Beaudry, and Katie Hargrave.

This reader was created in conjunction with Radical Orations on Art, Activism & Education, and established a baseline of research interrogating the relationship between art, activism, and education according to contemporary and historical perspectives. As important was an initial email exchange which set the terms of the reader and the subsequent Radical Orations project. This preliminary conversation gives some insight into a collective learning process that is dedicated to emancipatory education, critical discourse, and strategies for resistance. This project was publicly presented by the Bureau of Open Culture in its Agency for Small Claims series of exhibitions during August and September of 2009.

Download the reader → 23 Readings on Art, Activism & Education

A Conversation on Art, Activism, and Education

The following email exchange is a conversation between Meredith Warner, Jeremy Beaudry, and Heath Schultz from November 2007. The subject matter covered art, activism, and education, and many of the ideas that informed the genesis of the Think Tank were presented. The exchange also served as important preliminary thinking for both Volume III of the Think Tank's reader series as well as the Radical Orations project.

November 2, 2007

Jeremy + Meredith,

I just finished reading this book on Anachist motivated education called “The Modern School Movement: Anarchism and Education in the US” by Paul Avrich. I was talking to Aaron about it and how it was pretty rad and he mentioned that you guys were also really interested in some of the same ideas (alternative education, “freedom schools”, etc). I often think about how art + education + activism can be merged together, but haven’t really found others having that conversation. It seems there are many talking about art and activism, and often times using methods that might be similar to those of educators, but previous to the pedagogical factory i’ve never heard them talked about in the same breath. It certainly seems to be becoming more hip, more and more I hear of artists citing freire, but I’m yet to really find someone who is attempting to articulate how we can use all three effectively as one.

I suspect by your practice and work with the Think Tank you think about art/activisms relationship to education (and I don’t necessarily mean “art education”). More and more I’ve been thinking about these types of practices that attempt to implement some kind of educational tactics as a way of communicating. I don’t know if I have specific questions about these types of practices (I guess I’m referring to work that was included in the pedagogical factory and other similar practices), but I wonder what your thoughts our about attempting to cram together art/activism/eduation all into one? Is the collective/think tank model a way of educating ourselves so that we might move forward, or shake the foundation of three fields? and how is that related to more traditional forms of education? I’m probably revealing my ignorance on the subject, but I guess that’s why I’m writing. I feel that this is an important discourse and I’d like to know what you guys think, or if you have any suggestions about where the a more complicated conversation may be happening. So far I’ve been reading stuff from all three angles, and they often seem to overlap, but never quite merge completely. Hopefully this isn’t too far out of left field.

Hope all is well with both of you! Look forward to hearing from you soon!


* * *

Hey Heath,
Good to hear from you. Yes, Jeremy and I have been considering the conflux of art, activism and education for some time — though we are far from coming to any kind of a conclusion. I have attached a link for a writing that [DIM] and I produced a few weeks ago for a listserv called Empyre — http://www.wearethethinktank.org/wp/2007/10/critical-spatial-practice-view. The list tends to be dominated by those who are densely theoretical, and few who practice — which seems common in these spheres. Regardless, after a month long web discussion about “critical spatial practice” KH asked DIM and I to contribute. We set out to talk about our experiences in Philly as artists and activists and the occasional convergence of the two. I think for a long time we had been also thinking about how to meld these two disparate practices. What came clear to us through the writing was a suggestion that perhaps this fusion was not necessary, but that our practices as artists and activists were two parallel practices that served to inform one another — as a way of grounding them, invigorating them and looking critically at them. And I think that is how we envision our Directorships within the think tank.

As far as the educational aspect, we are both very committed to teaching. I think we have both really thought of our educational practice as complimentary, and necessary to our work as artists. So again, everything intertwines and informs. Academia is the prize — the coveted tenure track job — right? But is there an educational model that lives outside of the institution? What we have not talked specifically about is what an alternative model would look like — internet based, free, socially engaged– or rather is it the creation of a model of self-education? With the readers, with pedagogical factory — I think we were thinking about how to make pointed, condensed, specific information available to people — perhaps even in a way that is instructional. Not to say that the reader is a “How to,” but that they provide a broad base of theory about the subject so that one might find themselves informed as they enter into their own artist/activist practices. They are kind of like free, hyper-specific text books. In fact, I was hoping to get started on volume three soon — perhaps it should be about alternative educational systems, art and activism? And perhaps you would like to help compile the texts, especially since it seems you are already doing that? Of course, you would have to declare your Directorship!

