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How does Art Bring Hope, Rebalance Values and Transform Communities  

 

Hope1  and Transformation at Tirana and Bogota

 We might fail, not because we are incompetent or lack of skill but cribbed by despair, fear and hopelessness. ‘Hope’, 'humour' and 'beauty' are not overly abstract, disinterested aesthetic or entertaining values without real life impact.

In the cities of Tirana and Bogota, two creative Mayors had indeed utilized these seemingly non-economical/pragmatic strategies to motivate positive behaviours amongst citizens to resolve some intractable social problems. Both cities had implemented a few highly imaginative and aesthetic planning policies as morale booster resulted at civic pride, confidence and a deeper sense of belonging to the place.

Tirana – Mayor Edi Rama

Edi Rama was an artist before he became the Mayor of Tirana. In his influential TED talk ‘Take back your city with paint’2 , he claimed:

‘I love the joy that color can give to our lives and to our communities. I try to bring something of the artist in me to my politics. When colors came out everywhere, a mood of change started transforming the spirit of the people… People started to drop less litter in the streets. They started to pay taxes. They started to feel something they had forgotten… Beauty was giving people a feeling of being protected. This was not a misplaced feeling, and crime did fall.’

This early success of ‘city painting’ also led to a series of regeneration campaign such as removing more than 5,000 illegal structures, increasing the green spaces in the city by planting 55,000 trees and bushes, as this beautification process was happening, crime rates dropped. A poll also indicated 65 percent of the citizens liked the colourful changes, up to 80 per cent of the people (even some didn't like the colours) wanted the painting of the city to continue3. It is generally believed that without this daring improvement of the aesthetics in Tirana, Rama would never have succeeded in revamping the city so quickly, elevating hope and instilling a sense of belonging and civic responsibility amongst the citizens to their community. Rama's radical gesture in painting an aesthetics dimension to the city induced an unprecedented social transformation at Tirana, and he was elected as Albania's Prime Minister in 2013.

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Under the leadership of Artist-Mayor Edi Rama, dull and depressed looking buildings became colourful landmark – ‘Compromise in colours is grey and we have enough grey to last us a lifetime’, Edi Rama.

 Image Source: The Weekly Mash [and Peace!], from http://mashandpeace.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/paintedcity2.jpg, accessed in August 2014.

 

Bogota – Mayor Antanas Mockus

At Bogotá, Mayor Antanas Mockus (1995-97, 2000-04) focused on changing the hearts and minds of his people through employing similar artistic and creative strategies that could empower individuals for positive civic participation, or impose self-regulation to constraint certain behaviours by community disapproval4.  He infamously hired dozens (eventually up to 420) of mime artists to work at street corners, gently mocking and parodying those who violated traffic laws resulted at a drop of traffic fatality rate by 50 per cent 5; other measures including his success at reducing homicide rate by 70% in encouraging the formation of 7,000 community security groups.6

 ‘In a society where human life has lost value,’ Mockus said, ‘there cannot be another priority than re-establishing respect for life as the main right and duty of citizens.’7  

His sidewalk construction program was an effective reinforcement of his statement, an urban policy clearly taken into consideration 85 per cent of the people in Bogota were car-less, so by putting tax money into building sidewalks not highways, he had reframed/re-attributed the right from the car-owning (ruling class) who used to feel superior (as a generally acceptable norm) above the pedestrians, but with this rebalancing act- majority of the population can now reclaim and be seen with a sense of dignity, righteousness and citizenship from not having to walk on the dirt or risk being run over by cars8.

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Mime Artists were employed to direct traffics instead of corrupted traffic police at Bogota
Image source: Cabllero, 2004

 

From Individual to Society: Rebalance Value9


Few of us are entirely well balanced, not to mention our society. Sometimes, we might fail to identify the most valuable goal/moment/people/object/task.... as they might be hidden away or seemingly lacking attractive attributions compared to the defined-for-you-must-have fashionable stuff, materials, superstitions and habits, commonly acceptable yet brutal and careless behaviours, peer or familial pressures and/or expectations defined by ideological imperatives that have no relationship with our best interests nor facilitate our potentials as unique human beings. Art helps us to recognize and connect with the missing treasures in our life, as a way to restore our inner equilibrium.

For individuals, art may compensate the psychological gaps, our inner fragilities; for families, art may provide some interesting topics for dinner table discussions or weekend activities to build cohesiveness or resilience; for societies, art may help us to re-evaluate social values.

Culiacán in Mexico

Art shows us the essence of our good qualities, encoded in a transmuted forms; thereby directing us towards our best possibilities.

For example, it was not so uncommon (i.e. acceptable) to be killed by gunshot at Culiacán whereby it has the highest rate of gun deaths in Mexico. Violence became the norm in the socio-cultural context of Culiacán, citizens simply learnt to deal with (in)justice by shooting as a means to self-protection, revenge and act of bravery. However, artist Pedro Reyes believes otherwise, he decided to re-adjust the citizens' belief in violence to make them believe in peace.

