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Reconstructing the Civic with Aaron Levy

Library as Commons by Doris Madsen

Grock it. Essay by Julia Handschuh

Theory | Research | Collaboration | Production | Technology | Sustainability

Small, Fragile and Immaterial: On Reconstructing the Civic

April 6, 2012, Harvard GSD.
As part of his visit to Boston, Aaron Levy will speak at the GSD on his work at the Philadelphia based Slought Foundation. Philadelphia is situated at the intersection of a specific series of tensions. Foremost among these is that it is a peripheral city marked by profound socio-economic inequality and racial division. These tensions are further exacerbated and reinforced by an institutionally uneven and culturally conservative landscape, one consequence of which is limited funding for more progressive sensibilities. Levy's work is a consequence of these tensions.

Library as Commons

by Doris Madsen, Reference Librarian, Pine Point Branch.

Commons. What we share. Creations of both nature and society that belong to all of us equally and should be preserved and maintained for future generations.
All that we share
, Jay Walljasper. 2010.

Commoners. In modern use, people who are dedicated to reclaiming and restoring the commons.
All that we share
, Jay Walljasper. 2010

Social Capital. Values and social networks that enable coordination and cooperation within society … the relationship between people and organizations which form the glue that strengthens civil society. “Libraries create social capital”,
Nancy Kranich, Library Journal. Nov. 2001.

As the featured speaker at an American Library Association (ALA) 2001 Annual Conference, Harvard professor Robert Putnam shared his concerns about the erosion of community social capital to an audience of librarians. According to Nancy Kranich, ALA President and host of the program, Putnam was taken aback when he discovered the level of social capital present amongst the audience of librarians.

The public library is the physical place where the entire intellectual, cultural, scientific and informational storehouse of the world is open to all for free. It is a shared community resource, a safe gathering place where people of all ages can share interests and concerns, find information essential to civic participation and connect with neighbors. The library is an institution rich in social capital and poised to sustain civic awareness and community revival. (Kranich)

Civil society creates and sustains commons. The Magna Carta, of 1215, was the first document to mark a political commons, the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot. Environmental movements and indigenous people movements around the world exemplify social groups working to establish a commons-like structure to the sharing of precious natural resources.

The library where I work is located in an urban neighborhood. Many of those we serve have had a lot taken away from them. The library branch represents the community giving back, a resource equally shared by the entire neighborhood, a resource that is free to all, no matter who or what they are. We are building social capital every day we are open.

The Springfield Seed Library (a commons), to be housed in a repurposed card catalog at Pine Point Branch library, 204 Boston Rd. will grow as gardeners (commoners) in the city contribute seeds. The project will grow and social capital will be reaped as gardeners visit and borrow seeds for their home and community gardens.

Springfield City Library is proud to produce the Springfield Seed Library in partnership with New Growth Gardens and Artists in Context.

Grok it.

by Julia Handschuh

We will attempt to grok at The Kitchen Collaborative as we choreograph the feeding. We are a collective that believes in the power of food to create and sustain connections to one another and our environment. The Kitchen Collaborative will be a commercially certified shared-use kitchen opening onto an eatery and performance space and integrated with a rooftop garden and building-wide green systems. It is being designed for a range of creative food projects from cooking and preservation to mentorship and politics. Most importantly it will be a place that is welcoming and celebratory; that embraces people-driven sustainable approaches to food and community.

For the past ten years I’ve thought of myself primarily as an artist. Now this title no longer seems sufficient for the realms in which I want my actions to move. The conceptual and capitalistic frames of contemporary art have begun to feel limiting; particularly in the face of climate change and a global war on terror, the Art World (with a capital A) feels useless. So I find myself leaning towards actions that have a practical application; that make connections in everyday life, that touch the world and cycle back, that exist beyond the container of artistic practice and hold me accountable to creating the world in which I want to live.