This week at Artivistic, I think I certainly saw more people whose work fell somewhere in between art and activism — but one of those distinct practices always seemed to dominate in the work. So I guess at this point I wonder if they can or should meld. When I think about the convergence of the three, adding activism, I think about how we could use an educational model to distribute the idea of the parallel practice. That a creative practice informs and activist practice, and an activist practice informs a creative practice. For me, this has been the more successful model so far. But I still have a hard time envisioning a form, a container for this whole thing… what ever it is?

This is all very much on the surface for me right now– and I thank you for giving me a reason to write some of it down. I have a suggestion: Perhaps we begin to gather and share text on delicious under the tag “reader3″ pertaining to alternative models of education (actually, I started this a few weeks ago under the tag Ed_Model, if you want to have a look). Non-internet texts can be scanned and distributed in PDF form. Interested?

How about you Jeremy?


* * *

November 4, 2007


thanks for responding. I found many of the things you said to be helpful, and if nothing else I’m always interested in how others view these problems. You’re e-mail made me think of a few things, many of which I was probably already sort of thinking about.

I wonder about the sort of default “alternative education” practice which is the free school or freedom school, or simple group of people meeting outside of the institution. While I’m totally supportive (I’m certainly not making a case that many of these programs don’t teach essential critical thought, that I imagine is difficult with NCLB, and state mandated textbooks, etc. etc.) and find these type of projects really exciting — I wonder if their effectiveness is all that it could be if a more creative approach was implemented. I guess in some ways I’m making the same critique of alternative education that I am of art or activism, which is that I think we could use a totally new, progressive, and creative form to push the field in a new direction and shake it up — this is sort of the case that Duncombe made in DREAM, though it was more entangled with “spectacle” and politics, but I suppose that isn’t too far off here… I’m also interested in broadening how we think about education. I think the pedagogical factory did this, and I think the way you talk about the TT is more in line with what I sort of imagine a possible alternative art/education/activism looking like.

Obviously I’ve also been thinking about whether or not these practices can or should be merged — you mentioned they were parallel and informative to one another. This I certainly agree with, and I don’t think it is a counter-productive model by any means. Perhaps I’m hesitant to let go of the idea that it is one of the goals to successfully merge the 2 or 3 disciplines because we, or at least I, simply like them so maybe I think just desire to see them collapse into one, and this obviously doesn’t mean its necessarily a good idea — maybe it is naive, problematic, or just not that helpful. But one big question does come up for me — if we could imagine a container or forum for this practice, that we have yet to really define, but one that successfully merges 3 disciplines while simultaneously creating something new, are we also destabilizing and invigorating all three practices in a helpful way? Are we providing a new, more beneficial model for art / activism / and education to be implemented in ways that are right now unimagined but ultimately would free up all three practices and perhaps liberate them (at least a little bit) from the institution? — And this is not meant as an attack on academia, but (obviously) if we could loosen the stranglehold that institutions have on all three disciplines it would be helpful for those who do not have access to them, although maybe that is a bigger problem that isn’t the point here. Hopefully that thought / question makes sense.

I’d love to help compile some text for a reader one alternative ed. models! You’re right, I’m sort of already compiling some of these texts, but it’ll be good to take it a little bit more seriously now. I’ll start to pay a little more attention to some of these texts I come across and share them with you guys, and I’ll try and scan in a few things I’ve read recently that sort of energized these questions for me. I also noticed you tagged a bunch of freire books on goodreads, and I wanted to make sure you knew about this other book. It’s a book compiled of conversations between paulo freire and miles horton (the guy who started freedom school in Appalachia during the civil rights movement) appropriately titled “We make the road by walking”. I probably should take another look at it, I read it a few months ago and remember that they attempted to answer some of these questions also. Thanks again for responding, I’m excited by this conversation and look forward to continuing it with you guys!