In an ultimate act of rebalancing (or recycling), Reyes convinced the local Botanical Garden with support from City authorities to start a campaign for citizens to exchange their guns for a coupon with which they could buy domestic appliances and electronics for their families. As a result, the artist's rebalancing act ’Palacs por Pistoles | Shovels for Guns’ had melted down and transformed 1,527 guns into gardening tools that could be used to plant trees for the community, in his words- he aimed to establish a new ritual to show how ‘an agent of death (by gunshot) can become an agent of life (growing trees)’10.

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Guns (weapon of death) were collected, melted into steel in order to make shovels to plant trees (life and growth)

Image Source: Maximilian Büsser & friends. The Disarming Artist: Pedro Reyes Creates Entire Mechanised Orchestra out of Decommissioned, from http://www.mbandf.com/parallel-world/the-disarming-artist-pedro-reyes-creates-entire-mechanised-orchestra-out-of-decommissioned-guns, accessed in August 2014.


Endnote:

[1] de Botton and Armstrong, 2013, pp.13-25, 64-65.

[2] Cobish. Take back your city with paint, from http://www.cobish.com/news/shownews.php?id=310&title=Take-back-your-city-with-paint#.U91fDIBdUSE, accessed in August 2014.

[3] TED. Edi Rama:Take back your city with paint, from https://www.ted.com/talks/edi_rama_take_back_your_city_with_paint, accessed in August 2014

[4] Cabllero, M.C. (2004). Academic turns city into a social experiment Mayor Mockus of Bogotá and his spectacularly applied theory, from http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2004/03.11/01-mockus.html, accessed on 11 July, 2014.

[5] Marsh, S. (2013, October 28). Antanas Mockus: Colombians fear ridicule more than being fined, from http://www.theguardian.com/public-leaders-network/2013/oct/28/antanas-mockus-bogota-mayor, accessed in August 2014.
[6] Cabllero, M.C. (2004). Academic turns city into a social experiment Mayor Mockus of Bogotá and his spectacularly applied theory, from http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2004/03.11/01-mockus.html, accessed on 11 July, 2014.

[7] Cascio, J. (2004) The Bogotá Experiment, from http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/000483.html, accessed in August 2014.

[8] Howe, B.R. (2000). Out of the Jungle. The Atlantic online from http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/2001/09/schapiro.htm, accessed in August 2014.

[9] de Botton and Armstrong, 2013, pp.32-43, 64-65.

[10] Pedro Reyes . Palacs por Pistoles, from http://www.pedroreyes.net/palasporpistolas.php?szLang=en&Area=work, accessed in August 2014.

 

References: 

 Brian Prince. Post-Partum Document, 1973-1979, from http://www.brianprince.com/file_cabinet/marykelly/SCRIPT/ppd.html, accessed in August 2014.

Cabllero, M.C. (2004). Academic Turns City into a Social Experiment Mayor Mockus of Bogotá and His Spectacularly Applied Theory, from http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2004/03.11/01-mockus.html, accessed on 11 July, 2014.

Cascio, J. (2004) The Bogotá Experiment, from http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/000483.html, accessed in August 2014.

Cobish. Take Back Your City with Paint, from http://www.cobish.com/news/shownews.php?id=310&title=Take-back-your-city-with-paint#.U91fDIBdUSE,
accessed in August 2014.

de Botton, D. B., Armstrong, J. (2013). Art as Therapy. Phaidon Press.

Howe, B.R. (2000). Out of the Jungle. The Atlantic online from http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/2001/09/schapiro.htm, accessed in August 2014.
Mary Kelly. Post-Partum Document, from http://www.marykellyartist.com/post_partum_document.html, accessed in August, 2014

Smarthistory. Mary Kelly’s Postpartum Document, from http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/mary-kellys-postpartum-document.html, accessed in August 2014.

Pedro Reyes. Palacs por Pistoles, from http://www.pedroreyes.net/palasporpistolas.php?szLang=en&Area=work, accessed in August 2014.

TED. Edi Rama: Take back your city with paint, from https://www.ted.com/talks/edi_rama_take_back_your_city_with_paint, accessed in August 2014.

The Weekly Mash [and Peace!], from http://mashandpeace.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/paintedcity2.jpg, accessed in August 2014

Marsh, S. (2013, October 28).. Antanas Mockus: Colombians Fear Ridicule More Than Being Fined, from http://www.theguardian.com/public-leaders-network/2013/oct/28/antanas-mockus-bogota-mayor, accessed in August 2014.

Maximilian Büsser & friends. The Disarming Artist: Pedro Reyes Creates Entire Mechanised Orchestra Out of Decommissioned, from
http://www.mbandf.com/parallel-world/the-disarming-artist-pedro-reyes-creates-entire-mechanised-orchestra-outof-
decommissioned-guns, accessed in August 2014

Pedro Reyes . Palacs por Pistoles, from http://www.pedroreyes.net/palasporpistolas.php?szLang=en&Area=work, accessed in August 2014.

 

Other Related Resources:
Miles, M. (1997). Art, Space and the City : Public Art and Urban Futures. London: Routledge. P.102

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