ART/CITY: Shannon Jackson

The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the symposium “ART/CITY” on March 16, 2012. Participants have been invited to respond to the prompt “in relation to the arts and civic life, the question I am wrestling with right now is…” in advance of the event. This posting is by Shannon Jackson, Director of ARC. 
Reading the blogposts of ART/CITY’s incredible interlocutors, I am struck both by the investment in broadly resonant macro-issues about the conjoined future of the arts and cities and by participants’ willingness to share highly local stories of the puzzles that they are encountering at their own institutions.  Whether we are talking about Dallas or Philadelphia, UC-Berkeley or UC-Riverside, about a museum or about a community center, these posts reflect the thinking of a broad coalition of citizens, people whose conversation will be important because of the different sectors that they occupy.  We seem to share many similar values, but our approach and response to questions of cultural sustainability will differ depending upon whether we are museum directors or city planners, visual artists or theatre artists, in small organizations or large ones, whether we are Conceptual artists, community organizers, social workers, teachers, parents, and more.
While I am tempted to move into the abstract issues that drive research in the urban arts field, I will say that the question that is truly preoccupying me most right now is how the Arts Research Center can enable public deliberation about the issues that we hold dear.  At ARC, we are working to support independent and fresh thinking about the arts in many areas–across a range of art forms, in relation to numerous disciplines, and in conversations that are both highly local and intensely international.  At the same time, we seek to share our work and our process with interested communities and with those who want to think with us about the most pressing and intriguing questions at work in contemporary culture.
The question then of how to continue to do this inevitably invites other questions: 1) In a world where public engagement is an articulated value for nearly every art institution, what is the value of a Center that represents many art forms (music, public art, film, architecture, visual art, dance, theatre, etc) in curating such deliberation?  2) How do we navigate the Heisenberg principle when it comes to certain research questions and experiments in creative art-making? For instance, if the relation between city, the university, and the arts is a research question for us, how do we both serve the UC-Berkeley’s art organizations AND cultivate independent-minded research in the arts and sustainable relationships with the many arts, community, and educational organizations serving the Bay Area?  3) At a time when public resources have drastically diminished — not only for civic arts programs but also for the University system that tries to support ARC —what kinds of philanthropic and foundation models might help to sustain ARC’s role as an arena of public, cross-arts deliberation and to restore ARC opportunities for artist residents to engage in interdisciplinary, cross-sector experimentation at the university, with our students, and with our Bay Area colleagues? How can ARC’s own efforts to expand and sustain itself be imagined in a way that expands and sustains the programs and initiatives of other institutions, in the Bay Area and beyond?
My hope is that ART/CITY is itself an answer to such questions…and a gathering that helps us imagine new answers as well.