http://www.highlandercenter.org/a-history2.asp (miles horton’s school)
http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/804_reg.html (we make the road by walking)

* * *

I think your observation of the need to look critically at forms of “alternative” education is key. What kept repeating in my head at Artivistic was– these projects are excellent, but who has access to them? If academics are the only audience, what exactly are the projects doing in the world? My response to many of the projects at Artivistic, which I often thought were really thoughtful, critically significant and politically relevant was — if they only ever live here then they are impotent. They are selfishly created for an audience who already has privileged access to this information (everyone nodes their head in unison.) Ultimately, I think these artists are interested in a broader form of distribution — but perhaps there is no forum for that. Artivistic tried to be that forum, but failed by leaning too far toward academia. (and it is ok — attack academia… it really needs to be attacked!) For me, the problem is always — who has access to this education? I am reminded of Jeremy’s proposal for the “Office of Everyday Resistance”…

“if we could imagine a container or forum for this practice, that we have yet to really define, but one that successfully merges 3 disciplines while simultaneously creating something new, are we also destabilizing and invigorating all three practices in a helpful way?”

What happens in the think tank is that we try to ascribe form to a particular practice — which is what I think you seem to be interested in doing. An Example: having a dialogue about a site of contention, at the very site of contention, is a form that the Directors call a publicly held private meeting (PHPM.) What you are talking about in the quote above, nearly precisely, is what we Directors recently determined was the “space in between” (this was central to my presentation at artivistic.) Like the name, “the think tank that has yet to be named,” we have assigned the intersection of parallel practices with a name that is maliable for the user, or Director. The space in between, in our experience, has provided a location where these practices meet, but do not congeal into anything solid. And the reason for why we have chosen to create maliable, almost liquid forms, is to avoid co-optation, branding or consumption. It is to borrow from Bey, from the temporary autonomous zone. The Directors attempt to create distributable, usable forms that negate co-optation by the institution. The danger for instance: Collaborative practices, now all the rage, have only recently found their way into larger, economically driven institutions. What will happen to the practice of collaboration, a practice that was born out of the want to negate consumption, when it is made a commodity? (I am making some sweeping generalizations here, as you will learn I often do, but i think you know what I mean.) Directors attempt to create forms that make space in the world, forms that others can understand and borrow, forms that are there, then gone.

The space in between the directors is the think tank. The space in between our parallel practices (art, activism, education) is the un-named, unbranded site of convergence — another space in between. As a Director (which you have yet to self-appoint), you have the autonomy to name that form if you choose — or to use the form by creating space for the form with out naming it.

Jim Duignan from Ped Factory gave us a copy of “We make the road by walking” but I have yet to read it. I am dumping a ton of text onto goodreads as a way to begin research…

* * *

So, what is education? And, what is education for?

I recently brought out a graduate thesis written by my grad school colleague, Hillary Procknow, who was trying to plot an alternative ethics for education (at the time, it was applied to architectural education, but really only superficially). She and I shared a mentor (Steve Ross) who brought us along the critical theory / Hakim Bey route towards an understanding of critical consciousness. Her writing starts out with an account and critique of the scientific revolution, then moves through critical theory / dialectical thought (Marx and Hegel), and on into “critical pedagogy”; finally, ending with something called the “ethics of the self” as new tactic in education. I need to revisit the writing more closely, but her work lives in the same area where we are thinking about this stuff. I’m going to contact her and see what she’s up to, ask her for any updated texts and references, maybe engage her in some of this dialogue.

Here’s an excerpt: “We then moved to this category we call ‘education,’ in which we realized that there are always politics involved; those things that we take for granted as being the constitution of education do in fact convey, perpetuate and reinforce certain ideals that are valued for whatever reason by the dominant culture. This, of course, would be true even in a ‘transformed’ or critical classroom; but the critical classroom might admit this to itself. […] To give up the pretense of knowing in the classroom is to recognize that there is a responsibility in helping students develop their individual critical consciousness which cannot be ascertained before hand and which also requires the educator to be willing to acknowledge the different sorts of knowledge that will come to the surface in the classroom.”

