CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

4. OVERVIEW: CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what can you do for your country.”
Philip D. Murphy Embassador of the United States of America in Berlin

From a conference led by:
Okwui Enwezor – Director of Arts House (Haus der Kunst) Munich: "Civitas, Citizenship, Civility: Art and the Civic Imagination”

Citizenship and Citoyenneté were a promise of the emerging revolutionary and democratic nation states. How can such ideas and values be kept alive today under the conditions of globalization, migration and cultural difference? In the present debates feelings of uncertainty and anxiety arise in the attempt to defend the consent of citizenship against the dynamics of migration and the aspirations of cultural and ethnic minorities. A grey area has developed between citizenship granted by the constitution and the process of socialization beyond the limits of ethnic, religious, social, and political communities. State power and civilian violence – on the Indian subcontinent under the BJP government, but also within the European community – endanger civil society and its rights of the constitution. Facing these realities, what measures are necessary to make the general public aware of the rights and wrongs of granting citizenship, balancing the commitment of equality, religious freedom, political participation and cultural diversity on the one hand, and the different claims of identity from a world not conforming with western standards on the other? How should we conceive of a (European) citizenship and its rights, and imagine a »citizenship of the world«?

‘Aesthetic Imagination, Civic Imagination, and the Role of the Arts in Community Change and Development’ a paper delivered by Max Stephenson, Jr. And Katherine Fox Lanham
... perhaps the most difficult challenge confronting those using arts-based dialogue to kindle broad community conversation and reflection on the possible future of the Dan River region (area under investigation by Max Stephenson and Katherin Fox lanham) concerns a difficulty that inheres in the artists themselves: their conception of the implications of their understanding of themselves as aesthetes for their role in community.

A substantial minority of the artists we interviewed demonstrated difficulty conceiving of their art in civic or public terms. Instead, they saw their artistry as producing beauty for themselves and their consumers or supporters rather than as integral to a possible civic conversation. Put differently, rather than imagine their work as inherently communal, these artisans have privatized their sphere of work. While this is surely in keeping with the Western idealist philosophic tradition exemplified by Kant who argued that “the aesthetic sphere is one of free and disinterested purposelessness” and pure of any political connotation, it robs art-making of its social claim and empties it of its corporeal manifestation reducing it to a cognitive construct (Schusterman,2001, 260).

This view also assumes that beauty is not contested and exists apart from the stuff of daily life. This conception does not permit artists to understand that the aesthetic is itself full- bodied, multi-dimensional and contested over time. It does not allow them to understand the innately social character of their work—whatever their personal role in producing it (Eagleton, 1990). In short, one of the most difficult challenges of arts-based dialogue lies with the question of whether artists themselves define their enterprise in a way that allows them to grasp its social character. When they privatize their art, they privatize their role and do not understand its potential import for the broader community nor do they acknowledge the ways that social norms and mores shape the art they produce. The potential for dialogue is lost and the public role of the artist is not realized. The turn in cognitive perception necessary for artists to understand the contested, physical and communal character of the aesthetic may be likened to the turning of a crystal vase so that other facets of its character may shine through. The reach of artistic aesthetic imagination shapes the capacity of art to play a role in the ongoing dynamic conversation that shapes civic possibility or imagination. Understood properly and broadly, these conceptions are joined and each reinforces the other. Viewed narrowly, the potential of both is hobbled.

More information:
Beautiful Civic Engagement
Darrell O’Donnell’s Manifesto

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