My background in improvisational dance and performance art, particularly in the realm of ecological and environmental philosophy has lead me to think about my actions in terms of how I/we are wrapped up in the world, bound into a reciprocal agreement of impact and exchange. These issues are intimately connected to the ways in which I experience improvisation and it’s set of scores for collective action within the delimited space of a dance. In this realm our bodies’ impact on each other is explicit, as our movements in response to each other and space send off chain reactions of expression.

By challenging myself to understand my body’s relationship to the world and its agency within a system of repercussive actions it seems logical that I would begin to think it terms of material relations to the world. What and how I consume becomes instructive to how I move, and how I move shifts the cycle of what I consume, produce and excrete. What responsibility, what response, can we have in a world that mutes our impact? What structures can we build which rekindle a direct connection between impact and effect, production and consumption?

When mulling over these ideas I often come back to the word grok and it’s implications for both consumptive and empathetic connections to the world. In Robert Heinlein’s 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land he coined the term grok, which has since entered the lexicon and found it’s way into the Oxford English Dictionary with the following definition: “To understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with.” In the context of the novel it also has the connotation of consumption, to drink or to take in, and in the taking in of the other, the two become one, a dispersal of energy, a synthesis that leads to understanding. Grokking is not reserved for humans (or in the case of the novel, Martians) but also includes objects and other elements of the environment. Swimming in water produces a mutual agreement or understanding between water and body, in which each have an effect on the other. To grok is to both understand and become, to fully take in the world into the body, to become the world and the world to becomes you.


Artist as Researcher, Collaborator, and Agent panel discussion and recommended resources

Research workshop handout PDF by Kristin Fowler and Marie Cieri

Readings compiled by Kristin Fowler and Marie Cieri

Additional Research Resources

Theory | Research | Collaboration | Production | Technology | Sustainability

Artist as Researcher Collaborator and Agent

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Tuesday April 24, Rochambeau branch of the Providence Community Library. Panel includes:

Jennifer Liese, Director of the RISD Writing Center, Rhode Island School of Design. Jennifer is interested in how artists and designers reinvent and redefine traditional, fact-seeking research practices.

Ellen Petraits, Research & Instruction Librarian, Rhode Island School of Design. Ellen works with artists to help them integrate research thinking, skills and sources into their practice.

Anne West, writer, theorist, and independent curator with interests in phenomenology, poetics, and interpretive human studies.

Ellen Driscoll, Professor of Sculpture at RISD as well as an AIC Prospectus artist.

Art Research – Recommended Sources
Ellen Petraits, Research & Instruction Librarian
Fleet Library @ Rhode Island School of Design

Art & Design Research Bibliography
Research in Art & Design: Selected Readings
A guide to the recent literature of research in architecture, art & design

Professional networks 

Concept mapping tutorial -

Online International Catalogs (literature review)
Worldcat - 
a global search interface of 10,000+ library catalogs (10s of millions of records)

Artlibraries -
a search interface combining 42 European and American art library catalogs (12 million records)

Rhode Island Archival and Manuscript Collections Online

Tool for Managing & Organizing Information
Zotero - 

Biggs, Michael, and Henrik Karlsson. The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts. New
York: Routledge, 2010.

Gray, Carole, and Julian Malins. Visualizing Research: A Guide to the Research Process in Art
and Design. Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate, 2004.
Also online:

Kuhlthau, Carol Collier. Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information
Services. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2004.

West, Anne, and Katarina Weslien. Mapping the Intelligence of Artistic Work: An Explorative
Guide to Making, Thinking and Writing
. Portland, ME.: Moth, 2011.
In this book West describes a technique she calls “mapping through writing” that encourages visual artists to ask strategic questions, approach problems, and catalyze creative thinking. The book is structured as a series of exercises and prompts that define the mapping process and introduce methods for artists to develop, articulate, and disseminate ideas.

Wood, Denis, and Ira Glass. Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas. Los Angeles, CA:
Siglio, 2010.

