In January, I began an experiment in podcasting, following an invitation from Owen Kelly and Sophie Hope, who host an excellent and varied podcast under the banner Meanwhile In An Abandoned Warehouse (no, I don’t know either, but it’s a nicely evocative name). They’d interviewed Arlene Goldbard, an American artist-activist and good friend of mine in a couple of early episodes, and me when A Restless Art was published in 2019. Owen and Sophie suggested that Arlene and I should join their expanding platform and do a monthly podcast together, drawing on our experience of cultural democracy and community art.
It turns out that the podcast is itself an expression of those values, since I’m definitely the non-professional in this project, relying on Owen’s production skills to turn our conversations into a podcast. And, like a lot of people drawn into participatory art, I needed the encouragement and confidence of more experienced people. I’d not have done this without Arlene, whose fluency and confidence in this arena I don’t share.
It’s been a good trip, because talking with Arlene is always rewarding and fun, and because we’ve met some fantastic people (the list of episodes so far, with links, will give you a sense of the range). But I don’t yet feel comfortable in this medium. When I compare my performance to that of the podcasts I listen to, I’m definitely an amateur. That’s okay—my work in community art defends the principle that professional standards are not the only ones that matter. At the same time, I (like every non-professional artist I’ve ever worked with) want to achieve the best I can, so I’ll keep working at this. That’s another of the meanings held in Arlene’s title, A Culture of Possibility—the possibility of doing something difficult, something others might not expect of you, and the possibility of doing better each time you try.
During the past 40 years, cultural production has become hugely easier thanks to digital technology. Trying to make a video film in 1982 was exciting, but also very difficult, unless you had access to expensive equipment and training. We didn’t get far in any of the projects I worked on, falling back on media that were closer to our reach. Now, nothing could be easier: my colleagues in Portugal sent me a lovely video of a workshop this week on WhatsApp, and I learned how to reply in a couple of minutes. The removal of craft barriers to art-making has been liberating but the risk is that we forget that creating something worthwhile is just as difficult as it ever was. Recording and publishing a podcast is the easy part: crafting a conversation that is worth other people’s time listening to is quite another matter. Like all art, that always demands time, care, skill, experience, judgement and creativity.
This journey was interrupted in the summer by other priorities—a family illness that has required changes to my personal life and professional commitments. Arlene agreed, with characteristic generosity, to take on the whole responsibility for the podcast, and she produced three excellent episodes during the Autumn. Now, as we reach the end of the first year, we have recorded a conversation about this journey, some of the people we’ve met and some of what we’ve learned. The final episode of the year will be released on 17 December 2021, in all the usual places. I hope to resume my role as co-host, but life is more than usually uncertain at the moment, and I may have to drop in and out a bit over the coming months.
One unsettling aspect of podcasting, is that I have no idea whether anyone listens in or what they make of our conversations. If you have heard any of the podcasts, we’d really welcome some feedback—what’s interesting and what isn’t, perhaps or if there are subjects or even projects you think it would be good to address. You can use the comment box below if there’s anything you’d like to suggest.
The image at the top of this post is from the Vermillion Mural Collective, featured in our second podcast.
A Culture of Possibility – Episodes 1 – 12
22 January 2021 – A Culture of Possibility
The first episode was a conversation between Arlene and me about our intentions for a podcast that explores people, projects, and topics that expand possibility through cultural action.
19 February 2021 – Amber Hansen and Reyna Hernandez: Community Murals
In the second episode of A Culture of Possibility, Francois Matarasso and Arlene Goldbard talk with Amber Hansen and Reyna Hernandez, community muralists in South Dakota, USA.
19 March 2021– Restoke
For episode 3, we met Clare Reynolds, one of the founders of Restoke, a group who make performances and events that tackle social issues affecting their communities in Stoke-on-Trent (UK).
16 April 2021 – Funding for Community Arts
In episode 4 we talked about how community art is funded in the U.S. and Europe and the consequences for practice.
21 May 2021 – Cultural Organizing in West Baltimore
For episode 5, we interviewed Denise Griffin Johnson, a cultural organizer in West Baltimore on the east coast of the U.S. Denise spoke powerfully about racial justice, building on community strengths instead of deficits, the “highway to nowhere” and more.
In episode 6, we met interview Jade Campbell and Erin Walcon of Doorstep Arts in Torbay, England.
16 July 2021 – About Story: Ups and Downs of Story-Based Work
For episode 7, we discussed the explosion of story-based work in community and participatory arts and what it all means.
20 August 2021 – Bill Ming: We are coming in the front door tonight, people!
In episode 8, we talked with Bermudian artist Bill Ming in his studio in Nottinghamshire, England. Bill’s work in sculpture, assemblage, painting, and collage draws on the whole of personal and collective history, from the racism he faced growing up in segregated schools to his reponse to the death of George Floyd, from childhood toys to the blues to the Middle Passage.
17 September 2021 – Seed Syllables: Sowing Dialogue in the Quadruple Pandemic
In episode 9 Arlene spoke with Meena Natarajan, Artistic and Executive Director of Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Chrissie Orr, community artist and cofounder of Seed Broadcast in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
15 October 2021 – Gary Stewart: Community Arts Values Infiltrate The Art World
For episode 10, Arlene spoke with Gary Stewart, an artist and experimental sonic musician based in London.
19 November 2021 – Socially Engaged Performance, 1965–2020
In episode 11, Arlene met Jan Cohen-Cruz and Rad Pereira have curated stories from over 75 interviews and informal exchanges that offer insight into the field of Socially Engaged Performance in the United States over the past 55 years.
17 December 2021 – A year of podcasting
In the last episode of the year—which will be available in a couple of weeks’ time—Arlene and I reflect on the strength of community-based arts work we’ve heard about over the year, alignment around core values, the importance of emergence and allowing time for work to unfold.