I think Hillary’s research probably was primarily focused on traditional educational structures (ie. the “classroom”), but at the time she was probably invested in working within institutions (not sure what she’s up to these days, though). Where art/activism/education intersect suggests to me a productive, critical, exciting way around of this — much like many of the alternative schools are trying.

“I suspect by your practice and work with the Think Tank you think about art/activisms relationship to education (and I don’t necessarily mean “art education”). More and more I’ve been thinking about these types of practices that attempt to implement some kind of educational tactics as a way of communicating.”

Maybe I hadn’t considered before your e-mail. But the TT might be entirely about educational tactics. I think we want to affect change, we want to empower people, we want to reveal their latent powers of agency, their individual critical consciousness. And not by telling them in some sort of patriarchal approach, but rather through a dialogical project in which we are all changed together.

Yes, let’s get a reader going! Yes, let’s start planning an art/activism/education summit in Philadelphia for this summer!


ps. What do you guys think about publishing this great conversation in the TT web site?

* * *

Jeremy + Meredith,

You’re absolutely right, what I’m describing is the “space between” I feel like somewhere in this space there is room for us to really create exciting, important work. Perhaps my struggle with these ideas so far is that I’ve been desperately trying to grab hold of something solid, or some language and hasn’t quite been established yet. This seems contradictory to what you’re saying, which is that there isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a language to these practices so that they can avoid co-option. I totally agree with this idea, and I love the way you talk about the TT as providing opportunities for the spaces to be dived into, while constantly moving in different directions simultaneously. Maybe my problem is that in trying to articulate what this form might look like, I’m too caught up in searching for a pre-established discourse or rhetoric that doesn’t exist, and maybe we don’t want it to. Perhaps we should focus on articulating not what this container might look like (though I can’t help but be excited by it) but instead what practices and activities can we partake in to find ourselves more frequently arriving in those (in-between) spaces.

I’ve also been thinking of a few other instances where an ‘alternative’ approach was taken to education. Red76′s project the “laundry lecture series” comes to mind (http://www.red76.com/salem.html ). These seems like a good example of what a “guerrilla” or “tactical” educator might do. I’m not really sure quite how to talk about it yet… though it gets me excited about concrete moments when these things converge. I suppose it’s possible that the idea cold be pushed further — the laundry lecture series still follow a certain protocol of educational structure — a lecture, a Q&A, etc… What would happen if this type of informal exchange became commonplace — what if every morning on the train a group of commuters recited poetry? or what if we made zines with excerpts of society of the spectacle and passed them out in times square? I wonder what you guys think of this type of project(s)…??

The more I think about it, it seems the moments when these things converge are these moments of educational tactics — so perhaps an appropriate directorship would be of tactical education. What do you think? does Dept. for the Investigation of Tactical Education (DITE) have a nice ring to it?

I’m excited to dive into some of these readings, and a summit on these topics would be very exciting! and I agree Jeremy that this is a great conversation, I think others would get something out of reading it on the TT site. look forward to hearing more!


Critical Spatial Practice (a view from Philadelphia)

In October of 2007 Jeremy Beaudry and Meredith Warner wrote the following report in order to interrogate the notion of critical spatial practice as it pertains to Philadelphia and the work of the Think Tank that has yet to be named, as well as other activist work being done in the city.

Many thanks to Markus [Miessen] and Teddy [Cruz] for their incisive posts (see this and this), for shifting this month’s conversation into more solid territory. In particular, we’ve found Teddy’s [Cruz] language to be incredibly productive in thinking about our practices as artists and activists. We’d like to contribute some very concrete examples of “critical spatial practice” which have everything to with everyday, sustained practices of citizen-activists/-artists working against violent instantiations of spatial politics on several fronts via a broad range of tactics. And this work is critical because 1) it is absolutely vital in how we make the world we want to live in and 2) it questions, challenges, negates the status quo. Also, appreciating Teddy’s work (and other’s on this list, no doubt) with border politics and the tenuous status of migratory peoples, we don’t mean to privilege “citizen” here in terms of any legal standing, but rather use it to describe invested, engaged residents of the demos, however that body comes together in common, structured spaces — er, cities.

