The two connect readings for this marking period discussed how government funding for the arts, both in the United States and in Europe, is in the decline. As more countries try to cut government spending, they are finding they can reduce their budget for the arts. Cutting this funding takes money away from museums, grants for artists, and preserving important historical sites. In Italy, a decrease in funding for the arts has resulting in the historical city of Pompeii beginning to decay.
As shown in Italy, the problem with defunding the arts is that it both causes new work to stop being produced, but that it also causes older works of cultural importance to decay. Some museums have protested this lack of funding though protests where they do things like burn paintings, but to me that seems counterintuitive. How can you tell a government body that what they're doing threatens important pieces of art, and then demolish art pieces by sticking them into a fire? In my opinion, a more effective form of protest would be to cover up the pieces in a museum made/displayed as a result of government funding, so that people could see how large the effect of these budget cuts are.
While I concede that arts funding may not be as important as ensuring a country's citizens are all properly housed, clothed, fed, and cared for, there are many other things being massively prioritized over art's funding without cause. In America, a country were arts funding has been decreasing for many years on both a national and state level, our military budget continues to be astronomical. AS the first reading states, the U.S. government budgets $76.5 billion a year on defense, despite having an arts budget that is less than $200 million, which is just 15 cents per American citizen. Surely we could cut even half a billion from the military budget and use it to fund the growth and preservation of culture.
In March we went on a walking field trip to 1708 Gallery to visit an exhibition by artist Rudy Shepherd titled "We Are All Trayvon Martin," which invites the viewer to "consider the role of the artist as witness to contemporary society."
Both these texts discussed the decline of public art and the importance of maintaining public art. One thing that really stood out to me in these readings was the situation that arose when an organized group deemed artist William Cole's piece of public art offensive. When asked if they would have considered the art offensive if it had instead been private art, and "the response from a representative of the offended group went like this: I don't go to galleries and museums, so I never would have seen it." This emphasizes how public art exposes more people to art (especially contemporary art) and is able to start conversations among different groups of people. When art is confined into galleries and spaces designed for art, and people have to put in effort to view the art. Public art differs in that the general public can view it, even if they aren't part of the art world. That is a good thing.
I really like public art, and I think Richmond does a really good job of investing in public art pieces. The Richmond Mural Project, which has been mentioned a lot in our class this quarter, has really given the city a personality. My favorite mural is the one by the 7-Eleven on W Grace, which is titled "Moonshine" and depicts a woman in a jar of strawberries. Also, First Fridays, although not a piece of public art, does a great job of encouraging the public (and people who aren't usually a part of the art scene) to attend galleries and art shows. A piece of public art I also found fascinating was the Gramsci Monument we learned about in class, because it combined art with a community center. Instead of creating a piece of art the public could look at, Thomas Hirshhorn created an art piece that people could visit to connect with and learn about others in their community. Public art is important, and we should be spending more money on it, not less.
Social practice art can be hard to define. Sometimes the line between a work of art and activism isn't very distinct, and this leads to some critics of social practice art claiming that these aren't so much "art pieces" as they are political activism, community outreach, etc. However, over the past few years it has become a more accepted art practice, with colleges offering art students the option of having a focus in social practice art.
When discussing this genre of artwork, Creative Time's Thompson states, "It's not easy to talk about this work. You have to synthesize so many different things - the social aspects, what it does politically, as well as the cultural elements. It's really about thinking about process: Who does it connect? And how does it connect them? And what makes this a unique experience for those involved?" A good example of social practice art involving the community is Project Row Houses, located in Houston, which began through renovating shotgun houses in one of the city's oldest African American neighborhoods. PRH's website says that "Central to the vision of PRH is the social role of art as seen in neighborhood revitalization, historic preservation, community service, and youth education," showing that this installation combines their art piece with community participation, forging connections and providing a unique experience to the community. Now, PRH consists of over 45 properties, and serves as a hub of African American culture.
This reading begs the question: When can we call activism art? And when can we call art activism? As the two blend together in the genre of social practice art, is it merely the intention of the artist or activist that determines which of the two categories the final product falls into? Or could an activist inadvertently make a piece of social practice art without intending to.