In November 2014, the Arts Research Center hosted a ten day residency with acclaimed artist, community organizer, and 2014 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow Rick Lowe. During his time on campus, Lowe presented the 2014 Regents Lecture “Social and Community Engaged Work: The Genuine and the Artificial” and participated in the symposium “Public Art/Housing Publics: Conversations on Art and Social Justice”. He also engaged in class visits, studio critiques, and tours of innovative art and architectural projects with ARC’s partners throughout the Bay Area. We have asked participants to send their reflections on the issues that surfaced during Rick’s visit. The following is from Qiyao Ding, student in Sociology at UC Berkeley.
When I learned of the tour to International Boulevard, I was working on a paper about Eastmont, a declining neighborhood in East Oakland, and was impressed by the scarred history of the boulevard. It was an amazing experience to join the tour with Rick and see the artists’ efforts to turn the long-neglected community into a dynamic neighborhood.
The tour to International Boulevard and Rick’s lecture on Project Row Houses remind me of the power of social practice arts. Both projects celebrate the history and culture of the communities and make art a tool to transform social environment in respond to the needs of communities in various aspects. While the Project Row Houses applies the idea of building affordable and innovative housing to practice, Eastside Cultural Center makes opportunities for every ethnic group in the neighborhood to voice their opinions in dialogues. Both successful examples make me ponder the necessity of social practice when the attempt to explain the whole world with grand theories sometimes effaces the complex and charm of real world.
It is unwise to ignore the power of every individual community that makes the society possible after the discussions in class about the philosophy behind the function of society. Built on the belief that we could make use of arts and creativity of residents to revitalize a neighborhood, socially engaged forms of art make a good attempt to put art into practice. It reminds me of an experience back in China. Once a student society I was involved in tried to entertain the workers in campus by bringing students’ performance of art to their community. However, during the show, some workers volunteered to make impromptu performance for us students. They used metal bucket as a drum and sang the folk songs from their hometown. For those long-neglected individuals, what they need is not the sympathy in a manner of privilege, but the chance to sing their own songs.