A symposium that asked both whether art can be a tool and, if so, who might wield it.

Does Art Have Users?

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Does Art Have Users?

Schedule Back to Top

Does Art Have Users?
September 2830, 2017


The title of this symposium is a double provocation. It asks both whether art can be a tool and, if so, who might wield it. For whom does art have use? The sessions on offer, unfolding over four days, explore the varied roles that individuals and constituencies play in socially engaged artistic practices, and explore art and its potential usership from a wide variety of viewpoints.

This event incorporates the second international Arte Útil Summit and brings together more than 30 participants, including leading voices of the Arte Útil movement, along with contributors from related fields, such as art theory, computer programming, and community organizing.

Focusing on urgent questions animating Bay Area neighborhoods, the symposium begins with a walking tour of the gentrifying Mission district and ends with roundtable discussions about policy and representation concerning black youth in Oakland and beyond. In between, panels address art education, community-driven art projects, and the role of museums and libraries in the 21st century. Two workshops provide more hands-on opportunities for engaging with one of the symposium’s central questions: how can artists make new contributions to social, civic, and political life?

Wednesday, September 27

Fractured Atlas: A Mission Neighborhood Walk with the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project

Begins at Bernal Heights Park parking lot, 3450 Folsom St., San Francisco

4–5:30 p.m.

Facilitated by Carla Wojczuk, artist, Anti-Eviction Mapping Project

The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project is a data-visualization, data-analysis, and storytelling collective documenting the dispossession of San Francisco Bay Area residents amid gentrifying landscapes. Through digital maps, oral history work, film, murals, and community events, the project renders connections between the nodes and effects of new entanglements of global capital, real estate, high technology, and political economy. Join us for a walking tour of the Mission district that studies the displacement of people, and the complex social worlds of the neighborhood that are created as spaces become desirable to a new wave of citizens and consumers.

Thursday, September 28

Panel: Can We Teach Artists to Be Useful?

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., San Francisco

10:30 a.m.–noon

Participants: Tania Bruguera, artist and initiator, Asociación de Arte Útil; Oriol Fontdevila, curator and writer; Stephen Wright, writer and theorist; moderated by Lucía Sanromán, director of visual arts, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Artist Bruguera is joined by Wright and Fontdevila for an analysis of the effectiveness of an alternative pedagogical model. Moderated by Sanromán, the conversation addresses and evaluates the eight-week-long curriculum of the Escuela de Arte Útil. The school is a commission from Bruguera for the exhibition Tania Bruguera: Talking to Power / Hablándole al Poder, realized in collaboration with the Asociación de Arte Útil; the San Francisco Art Institute; California College of the Arts; the University of California, Berkeley; San Francisco State University; and the YBCA Fellows program.


Panel: What Can We Learn about Art’s Social Uses?

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., San Francisco

12:30–2 p.m.

Presentations by students of Escuela de Arte Útil; moderated by Alessandra Saviotti, curator and archivist, Asociación de Arte Útil

The session focuses on the presentation of students’ prototypes of Arte Útil projects realized as part of the Escuela de Arte Útil. Students considered topics such as institutional self-criticism, active hyperrealism, a-legality, reforming capital, sustainable outcomes, and usership, as well as intersections with other disciplines and modes of creative collaboration.


Panel: What Happens at the Intersection of Art and Data?

SFMOMA, Phyllis Wattis Theater, 151 Third St., San Francisco

4–5:30 p.m.

Participants: Burak Arikan, artist; Josette Melchor, founder and executive director, Gray Area Foundation for the Arts; Aloka Narayanan, programmer, Anti-Eviction Mapping Project; Carla Wozjcuk, artist, Anti-Eviction Mapping Project; moderated by Jon Christensen, adjunct assistant professor and founder, Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies, University of California, Los Angeles; partner, Stamen Design

This session unpacks ways that artists find creative uses for data and technology to support strategies for social change in the Bay Area and beyond. With speakers whose work encompasses art, activism, academia, and community organizing, the panel will explore how ideas and practices from these different fields intersect with and challenge ideas about design and technology in the context of attempts to improve civic life.


Panel: What Does a Useful Museum Look Like?

