A Day In The Life: You & Me vs. the 1 percent
Written by Kevin Jesuino // @kevinjesuino
At the moment of writing this blog, I am attending the Open Engagement conference, an international gathering of artists working in the realm of socially engaged art practice. If you’ll allow me, I’d like to set up some context and history of Socially Engaged Art Practices and then explain why I do this type of work.
Socially Engaged Art Practice is a relatively new field of art that meets at the crossroads of performance, visual arts and public engagement. Coming out of the practice established by Suzanne Lacy’s New Genre Public Art in the late nineties, which looked at the public as a type of “social sculpture”, a term coined by the late Joseph Buoys, the field of Social Art Practice evolved out of a North American context that saw a lack of federal financial support to artists and cultural institutions in the United States of America and a growing desire to engage the general public in arts and cultural happenings.
Occupy Wall Street was a turning point, not just for the art world, but for everyone on Earth. Most important, and most obvious, was the role that the wealthiest of the world’s population owned and controlled most of the money owned by the total population of America. The ninety-nine percent, as they came to be known, became the voice of the people. We gathered in public spaces protesting the control that the wealthy had on us. We created small ‘tent cities’ in these spaces that resembled shanty-towns of the thirties or homeless squats.
We had conversations with people from lower income brackets suddenly realizing that the beggar on the street corner was no different from the working mother, with a family to support, who was millions of dollars in debt.
Our collective understanding of the economic situation that humanity was facing rippled and transformed the everyday way of living.
In the case of the art world, artists began to ponder who the “one percent” of the art world were? This wasn’t just considering paycheques and commission payments, but also in terms of who occupies, has access to and governs arts and cultural institutions.
Artists began going beyond the confines of black box theatres or white gallery walls. They moved further into public space with interventions (some of you might recall the flash-mob craze in the late 2000s.)
As with all artistic movements, the role of the artist began to slowly transform into work that many people might confuse with facilitator, engagement coordinator, event planner or community developer.
I’m generally focused on challenging power structures and attempting to create more inclusive and accessible spaces.
Here are some examples of my work:
The YYC Free Market was established as an art experiment in alternative economies during a time in Calgary when the recession hit businesses and ten percent of the Calgary population was unemployed. Essentially, it’s a giant yard sale with no money. The currency being: give what you can and take what you need. I was interested in the exchange of the personal value, not the financial value, of an item or exchange between people. This event began at containR park in Sunnyside and is now an on-going quarterly event hosted between that site and the Hillhurst/Sunnyside Community Association.
Calgary teens promote their #safeAB campaign to raise awareness and create policy change around the importance of Gay-Straight Alliances in all Alberta school boards.
During the Winter of 2015/16 the Alberta legislature proposed Bill 10/ Bill 202 which eventually gave the ability of school administrations and school boards the authority to deny any student the right to establish a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in their school. In a collaboration with Antyx Community Arts, Calgary Sexual Health, the Calgary GSA Alliance Network and Forest Lawn High School GSA, I worked with a group of youth at the high school to determine what the actual voice of the youth was. The youth conceived of, wrote, filmed and produced an online video campaign entitled #safeAB that promoted the importance of safe spaces for not only LGBTQ* youth, but for all Alberta citizens across our province. In its first week, the video garnered 6,000 views and would eventually become known as the true voice of the youth in this entire decision-making process.
The Alberta government eventually passed a bill that required all school boards in Alberta to have a LGBT safer space policy.
Currently, I am in the works of establishing a Museum of Outsider Art in Calgary. The project is in its infancy stage but will eventually be a programmed space for artists working with social justice issues or vulnerable populations. The hope is to highlight social issues and use the power of the art institution to address these issues in a more inclusive and ethical manner.
Too often the gallery or theatre can have similar rules of engagement that we see in places of worship – come in, don’t touch anything, keep quiet unless what you say is important and most of all worship the enlightened, which in this case would be the artist. I think it is crucial that artists and arts institutions ask themselves who is actually attending their gallery or theatre? How are they making the work accessible, not only to the everyday Joe and Jane, but also to the more marginalized populations? And most importantly, what collective ownership does the arts institution or artist give these populations when it comes to the spaces they occupy and the work that is presented?
So, a day in the life of Kevin Jesuino is spent thinking a lot about how artists integrate and create work with and by (as opposed to to and for) specific communities.
It has less to do with me at the centre of the work and more as a holder of space for something to arise from a community need. The role of the artist, in my practice, is to facilitate the re-imagining of how we are interconnected and how we build lasting relationships with each other.
In 2008, we were faced with the collapse of Wall Street triggering a collective response of the 99 vs. the 1 percent. In 2017, short of ten years, we are faced with both physical walls along borders, and more metaphorical walls in terms of international trade agreements, protectionism and the division and outcasting of people who are different from the so-called normal. Artists have an important role to play as we begin to see the effects these societal ‘walls’ have on the general North American public and beyond. Much like theatre and gallery openings can bring people together to discuss important topics that an artist has represented in their work, artists can now devise their work with the general public and conceive of futures that bring us together rather than further distance ourselves from each other.
Line contour drawing made by a local Calgarian citizen of Kevin Jesuino.
Kevin Jesuino is a Portuguese-Canadian interdisciplinary artist working in mediums of applied live performance, digital media and participatory social art practices. He is a graduate from Grant MacEwan University (Diploma in Theatre Arts- Honors) and the University of British Columbia (BFA Interdisciplinary Performance- Honors) where he graduated with distinction with a Medal in Fine Arts. In 2012 he was nominated by the Arts Council of the Central Okanagan for his support in community arts development. From 2006-09 he founded and was the Artistic Producer of New City Collective, a company focused on physical and image based performances in found/public/private spaces based out of Bangkok, Thailand. He is currently interested in questions of authentic liveness, relational aesthetics, social justice and the perspective of the ‘outsider’. Kevin Jesuino has presented and collaborated on work in Canada, the United States of America, Thailand, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. In Calgary he is the Founder of the YYC Free Market, a Community Arts Facilitator with Antyx Community Arts and is currently developing the Calgary Museum of Outsider Art.
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