Let’s get local, shall we? The complexities of Philadelphia’s dysfunction and pathology is a history too lengthy to relate here. It is structural, cultural, institutional, and it permeates the highest offices of civic government down to the families on our block. This pathology is chiefly characterized by a patronage style of governance whereby a small (like, really small) oligarchy of elected officials, union bosses, and heads of quasi-governmental development corporations summarily implement their own agendas to the complete exclusion of any meaningful public participation. (For example, witness the Penn’s Landing Corporation which owns a large chunk of Philly’s central riverfront property. It’s funded by taxpayers, yet decides in its secret board meetings how public land is to be developed.) The polis is repeatedly divided and pitted against itself in competition for the favors of this powerful elite. Consensus is systematically undercut, or falsely represented. There is also a strong sense of identification between Philadelphians as victims with their victimizers, resulting in an unhealthy deference to authority. Agency is an attribute unfamiliar to many of our fellow citizens. Repeatedly we see those in the citizenry who have power or the capacity to build power fail to use it or recognize it.

In the last few years, the problems inherent in the political climate just described have really come to a head around issues of large-scale urban land development, particularly along Philadelphia’s central Delaware Riverfront, which contains immense parcels of post-industrial land that has sat vacant for the previous 2-3 decades. It’s the familiar story of the post-industrial city re-branding itself as the new mecca of the leisure / creative class and all the expected accoutrements: condo towers, grand destination tourist attractions, instrumentalized arts and culture entertaiments, quaint beautification, escalated gentrification… it’s the neoliberal city and it’s magnificent! It goes without saying that this is all to the enrichment of the aforementioned cabal and to the exclusion of most Philadelphians. The disenfranchisement of citizens from any legitimate process that might ennoble self-determination has recently been exemplified by Pennsylvania’s recent foray into legalized, state-sanctioned (and subsidized) gambling on a scale and speed that is really unprecedented (eg. two 5,000 machine slots parlor casinos planned for the riverfront adjacent to residential neighborhoods). The fix has been in all along — from the passage of the gambling legislation in the middle of the night on July 4th weekend in 2004 to repeated state supreme court decisions that uphold gambling interests to the cozy alliances between elected officials, casino developers, and so-called regulators who stand to make billions.

What a gift we’ve been given! (And we’re only being partly facetious.) This casino clusterfuck has in fact mobilized hundreds across the city and served as a first trial by fire for many who had maybe not been paying attention nor ever considered themselves as activists. What started as small clusters of neighbors self-organizing in living rooms and barrooms in their respective communities to oppose this unsanctioned development on the riverfront evolved into city-wide networks of community activists and also expanded to embrace other development-related issues like eminent domain, gentrification and displacement, zoning code reform, accessible public lands, environmental protections and remediation, and open and transparent governance. The reckless process that ushered in these planned casinos is symptomatic of Philadelphia’s (and Pennsylvania’s) deep structural corruption. And more than that: it is symptomatic of the fractures that follow from neoliberal policies that our civic institutions have normalized.

It is this structural corruption, these egregious acts that together we meet head-on. And there is no doubt in our mind, or in the minds on our collaborators, that this is a battle. As Markus describes, “In war, enemy and adversary usually hold territory, which they can gain or lose, while each has a spokesman or authority that can govern, submit or collapse.” This is certainly the space we find ourselves operating in. We bind ourselves to this language of war because the acts taken by the state to determine our future are, by their nature, violent. It is structural violence, implemented by the state, to slowly strip the rights of the people to participate freely in a decision-making process about their environment and futures.

Returning to Kevin’s [Hamilton] question: “But are the military metaphors for our response really necessary, and how do they function here?” Yes, they are necessary — because of the very violent nature of conflict itself. War is conflict, and through conflict within the context of participation, change occurs. Ultimately Markus [Miessen] specifically clarifies what participation looks like by referring to it as “conflictual participation,” which is more descriptive of the kind of participation that we have experienced as activists in Philadelphia, and that we believe produces change. Linking these words “conflict” and “participation” seems obvious to us because without conflict, particiaption is rendered impotent. To quote Markus [Miessen] again, “When humans assemble, spatial conflicts arise.” In our experience, the absence of conflict within the forum of participation is a warning that participation is not actually occurring at all. Red flags go up!

