Visual art has the potential to play a more vital role in the life of our community than has yet been fully realized.
There are a few local models out there hinting at possibilities.
Coming up in November is the Baltimore Bioneers ’08 Conference, weaving issue-related art into an event all about innovative thinking on sustainable communities. The Open Society Institute annually brings to Baltimore photography shows addressing a range of social justice issues. Many cultural organizations present projects that can only be called socially oriented.
Building on all this, here is an audacious idea within reach: Pick an issue, any issue. The challenges parents face today; the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; job opportunities in city neighborhoods. It does not matter what the issue is—any of these, or any other, will do.
Now picture exhibition spaces that are more than exhibition spaces—spaces for art, yes, but spaces in which people may gather and engage. For anyone who has ever visited the Rothko Chapel in Houston, you may have a sense of what I mean. But unlike the Rothko Chapel, where rituals, symposia, and forums take place surrounded by Rothko paintings on permanent display, the art in these spaces is constantly changing—targeted exhibitions that present thematically relevant art to frame and illuminate whatever issue is brought to bear.
For this audacious idea, imagine what we really want to focus on is the issue invoked by the art, not the art itself. Imagine museums and galleries hosting events in which people are brought to spaces to advocate for, network around, and talk about their issues. And art—just by being there—may work its magic as only art can, focusing those gathered on topics that matter to them most.
This audacious idea means art people making less of a big deal about art, and paradoxically arriving at a place where art matters more.
By allowing people to discover art’s power to lift and inspire through a kind of backdoor, in remarkable art-filled spaces dedicated to issues, art and community come out winners.