Research Workshop presented by Radical Reference Librarian Kristin Fowler, and Artists in Context Co-Director Marie Cieri

June, 11, 2011, Northeastern University as part of the AIC Greater Boston Connected and Consequential Conference.

Research Workshop Handout
Click here to view as a pdf.

Excerpts from RISD Graduate Studies Syllabus for “In the Field: Research
Methods for Artists and Designers”
Marie Cieri, 6/11/11

How do we generate data to address our research questions? What methods are best? What are some of the advantages and pitfalls of specific approaches? This course is designed to explore these and other questions about how we generate and interpret data from the “field” – that complex social, environmental and political space in which we learn firsthand about the world. In this course, students will learn about and practice an array of research methods that are variously used by geographers as well as artists and designers who derive inspiration and content from human and/or nature-society interactions in space and place. Through readings, discussion, work “in the field” and practicum presentations, students will explore issues of how to generate and interpret research data within the history and ethical challenges of field work in a variety of disciplines and how these issues might impact their own research for their art and design projects and beyond.

Students will critique and apply a variety of methods including interviewing; questionnaire surveying; participant observation and ethnography; visual techniques (e.g., video, photography, drawing); locative media (GPS and cellular communications, etc.);
cognitive and other types of mapping (yes, mapping can be a research method!); archival research, landscape interpretation and participatory action research. Many of the methods we will review are inherently cross-disciplinary. Emphasis will be placed on qualitative methods, though we will frequently explore the added value that hybrid qualitative/quantitative approaches can bring to many research endeavors. Throughout the seminar, we also will discuss several relevant, overarching themes such as reflexivity, positionality, representation, power and ethics as well as activist roles that conscientious researchers can play.


The Encounter panel discussion

Collaboration Booklet by Marianne Hughes

Principles of the Collaborative Premise by Marianne Hughes

The Illegal Lives by Young Min Moon/Mixrice

Theory | Research | Collaboration | Production | Technology | Sustainability

Artists in hybrid space work across boundaries in a variety of ways, as transmuters, changing forms to open possibilities’; as translators between languages and practices; as transgressors, challenging established practices, norms and assumptions, and as trans-shippers, importing new ideas, information and practices into seemingly intractable circumstances.

- From the Greter Boston Connected and Consequential Conference Findings Report


The Encounter

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April 11, 2012, Brown University

How do we begin to work together before we know what we are going to do?

Drawing from their experience developing new tools for data visualization, a biologist - EPSCoR Research Scientist Marta Gomez-Chiarri - an artist - Digital Artist Jack Lovell - and a designer - Industrial Designer David Zacher - will reflect on the importance of vulnerability and openness in the first encounter – in the meeting that precedes a project.

Collaboration workshop at Connected and Consequential

From Collaboration booklet by Marianne Hughes, Executive Director of the Interaction Institute for Social Change:

We believe that social justice requires the transformation of individuals, communities, and systems. Effective change agents begin by making a personal commitment to social responsibility, right action, ongoing learning, and skills development. They bring to their work in communities an asset-based approach, a belief in the power of coordinated effort, respect for diversity, collaborative leadership skills, innovation, and creativity. They focus their attention on organizations and broader societal systems for the purpose of unmasking and engaging power dynamics, redistributing power and resources, opening access to decision making and decision makers–in short–working on systems rather than simply working in systems.

The following principles are embedded in the collaborative premise:

If you bring the appropriate people together in constructive ways with good information, they will create authentic visions and strategies for addressing the shared concerns of the organization or community [or network].