When we insert ourselves into a space of conflict, we often think about thick and thin experiences of participation, or even the very notion of participatory democracy (thinking here of how that is defined in the Port Huron Statement). In our experience, thick participation occurs within smaller, more organically formed settings that have yet to coalesce into institutions. In these settings, there is usually no funding, no major backer, no particular political support — not to mention, these organizations are usually run by an all volunteer force that is very localized. Any romantic notion of cooperation (collaboration that happens with ease) is quickly dispelled by the level of conflict within the group. Thick participation is much like “conflictual participation”: it is mired in conflict; it is a slow, dirty trek through a thick slough with boots on that keep getting stuck. Although compromises and resolutions are part of the process, we have yet to see thick participation within a particular conflict come to a definitive end; it is either just that slow, or we have not been around long enough to experience it. What we are more inclined to believe is, rather, that thick participation does not end. It is a continual process that may require considerable entrenchment and longevity.

Conversely, settings for thin participation are organized by large, powerful institutions like cities, universities, large non-profits, and mainstream media outlets. These forums are generally marked by narrowly framed problems, convoluted processes for citizen involvement, pre-established controls which to limit the outcome of the participation, and the careful crafting of outcomes that ultimately benefits the institutions. Conveniently for you, busy Citizen, you need only show up on the appointed time, where we will feed you pizza and let you pick between choice A and choice B. Neither will you really find acceptable, but that is the price you pay for convenience! Thin participation is fast; your involvement in it is scant and has a defined end after which the institution “takes the reigns” so you can get back to your busy life. Thin participation is simply the veil of participatory democracy, a way for institutions to create forums for public input that ultimately legitimize projects whose outcomes have already been determined. In our experience in Philadelphia with organizing and advocating for citizen input and control in the development of the riverfront and in our neighborhoods, those in power that would do as they please rely in large part on tacit consent of citizens. (Well, to over simplify, democratic governments in general rely on tacit consent.) That is why thin participation is so insidious: via sham processes of participation, tacit consent is codified and reinscribed as explicit consent, the collective will of the people.

Our concern here is to develop some workable understanding of “critical spatial practice” from a purposefully contextualized perspective. Significantly, as we engaged in activist work, our work as artists changed too. The walls we had maintained around the citadel of Art were useless, even harmful, certainly false, and only enabling a scenario that Christiane accurately bemoans: “One could easily consider that the role of the artist has now melded with that of the court jester in our privatized realms.” (Stallabrass’ “Art Incorporated” has been helpful to us in this regard as well.) So a handful of us who are artists and had cut our teeth together “in the trenches” of this activist work in Philly formed a collaborative group called the Think Tank that has yet to be named because we understand firsthand the experience of “conflictual participation” that is essential to participatory democracy and working for change. But we also believe (selfishly?) that the language(s) of art has the power to open up spaces for meaningful discourse, critical consciousness, (dare I say it?) redemption, and perhaps even Kevin’s [Hamilton] “ethics of plenitude.”

The Think Tank formed around the recognition of a single phenomenon that we see present in each of the organizations or institutions we work in as activists: the presence of the “neutral” voice. The neutral voice is the voice of one who assumes some position of power in a group (usually the “benign” mediator/facilitator), but refuses to lead, or acknowledge his power. The neutral voice plays both sides of the field as it suits his own purpose, which is to remain a central figure in the process. The neutral voice often impedes upon any progress that might be made because the neutral voice avoids conflict. But the neutral voice is never neutral; he promotes his agenda through a series of indiscernible nudges rather than through outright leadership. In the participatory processes we are involved with this neutral voice is omnipresent.

This epidemic of neutrality informed the way in which the Think Tank organized itself. Each member (a word we use cautiously, though have no replacement for) self-appoints his own distinct Directorship. A Director’s title exposes biases, revealing the Director’s position in the context of an investigation. So we immediately declared our own respective agendas and made it a prerequisite of participation that any other self-appointed Directors do so as well.

