As part of the ongoing campus initiative Global Urban Humanities: Engaging the Humanities and Environmental Design, the Arts Research Center co-sponsored the Reimagining the Urban: Bay Area Connections Across the Arts and Public Space on September 30, 2013. Participants have been asked to submit a blog post “on a keyword you see debated in the Bay Area arts, policy, and planning landscape.” This posting is by Kimberly Richards, a first year PhD student in Performance Studies at UC Berkeley.
The complexity of the discourses about the city, arts, and public spaces has prompted me to reflect upon the merits, necessities, and challenges of interdisciplinary work. In order to assess the strategies that are being employed in the Bay Area to navigate this difficult terrain, I traced the conference’s discussion around collaboration and recorded when the prefixes “inter,” “cross” and “trans” were used so as to reveal something about the nature of the “connections across the arts and public space.” This approach was, in part, inspired by the final line of the conference program, which asks, “what is the potential and what are the limits of cross-arts, cross-sector coalition-building … and what new skills and platforms are required to facilitate it?” This loaded question acknowledges that tensions can be high when we move across these boundaries; nevertheless, there remains a sense in which navigating these movements and discovering and inventing new strategies and modes of collaboration are, in fact, the preferable—if not the only—way in which to “reimagine the urban.”
Over the course of the day we heard from artists and academics, designers, and commissioners, civic activists and arts administrators, and several of these presentations were collaborative in form. We celebrated intersections of artists with communities, publics with spaces, and artistic performance in site-integrated places. We learned about the cross-pollination of audience experience within We Players’ performances and the geographic specificities of building crossroads in the Tenderloin district. I admired the transparent maps that showed the movements of the city’s transportation and the efforts to produce transparent agendas at 950 Center for Art and Education. Vocabulary that indicated movement across, between, and amongst artists, communities, and places saturated the discussion, revealing the essential need to work together, forge partnerships, and build bridges across different and multiple disciplines.
The benefits of collaboration were clearly articulated by Andy Wong and Deborah Cullinan, who shared their vision for 5M–an intersectional place designed to facilitate idea creation across traditional boundaries. Cullinan admitted that collaboration requires complex negotiation, but “If we are not going to see each other across boundaries, we’re not going to see solutions to the problems.”
Reimagining the urban is an intensely local project, and there are pragmatic and political justifications for building from the ground up, but if we really are all one ecosystem, and we’ve accepted that we need to work across boundaries, what collaborations might we seek beyond the legal boundaries of the bay? How can we translate and interpret good ideas in other urban centers to suit the needs in our community? Who are the interlocutors that can and should be mobilized, and what spaces do we need to create in order to facilitate these cross-cultural collaborations?