- David Chrislip

1. Balance results, process and relationships
The backbone of collaboration is the balance of articulating shared goals, designing and facilitating a clear process, and fostering authentic relationships.
2.    Include relevant stakeholders
In order for a collaborative planning process to be successful, relevant stakeholders must be included. Stakeholders include those who have the power to make decisions, those who are affected by or help to implement decisions, and those who could resist or block implementation of decisions.
3.    Create the conditions for participants in a planning process to own the process
Ownership of the process emerges from involvement in the design and implementation of the collaborative effort. It cannot simply be determined and implemented by planning experts or by a small group of leaders.
4.    See the dynamics of the system
A successful collaborative planning process requires an understanding of the interconnectedness among the issues, policies, organizations and programs and their effects on each other.
5.    Map the network
A successful collaborative planning process involves seeing the interconnections between all of the strategic actors in order to amplify voice and impact and create the conditions for emergence.
6. Agree on the problem or the scope of the opportunity, then agree on the solution
Agreement on solutions and commitment to their implementation comes from a conscious and thorough effort to agree on which problems will be addressed and to define, analyze, and agree on the nature and scope of those problems.
7.    Assess strengths and assets as well as challenges and problems
For successful community planning requires an We facilitate an assessment of a group’s own assets and strengths as well as those of other stakeholders. We encourage group members to look beyond their own roles and responsibilities for the work to full scope of resources and strengths that all participants can contribute, and to how all participants can be involved in planning and implementing the work.
8.    Go slow to go fast
It is often necessary to “go slow to go fast.” Involving stakeholders in planning and decision making requires time, an adequate flow of information, and commitment to follow through. In the face of time and resource constraints, there is great temptation to design a planning process that achieves the minimum necessary stakeholder involvement on the fastest time table, rather than the maximum appropriate involvement needed to make sound decisions to which everyone is committed to implementing. Time saved during planning is often spent on selling the plan before implementation can move forward.
9.    Seek win-win solutions
The goal of the planning effort should be to arrive at decisions that achieve the group’s goals and that all, or at least most, stakeholders are willing to support. This requires a willingness both to acknowledge individual, organizational or community interests, and to move beyond them as necessary for the success of the collective effort.
10. Share in the responsibility for success
Motivated by a shared vision of impact and an ability to transcend community, organization and sector boundaries, each member of the collaboration commits to honest and timely feedback to hold themselves and one another accountable to their collective success.
11. Manage issues of power and privilege
Cultural competence is built by an awareness of how power and privilege show up throughout the collaborative effort and skillful facilitation that includes all voices. Power must be distributed so that decisions are brought closest to the point of action.
12. Be adaptive, collaborative, flexible and present
Collaboration requires an open mind, a willingness to experiment with new tools and approaches, a belief in the collective wisdom of the group, and a willingness to believe in the best intentions of others.
13. Have fun

Read more by downloading a PDF of the Collaboration booklet here.


“The Illegal Lives”: Art within a Community of Others
Essay by Young Min Moon, published in Rethinking Marxism

"Since 2002, Mixrice, the artist collective, has pursued social interventionist activities and collaborative projects with a group of undocumented Asian migrant workers in South Korea. Utilizing photographic and media recordings, comics, murals, and texts in the form of exhibitions, publications, and the Web, they engage the question of the Other within the context of an ostensibly monoethnic South Korean culture. Through their critical practice of working with members of a transnational community, Mixrice probes the issues of human rights and the ethics and roles of the artist in a volatile sociopolitical environment."

Presentation Slides from Setting Structures Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Essay: Library as Commons

Theory | Research | Collaboration | Production | Technology | Sustainability

Gavin Kroeber, Untitled (for Dan Borelli), 2011

Dan Borelli and Gavin Kroeber presented "Crossing the Rubicon" at the Greater Boston Connected and Consequential Conference in June.

This collaborative project-in-progress by Dan Borelli and Gavin Kroeber evolved from research they did about the town of Ashland, MA, once the site of the Nyanza colorant plant and now the location of the Nyanza EPA Superfund site...

The collaboration between “insider” (Dan, who grew up in Ashland, MA) and “outsider” (Gavin, a producer and student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design along with Dan) allows for a holistic exploration of the history and experience of Ashland and the development of a project with countless stakeholders. In Crossing the Rubicon, Dan and Gavin aim to create an experience-based artwork that alters people’s sense of place, to host an event that convinces experts to activate current information about the contamination and to create an exhibit in the public library that will act as an archive of the town’s and plant’s history.

