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When considering What does it take to be a 21st Century Arts Community, there are many ideas that need to be unpacked and explored.  

Advisory Board Member and artist Aaron Landsman has been exploring parallel issues as he builds toward his 2016 project Perfect City.Beyond interviewing urban planners, design experts and theorists, Landsman has been doing extensive reading and thinking about the 21st Century City.  

Landsman has highlighted three articles that explore the role of the artist, issues of diversity and place-based cross-sector partnerships. For each article, Mr. Landsman has crafted questions that align with issues to be explored at the Leadership in the Arts Summit.

Fears of the Artist Sustain a Dysfunctional System (Jamil Khoury for Howlround, February 5, 2014)

Landsman: A great recounting of a difficult but powerful exchange on the subject of race, otherness and institutions in theater. Specific to Chicago, but translatable to many places. The article also speaks importantly to the role of the artist in calling out institutional bias, and in confronting our own fear. 

  • How do different kinds of cultural or gender biases impact your arts community?
  • What power do artists have to provoke or create meaningful institutional change in the arts?
  • How can artists speak truth to power, when the power they're speaking truth to is often holding the purse strings that might impact their own careers?
  • Do artists have a responsibility to question the choices institutions make? 

Placemaking and the Politics of Belonging and Dis-belonging (Roberto Bedoya, GIA Reader, Vol 24, No 1 (Winter 2013))

Roberto Bedoya's article on placemaking and belonging is a great glimpse into the problematics of funder-driven initiatives. What I think he's getting at is the dismissive language of "placemaking", the idea that the places funders and often civic bodies are trying to make have already been places for a long time. 

  • When you engage with communities outside your own demographic or geography, what assumptions might you be making about their needs, desires, attraction to or challenges to your work as an artist or organization? How can you avoid making those assumptions? What conversations should host organizations have with artists coming in to work outside their own communities?
  • What are the best ways to improve a place through creativity without dismissing or ruining what was already thriving there?
  • What are ways to measure the value of the arts in communities, to the prevalent metrics of property value, job creation and increased commerce? 

Real-Estate Artist (John Colpatino, New Yorker, January 20, 2014)

A look at a huge initiative by Theaster Gates in Chicago in partnership with the city. (for access to full article, email

  • How can artists partner with institutions, such as government bodies, educational institutions or for profit entities like real estate developers, and empower or serve those communities that these same partners may seek to undermine or uproot?
  • What is the real potential of partnership between artists and institutions with a history of disempowering the underserved? 
  • How would you create a community revitalization project in partnership with an artist, that is so well-conceived and constructed that the effort itself, and the result, is a performance, a sculpture, a poem? 

For extended reading:

Pablo Huelgera's book Education For Socially Engaged Art is central to some of my thinking, and his website often has shorter articles that approach similar subject matter - the ethics and moral obligations we have when we work with communities outside our own, or inside but in new ways.

  • What frames do we need to put around our work in order for it to be received simultaneously on political and aesthetic terms? 

Aaron Landsman makes performances and other events about urban intimacy and absence, landscape and the body, public life and the structures of government. Some projects are staged in places where people perform their lives, like homes, offices and meeting rooms. Others use established performance venues. Working this way helps the setting become a character, helps implicate the audience into the action and exploits the theatricality of places we go every day.

His current project, City Council Meeting, was presented in Houston, Tempe, and New York in 2013, with additional engagements scheduled for San Francisco and Liverpool. His prior work has been commissioned, produced or presented by The Foundry Theatre, PS 122, and other venues in New York, Texas, Cleveland, Minneapolis and Tempe, and internationally in Belarus, Sweden, Norway and the UK. As an actor, Aaron has appeared in the work of many artists, including Richard Maxwell, Julia Jarcho and Elevator Repair Service, performing Off-Broadway, regionally and internationally, most recently on London’s West End; he will appear in Deke Weaver’s Wolf in September 2013, in central Illinois. Aaron is the current resident artist at ASU Gammage, and will be a guest artist at Stanford University and Columbia College this winter. His work is currently funded by the New England Foundation For The Arts, MAP, NPN, Jerome and Puffin.