Documenting Activist Design: Art Omi revisited urban interventions with a display of work from four architecture collaboratives. The Architect's Newspaper, Jul. 20, 2023.
A show on the community-engaged projects of four architecture collaboratives based in the U.S., Central America, and England, Shared Space—Collective Practices, was on view at outdoor sculpture park Art Omi in the Hudson Valley for the first half of 2023. Organized by Art Omi architecture curator Julia van den Hout, the exhibition within in the Newmark Gallery revisited a form of social activist design work known as urban interventions that emerged in the mid-to-late 2000s: a way of organizing small-scale projects to activate vacant spaces, advocate for social and political issues, and serve historically discriminated-against and economically disadvantaged groups.
Featuring a selection of projects by WIP Collaborative, FUNdaMENTAL Design Build Initiative, Colloqate Design, and Assemble, the show exhibited photos and videos documenting the four practices in the gallery of Art Omi’s stone-and-glass-walled visitor’s center, designed in 2008 by Ghent, New York–based FT Architecture & Interiors. A series of sloping, multicolored platforms with varying surface textures designed by WIP is the center point of the gallery. The colorful platforms are being reused after the show in the organization’s education pavilion.
The four collaboratives share a style familiar to many community-oriented design initiatives: ad hoc, colorful, joyful, and often temporary, they react to the unique situation of a place and engender a sense of belonging among residents normally ignored by government programs and private finance-led redevelopment. They create places of identification and inspiration that signal intangible, unseen possibilities. While the scale of these projects can often seem inadequate in the face of larger-scale systemic and institutional failures, the work has a self-evident value. They serve as pilots, models, examples, and inspirations, change agents stimulating others to act, and opportunities to expand the imagination for people with little exposure to art and design. They can have substantial results when adequately funded and expanded into policymaking regimes. And the collaborations with community members can be incredibly fun, meaningful, and rewarding.
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