In November 2011, they presented The Cloud of Unknowing, and in December 2011 presented Setting Structures about the organizing of a project with so many stakeholders. The slides above are from that presentation.


"Into Open Source" Booklet by Jordan Tynes

Online Communication Insights by Ecco Ditto Insights

Theory | Research | Collaboration | Production | Technology | Sustainability

Presented by Jordan Tynes

Click here to download Jordan's pamphlet "Into Open Source"

Getting into Open Source
a very brief introduction of just a few

compiled by
Jordan Tynes
for Artists in Context’s Connected and Consequential 2011

Just because a program is free and/or designed by “amateur programmers”, does not mean it is inferior to its costly alternatives.

The term “Open Source” suggests a method for developing, sharing, and employing technology.

This guide, composed specifically for Connected and Consequential, intends to give a brief overview of Open Source philosophies and offer a few examples of software that can be employed by artistic practitioners.

This guide also assumes the importance of technology in the increased availability of ideas generated by an infinite amount of creative practices.

Open Source software is usually:
free and supported by an online community of users/developers

What you usually need to use Open Source software:
a computer and an internet connection

What kind of programs can be Open Source:
ANY KIND... just a few examples that are mentioned in this guide: AUDIO, GRAPHIC (2d/3d), PHOTO/VIDEO EDITORS, WEB BLOGGING, WORD PROCESSING, and SYSTEM OPERATION

You DO NOT need to be a developer in order to use Open Source software... There are plenty of Open Source programs that are
specifically designed to be user friendly!

Some are even designed by artists, for artists!!!

More Benefits to Open Source software:
-24/7 community supports... ask questions and get involved right away
-developers are usually open to feedback
-tons of online tutorials... written and video

What makes Open Source programs different from other software?
Bruce Perens, of the Open Source Initiative, describes Open Source with these ten aspects of a definition (paraphrased in my own words):
1. Free Distribution: no royalties attached... anyone can give/sell/trade their version of the program
2. Source Code: the program must allow its users to see the way the programs works
3. Derived Works: any version of the program can be modified
4. Integrity of Author’s Source Code: unless explicitly stated otherwise, the original version will be
foundational in the development of all succeeding versions of the program
5. No Discrimination of Persons or Groups: EVERYONE is allowed access
6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor: programs can be used for ANY purpose
7. Distribution of the License: the same license follows the program wherever it goes
8. License Must Not be Specific to a Product: derivative programs share the same rights as the original
9. License Must Not Restrict Other Software: different programs can be packaged together
10. License Must be Technology Neutral: license must fit any style of hardware or technology interface

Here a is SHORT list of medium specific programs that are known to be Open Source by definition (most listed here will be available to use on multiple operating systems):
Blender (3D):
KToon (2D):
~Photo Editing~
~Video Editing~
~Video Playing~
VLC Media Player:
~Web Blogging~
~Word Processing~
Open Office:
Most of these websites will direct you to tutorials, instruction manuals, and/or guides. If not, a simple google search will generally yield vast amounts of support for each of these programs.

Help with google searches:

Feeling technologically adventurous?
You can even get into an entirely Open Source operating system: Linux!

There are plenty of artistically inclined derivatives of this Operating System... These will preinstall some of the software listed above:

Like I mentioned, this is a very short list. For more programs, SourceForge is an excellent resource:

Ecco Ditto

Co-founded by Nicco Mele, one of the keynote speakers for the Greater Boston Connected and Consequential Conference, Ecco Ditto is a company that builds digital communities and guides social change organizations in the use of emerging technologies.

From their website:
"Every healthy organization, for-profit or non-profit, needs to be able to maintain good, two-way online communications both internally and with its members, consumers, or constituents. We have compiled the following EchoInsights, or best practice guides, to help you learn to do this for yourself. Rather than just give you a can of tuna, we'd much rather teach you how to fish. Please browse the guides here, share them with others, and let us know what you think."