SFMOMA, Phyllis Wattis Theater, 151 Third St., San Francisco

6–7:30 p.m.

Participants: Alistair Hudson, director, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art; Laura Raicovich, president and executive director, Queens Museum; Jeanne van Heeswijk, artist; moderated by Dominic Willsdon, Leanne and George Roberts Curator of Education and Public Practice, SFMOMA

This panel will explore new approaches to the role and value of art institutions, looking in particular at ways that museums might borrow an idea of usership from libraries, to become more of a resource than an attraction. Speakers will discuss how art museums can build coalitions of different organizations with a public mission to serve a wider range of constituents, and how museums can adapt to accommodate and support artists who want to work in the context of civic engagement.


Opening: Public Knowledge Library

SFMOMA, Koret Education Center, 151 Third St., San Francisco

7–9 p.m.

Join us for the opening of the newest branch of the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) on the museum’s second floor. Through winter 2019 the Koret Education Center will be transformed into a pop-up branch known as the Public Knowledge Library, featuring a reference collection of books and newspapers focused on art, activism, cities, culture, education, and technology. The library also will feature artist installations, curated displays about the history of SFPL, and a special children’s collection. For more information on the Public Knowledge initiative, please visit publicknowledge.sfmoma.org.


Friday, September 29

Panel: How Do Artists Create More Inclusive Systems of Power?

SFMOMA, Phyllis Wattis Theater, 151 Third St., San Francisco

10:30 a.m.–noon

Participants: Tania Bruguera, artist; Brett Cook, artist; Jeanne van Heeswijk, artist; moderated by Shannon Jackson, associate vice chancellor for the arts and design, University of California, Berkeley

How do artists act as instigators of more inclusive systems? How do they build a power base? What is the impact of artists’ work in the communities where they are working? Speakers will discuss how constituencies become the cocreators of their projects, and how such collaborations can help to drive social change. How does the concept of users apply if members of the public are not simply the audience for this work but also the cocreators?


Panel: What Can Public Knowledge Be?

SFMOMA, Phyllis Wattis Theater, 151 Third St., San Francisco

1–2:30 p.m.

Participants: Liesbeth Bik, artist; Minerva Cuevas, artist; Stephanie Syjuco, artist; Jos van Der Pol, artist; moderated by Deena Chalabi, Barbara and Stephan Vermut Associate Curator of Public Dialogue, SFMOMA

Artists from SFMOMA’s new Public Knowledge initiative will explore their prior work and the ideas behind—and stakes involved in—their evolving projects in San Francisco. What kinds of public knowledge can art provide or create that other fields cannot? How can art created in response to the forms and institutions of public knowledge, and in dialogue with communities, strengthen the fabric of civic life? How can these artistic projects respond to the cultural impact of rapid urban change?


Panel: How Can Libraries Incubate Contemporary Art?

SFMOMA, Phyllis Wattis Theater, 151 Third St., San Francisco

3–4:30 p.m.

Participants: Omar Berrada, director, Dar al-Ma’mûn; Jeff Gunderson, librarian and archivist, Anne Bremer Memorial Library, San Francisco Art Institute; Megan Prelinger, cofounder, Prelinger Archive; Rick Prelinger, cofounder, Pregliner Archive; moderated by David Senior, head librarian, SFMOMA

At a time when artistic thinking has been so informed by the idea of the archive, librarians and curators explore the ways in which a library model of usership might translate to the practicing and teaching of contemporary art. How might art and other cultural institutions be made more “useful” by thinking of themselves as visual libraries, and what is the role of information retrieval in artistic practices?


Panel + Performance: What Is the Sound of Your San Francisco?

San Francisco Public Library, Main Library, Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin St., San Francisco

7–8:30 p.m.

Participants: Mohamed Bilal, executive director, African American Art and Culture Complex; Josh Kun, artist and music critic

Musicians: Idris Ackamor, Minna Choi, Ahkeel Mestayer, Thao Nguyen, and Marcus Shelby

As San Francisco continues to struggle with crises of gentrification, eviction, and extreme neighborhood change, what happens when music becomes a model for imagining a new city? Scholar, music critic, and artist Kun presents a conversation about and music from his Public Knowledge project, Hit Parade. Kun will share his early research into the sheet music collection of the San Francisco Public Library, and his work with community storytelling in San Francisco neighborhoods that resulted in open rehearsals with local musicians.

