Design Trust Fellows Sarah Lidgus and Sam Holleran presented The World's Park project at the ninth edition of Open Engagement, an annual, artist-led conference dedicated to expanding the dialogue around the field of socially engaged art. The conference highlights the work of trans-disciplinary artists, activists, scholars, community members, and organizations working within a variety of social issues and struggling for social justice.
This year the conference took place from April 29 to May 1 at the Oakland Museum of California and additional sites throughout the Bay Area, and brought together practitioners, museum professionals, artists, and activists from around North America under the theme of 'Power'. Conference goers explored digital tools for building and sharing power, the legacy of Northern California’s radical politics, and the role of art in struggles for equity and justice. Keynote speeches by theorist and activist, Angela Davis, and social practice artist Suzanne Lacey further explored the way socially-engaged art dovetails with activist movements from the Black Panthers to Black Lives Matter.
Sarah and I presented work from our Community Design School at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, as part of the Design Trust project, The World's Park. We addressed the conference's theme of power as it relates to parks planning in New York City, from the days of Robert Moses to the people-powered improvements sought for Flushing Meadows. Attendees were particularly interested in some of the simple tools that we used for framing community input, such as user journey mapping exercises and Mad Libs-style sheets for developing visions for park improvements.
Many of the Open Engagement sessions focused on the role of museums and other institutions in convening and commissioning social practice artworks. This was relevant to The World’s Park project because the Queens Museum, our project partner, anchored sessions and provided a neutral meeting ground within the park to discuss issues pertaining to the area. It was interesting to learn what other institutions, particularly the conferences hosts the Oakland Museum of California and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, were doing to open their doors to more community participation and extending ever more projects beyond their museums’ walls.
The conference also included a number of tours, performances, and talks around San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkley, that highlighted the distinctive flavor of Bay Area community arts and design practices. These projects often focused on the changing nature of the region, the struggle to maintain affordable housing, and the need to preserve and protect affordable art spaces.