One of the forms we created was the Publicly Held Private Meeting (PHPM). These are performative and collaborative site-specific interventions, and a format that we have used frequently in our investigations of contemporary urban issues in Philadelphia. Living, working, and organizing in Philadelphia, we rely on an intimate knowledge of the city in order to initiate and faciliate these dialogical projects. This knowledge is often gained over time through research, observation, and by virtue of simply sharing and negotiating space with others.

In these investigations we are also careful to implicate ourselves as artists, if necessary. For example: the current Directors all live in or around a gentrifying neighborhood in Philadelphia called Fishtown. In addition to the claimed “organic” process whereby artists are “pioneers” in the process of gentrification, there is also a formal mandate by the City of Philadelphia to transform the neighborhood of Fishtown into an “arts corridor.” So whether we came here because it was affordable, or because there were other artists we knew here, does not matter. We are implicated in the process, and it is certain that our presence will be used by the city to further its project (here we are back at the neoliberal city). So the investigation that occurs during a PHPM is understood through the exposure of each Director’s agenda via their title, but also through the implication of our presence in this neighborhood as both newcomers and artists. Teddy [Cruz] writes, “Since when are we all not implicated in the power structure?” The Directors understand this question and use self-exposure as an attempt not to diffuse power but to acknowledge and make visible the power and privilege we each wield and benefit from.

As activists, Teddy’s [Cruz] conception of “critical proximity” describes our point of entry into situations and institutions where we engage directly with “conflictual participation,” where we challenge power head on, where we expose the “power inscribed on the territory.” But this notion of “critical proximity” is also employed in our art practice, via our Directorships, to dissect the structure of power and the ways in which institutions manage space and populations. By examining spatial issues in a PHPM, at the site of contention, via a model of self-exposure, we hope to generate constructive dialogue that might bring to light new forms of action. But we also hope that our physical occupation of a site, and our engagements with those on or near the site, might create a spatial and psychic tear that exposes the very structures that orchestrate spatial injustice. Occupying the space in between our art and activist practices, we have found these onsite conversations, the PHPM, instrumental in reciprocally illuminating the strengths and weaknesses of each practice taken on its own. Perhaps, ultimately, art and activist practices need not be fully integrated, but exist, too, in “critical proximity” to one another so that we might create “counter procedures that can generate new models of possibility.”


Jeremy Beaudry and Meredith Warner

The above post was written as a contribution to a “critical spatial practices” discussion
thread on the -empyre- listserv in September 2007. The text was later edited and appended with a postscript for inclusion in the catalogue for “…in a most dangerous manner”, an exhibition curated for SPACES by Sarah Ross and Steven Lam in early 2010. This edited version can be downloaded here.

31 Readings on Art, Activism & Participation (in the Month of January): Think Tank Reader Vol. I

31 Readings on Art, Activism & Participation was developed as the first volume of the Think Tank's reader series in January of 2007. The texts compiled discuss issues of activism and participation in contemporary art practices. It was compiled by Meredith Warner and Jeremy Beaudry.

This reader compiles several texts which discuss issues of activism and participation in contemporary art practices. As artists and activists, these issues are important to our understanding and development of our art practices vis-a-vis our involvement in the communities we live in. As the inaugural edition of the Think Tank’s reader series, we read an article a day during the month of January, organically making our way from one text to the next in an investigation of why we do what we do.

We created this first reader as a resource for others who are interested in exploring these issues. We participate in the Academy, both as students and educators, and we have some nagging questions: What is the state of (art) education today? How much does a college education cost? Who has access to it? Who doesn’t? Who controls it? What is being taught? How do the economic models that institutions rely on affect affect students, teachers, and critical inquiry in general? How are conventional pedagogical models beholden to notions of “careerism,” “expertise,” and “specialization?” How is a college degree really valued?

Download the reader → 31 Readings on Art, Activism & Participation


A poster of notable excerpts from each of the 31 readings is also available.

Download the poster Highlights from 31 Readings on Art, Activism & Participation