Saturday, September 30

Workshop: In Print/Imprint: Designing Political Print Pieces with Users in Mind

SFMOMA, Koret Education Center, Studio 2, 151 Third St., San Francisco

11 a.m.–1 p.m.

Facilitator: Jessalyn Aaland, artist

How can artists design a print piece for social action that considers the needs and interests of the end users? Modeled after artist Aaland’s Guide for Youth Protestors from the Arte Útil archive, participants will conceptualize a politically oriented print piece that addresses an issue of concern to a particular user group, integrating the user’s attributes into the design.

Workshop: Seeing Social Practice

SFMOMA, Koret Education Center, Studio 1, 151 Third St., San Francisco

11 a.m.–1 p.m.

Facilitators: Brett Cook, artist and board member, A Blade of Grass; Deborah Fisher, executive director, A Blade of Grass

How is experiential and participatory art represented? How does this work translate into visual media and institutional contexts? What is the role of research and evaluation in representing the value of socially engaged art? What are your goals and responsibilities when you represent a social or experiential project? Fisher and Cook explore these questions and more.


Roundtable: What Role Should Art Have in Civic Life?

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., San Francisco

2–6 p.m.

How might artists’ work be useful for community-building, cultural memory, public policy-making, and other aspects of civic life? This set of conversations explores the politics, ethics, and value of working artistically in the public sphere, looking especially at the importance of understanding context.

Our starting point is the art of Suzanne Lacy, which is the subject of a forthcoming retrospective at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and SFMOMA. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Lacy was a coauthor with many artists and activists

on a series of projects in Oakland, California and Medellín, Colombia, that centered on issues of youth development and urban violence. How has civic life in those cities changed over the last 20 years, and what comparisons can be made between them, particularly regarding youth lives? What key issues in public life are explored by artists, how do they shape policy and public culture, and what happens when the context shifts and representations and audiences change with time or geographic distance?

Medellín/Oakland: Art, Civic Dialogue, and Curating, 2-2:30 p.m.

Participants: Bill Kelley Jr., curator, writer, and educator; Lucía Sanromán, director of visual arts, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; Dominic Willsdon, Leanne and George Roberts Curator of Education and Public Practice, SFMOMA

Curators of the retrospective Suzanne Lacy and Talking to Action: Art, Pedagogy, and Activism in the Americas discuss researching, contextualizing, and presenting forms of art practice that aim at civic dialogue.

Scapegoat Generation, 2:30-3:30 p.m.

Participants: Suzanne Lacy, artist; Mike Males, senior researcher, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, San Francisco; Pilar Riaño-Alcalá, professor, School of Social Work, University of British Columbia; moderated by Unique Holland, strategic communications consultant

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Lacy’s Oakland Projects (Oakland) and The Skin of Memory (Medellín, Colombia) centered on issues of youth development, urban violence, and youth policy. Participants will consider questions such as: How did the image of youth become politicized in the ’90s, and why? How were youth represented in the media, and what impact did this have on their lives? How did societies shape youth identity and what were the political repercussions, in particular, regarding the connection between violence, the drug trade, and US policies in Colombia?

Black Youth Voice and Representation, 4-5:30 p.m.

Participants: Patrisse Cullors, organizer and cofounder, Black Lives Matter; Chris Johnson, artist; moderated by Unique Holland, strategic communications consultant

Suzanne Lacy’s Oakland Projects addressed shifts in cultural awareness of youth of color, particularly in the media. Participants will consider how similar issues of race, equity, and representation are playing out today. This conversation aims to shed light on the changes in cultural awareness and popular media representation of black culture today, in this extraordinarily fraught moment in American life. Topics will include the increased public awareness of systems at work against young black lives, the emergence of “authentic” voice in protest, and increased community and political organization. How do the Oakland Projects—a platform that aimed to change the narrative surrounding black youth—relate to this contemporary landscape? What are the current mechanisms of support? What does ally-ship look like today?