Public Art Engagement Creating Neighborhood Reporters
Last week, I heard local artist Kinji Akagawa’s joyful chuckle as I stood still, swept up in his world while viewing his public art piece, Enjoyment of Nature, in Minneapolis. And he wasn’t even next to me. Instead, I was listening to a recording done by Akagawa for Sound Point, a collaboration by Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and the City of Minneapolis.
Sound Point is a technologically innovative way for people in Minneapolis to connect with art, artists, and public space. After the (optional) recorded welcome by Mayor R.T. Rybak, the listener/viewer can experience 13 pieces of art, all within a two-mile radius. In these short recordings, artists explain the significance of the pieces’ spatial contexts and what they hope visitors will experience while viewing their work.
I stood, phone to my ear, for a whole three minutes, as I listened to Akagawa talk about his piece. He communicated his wish of creating a gathering place for people, either waiting for the bus or sitting in the sun sipping coffee, and even birds who can visit the bird bath.
One aspect of Akagawa’s built environment is a moonscape, depicting the moon’s movement over a month-long period. Akagawa notes that it honors the people who clean the city at night, many of whom are people of color and immigrants.
Next, I walked to the City’s Public Service Center where I found another Sound Point, Wing Young Huie’s Lake St., USA. A community photography project, it was originally a set of hundreds of black and white photos that was publicly displayed along six miles of Lake Street in Minneapolis. Now, some of them hang on the walls where the city planners pass every day. In his recording, Huie notes the importance of showing his photos in public spaces because they “reflect realities of so many different people.”
And this is what Sound Point is all about, Engagement Editor for Public Insight Network Jeff Jones told me in a recent conversation. The folks behind Sound Point are not only concerned about giving information to viewers, but also wish to engage participants in conversation with the project’s "talk back" function.
After listening to the recordings, viewers can leave a text or verbal message which end up in Jones’ inbox. Jones’ vision is to hear people muse, “I remember this place when...” or “my dream for this block is...”
Jones tells me that one of the goals of the project is to incorporate “real people” into the news who act as partners in reporting what’s going on in their neighborhoods. Since the weather is only now conducive to comfortably standing outside listening to recordings, Jones is hoping for an increase in messages.
His vision is that once he receives several exemplar messages, he will change the recordings so that viewers will hear the artists and then comments from previous viewers; he hopes this will spur ideas for future dialogues regarding possibilities for neighborhood growth and change.
The design of Sound Point lends itself to exciting evaluation and analysis opportunities.
For example, Jones can count how many people listen to each recording, know whether or not they comment on the piece, and analyze the content of their messages. From this information, he can evaluate the value people place on the locations and content of the pieces of art and examine how their viewing experience translates into thinking about the neighborhood.
I’m looking forward to following the evolution of Sound Point because I can envision so many exciting conversations resulting from the project.
Perhaps the recorded messages will spur dialogue between viewers, conversation about public space, art, and relevant social issues reflected in the artwork. Maybe viewers will lobby for additional public art work in their communities.
However Jones’ evaluation shakes out, I know that whenever I pass Enjoyment of Nature, I’ll imagine Akagawa’s laugh, urging me to ponder the joy of and potential for art in public spaces.