The Art of Social Change – Why You Should Care

alicjapeas's picture

The European Congress of Culture that just ended in Wroclaw, Poland, has been one of the most important European events during this year’s Polish presidency in the EU. Run with impetus, packed with intellectual and artistic personalities, the congress made an attempt to highlight Europe's most important art initiatives. What about this cultural project could be interesting in the context of the NetSquared Community?

Technology Meets Art for the Social Good

I can think about at least two things. First of all, the congress’ motto: “art for social change.” When social change is the goal, the means leading to it are secondary. Many community arts projects already have their roots in new technologies, and the projects presented at the congress were no exception. During the event, I participated in the “Idea Generator” — an experiment inspired by the Social Innovation Camp model. For more than 24 hours, I found myself locked in a designed creative space with 50 other people. I had no Internet connection; they also took away our mobiles. We had nothing else to do than to form groups, think, plan, and work — be creative within this carefully defined setup. Our projects were all art-driven, all supported by technology. The idea was to address a real social need with an art project with a strong online component. A prime example was “e-motion,” the project I worked on myself. “E-motion” is about creating a map layer (in a form of an application). This emotional map would be the result of a joined effort: a week of the tech and art teamwork with young and elderly representatives of a certain local community. After the 24-hour sprint, we presented the results of our hard work in front of the Soul for Europe — a parliamentarian working group of the European Parliament.

 


When Wanting to Make a Change, a Focus on People is a Plus

What I really liked about the project was how in its core, unlike the “real” Social Innovation Camp, it focused on the participants rather than projects. The atmosphere of an experiment, of a performance even, made us feel like we were the artists and the stars of it all. The projects that we were inspired to create were as much about us as they were about the social challenge that we were trying to meet. However, I do not believe that truly meaningful projects can be designed within 24 hours. Great ideas can be born, but not implemented in that timeframe. It seems more honest to focus on things that we can actually achieve in this short period of time. And we can carefully examine our skills, work style, the role we happen to take when working in a group, re-think issues that we find most important. We can also meet people, make connections — all because of and for social change, but the impact cannot be - and never is - immediate.

Europe: The Challenge of Encouraging Diversity and Becoming "One"

The other thing that might be appealing to the international community was a discussion devoted to the topic first highlighted by Zygmunt Bauman during the congress opening speech: "What is Europe?" The European Union, and Europe itself, stands for a social, cultural, and political concept. The idea of Europe, although it is possible to differentiate it from the images that other continents bring to our minds, remains vague, undefined, and complex. We want to feel European because we know that, unless we form a union, we will eventually become unimportant, and overshadowed by the world’s big economies. However, we still have not figured out what this attempt of becoming “one” really means. We all speak different languages, we cultivate small local differences, and — interestingly enough — we want to make this diversity our strength.

Fussiness And Euro-Centrism

I couldn’t help noticing the euro-centrism of the event when I found this little note in the daily newspaper that depicted ECC discussions so carefully: The film awarded with the Silver Lion at this year’s Film Festival in Venice is “People Mountain People See”. It tells the story of Chongqing, the world’s biggest city — located in China — with 35 million inhabitants. Chongquing's population almost exceeds that of Poland. And it is bigger than many European nations — groups of people that were privileged enough to form their own complex cultural identity. The old continent is fascinating, but the history of a long cultural dominance over the world spoiled it. Whoever wants to go international by going European has to keep this in mind. Europe is many things, and all of them deserve your full attention.

All the materials linked are available in English language.