Project 17

As I track this emerging conversation about how art organizations can better engage the community and help solve community problems, it strikes me that we first need to take the discussion outside of the art world and spend time talking with “real people” in those communities. One way to get at this would fit into the investigative strand category you listed.

We start by asking one of the following questions or a mash-up of them all:

· If beauty is really back, does it make any difference?
· Is ugliness really cheaper than beauty?
· Is art truly separate from ordinary life?

The goal here would not be to step into the minefield of aesthetic debates about defining beauty and assessing its relevance. Instead, what I envision is a multi-pronged, multimedia exploration of how real people respond to this idea of beauty and or art in their everyday environment. Is it something they don’t have time to think about? Perhaps they don’t think they do, but I suspect on some level the aesthetics of their surroundings DO affect them. A few possible directions to go in:

· We visit the Orange County Rescue League where homeless folks are surrounded by original works of art. Why is it there? Does it make a measurable difference in what happens there?

· We spend time at a local swap meet where people are purchasing reproductions of artworks to hang in their homes. We find out why they chose what they do, updating Augustine’s idea that what we see and love is what defines us. Then we ask them to view some other works of art and tell us what they think. We could also talk to a sociologist about what these aesthetic choices tell us about their aspirations.

· We figure out a way to explore the decision-making that goes into designing a new building (we aren’t talking about a rich family hiring a starchitect). Are all the questions asked today utilitarian? Can a community “afford” to think about aesthetics? Has the research panned out about attractive lower-income housing reducing crime?

· We work with a USC neuroscientist to discover what the latest brain science tells us about how people respond to particular visuals and what we can learn from this. He and possibly an artist create an interactive exercise online that allows readers to participate in a similar exercise.