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About a year ago, sculptor Eric Sealine put something in writing, in connection with one of the Lab’s Workshops, that continues to resonate: “One of the functions of public art,” he wrote, “is to transform the way people respond to each other. It has less to do with the object itself than with the community created by its effect on the people who see it. If it is successful, they look at the object and then turn toward each other.” He goes on to refer to the role of such art (referencing Janet Echelman’s works) in creating “ritual spaces” – spaces, he says, “where people experience a kind of community that doesn’t happen in everyday life.”

I think that our experience this past July at the Kennedy Greenway’s Figment Festival, with the ArtsCommons, truly exemplified his point: A single, 20’ x 10’ x 10’ steel shipping container was repurposed for both visual and sound art installations. Inside the container was a kind of ad-hoc recording studio, along with clusters of multi-colored yarn hanging from the ceiling. Taped to the door was a prompt: “Tell us...what’s next!” Over 400 passers-by, at first quizzical, then totally engaged, responded to the request by writing out their thoughts on small pieces of cardboard and then attaching them to the yarn clusters. Some spoke into the studio mic, their words reinforced by the beats laid down, and broadcast onto the Greenway, by the sound artist.

One participant, emerging from having tied her thoughts to the yarn, said it was “fantastic.” When asked why, she responded by saying (in paraphrase) that she felt she’d become part of a community of people she didn’t know, and who didn’t know her.

After transcribing all 400+ responses, we created a word cloud. Fascinating...and see what emerged.

Ritual space. Incubating new collaborations, creating a Commons – in all senses of the word.

What would your “ritual space” look like?

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