The Dialogue Table
A Hybrid Method of ActiveArt and Citizenship
Keywords:communitarian, ActiveArt, co-authorship, Dialogue Table, action research, radical pedagogy, participatory democracy
In the absence of a methodology or of an inherited practice, be it directly – from the local artistic environment, or indirectly – through written sources and scholarly literature (Artificial Hells by Claire Bishop was released around 2012) – the experience and practice of social art were the results of the encounter of a more or less fragmentary familiarity with art history with lived experience, at the moment of the start in 2006 within the Rahova-Uranus community art project. The attitude which had not yet become common currency in the local cultural context of those years was one opposed to the art institution(s), which occupied a too markedly elitist and exclusive zone and were insulated from society. It was our desire to identify with various vulnerable social categories which were subjected to a policy of exclusion, rather than to one based on communication, that would bring communities into dialogue. We had to create our own method of working together, the community, the artists, and the local authority, in a space of learning from each other skills and experiences which will inform a local practice for a cultural public policy and its servants. The theoretical landmarks originating in the history of art were, alongside direct experience, points of reference and support which could suggest a new practice of embracing cultural competency, professional training, and development in public service for the common good focused on this paradox of mediation at the center of modern political life.
In 2006, under the Generosity Offensive Initiative, four artists landed in the Rahova-Uranus neighborhood of Bucharest hoping to create a documentary about the people living there. The artists were “appropriated” by the so-called marginal people of the neighborhood and they continued to exist and work together for more than 7 years. The Initiative aimed to actively involve every citizen of the Rahova-Uranus community to register, expose and debate on their social issues. They had been left the worse for wear by the twentieth century and they only rarely fitted in with the lofty plans of the authorities. Neither did the present-day inhabitants conform to the ideal of wealthy citizens that the local authorities projected those days. As a result, the threat of mass evictions loomed over them. Only by talking, debating, and reaching these means of expression within the public debates can people actively take part in the process of self-representation and in the reforming of administrative and legal systems according to their everyday needs. As a grassroots model, together with the artists involved, Rahova-Uranus brought to conceive a future Romanian pattern of an active civil society. The idea behind it was that jointly determining the course of something ‘larger than oneself’ helped boost morale and helped the community to develop strategies to avoid being left empty-handed in confrontations with the local authority.
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