Jul 22, 2016

Bridging Conversations: Paul Farber discusses the In/Out Symposium

by: Carly Rapaport-Stein

Mural Arts’ scholar-in-residence Paul Farber has a busy and thought-provoking weekend ahead. The co-creator of the In/Out Symposium, Paul, and his fellow co-creator Daniel Tucker (Moore College of Art & Design), are diving into the ethical issues surrounding socially-engaged artmaking. Read on for Paul’s thoughts on this annual symposium!

Carly: Tell me a little about In/Out.

Paul: In/Out Symposium this year brings together leading practitioners from the Philadelphia area and across the country to talk about a driving force of their engaged artwork: the question of ethics. We’ll look at how artists envision their projects, channel their creativity, and engage communities around ethical questions, especially in how they go into a project initially versus how they adapt on the ground.

Carly: What are some of the most unique features of this symposium?

Paul: We’re excited to hold a symposium that sheds light on artistic process, especially the questions that we ask ourselves about ethical engagement, and that this conversation is happening in  public. We hope that it’s an invitation to not just come to hear leading voices in the field but to help shape our sense of what artwork that’s ethically engaged, especially in civic environments, like the park, the street, the storefront, can and should be.

Carly: How did you arrive at this year’s theme?

Paul: Last year’s theme was time, or considering time as a medium of artwork and as a creative force.  Talking about ethics felt like a natural next step, exploring the kinds of questions that artists and organizations ask themselves or the ways in which they are pushed by their public to examine their work. There have been many conversations and dialogues in the field around this topic, especially in a recent issue of Art & the Public Sphere, edited by Jonathan Wallis, who’s on the Moore faculty, that many of the participants this year also contributed to. We felt like it was a next step that would be not just helpful, but is urgent in many of the projects that we pursue.

Carly: One of the ways that this symposium is particularly interesting is that it marries Mural Arts’ fieldwork with Moore College’s educational framework. Could you tell me about that intersection of education and practical application?

Paul: As seen in Mural Arts’ body of work and the artistic output of the Moore community, knowledge is produced in many different places. Sometimes, it’s in the traditional academic settings, but also and often, it’s produced from and within communities. That kind of knowledge may be localized, may be specified, and may come out of grassroots forms of dialogue. The idea of In/Out is not to prioritize one mode of artmaking or knowledge production over the other, but rather to bridge between important conversations that are drawn out of the way we do work in the field and the way we think about it with critical distance.

This year, we’ve also extended the time of each of our site visits. Working very closely with our hosts at Bartram’s Garden,Southeast by Southeast, and along Lancaster Avenue with Philadelphia LISC, we’ve been working very closely and imagined a visit that will hopefully open up new possibilities for understanding from the ground up at each of these sites.

Carly: Reflecting its name, this symposium is designed to be both out on site visits and in the classroom setting. How did you arrive at that format?

Paul: This symposium is designed to not just highlight the thought partnership between Mural Arts and Moore, but to really meet artists, scholars, and practitioners where they are, which is constantly negotiating time for reflection and time for creative action. The concept, especially for a symposium that is held during the summer, is a chance to really get insight into people’s process and have time to make sure that we reflect together. For participants, the goal is to come together and do critical deep dives into particular projects and site visits, but to also get a bird’s eye view perspective of exciting interventions in the field. Though our conversation is bringing in people nationally and transnationally, we are excited to hold the symposium in Philadelphia because this is a major, national hub for socially-engaged art.

Carly: Could you talk about a few of the projects this year that center on socially-engaged art?

Paul: Two of our panels on Saturday include featured organizations and projects. One is most likely familiar to Mural Arts’ audiences: Michelle Angela Ortiz’s Familias Separadas, which was a part of Open Source, and was recently awarded a major national honor. Michelle will be in conversation with Erika Almiron, Executive Director of JUNTOS and Cruz Romero, a JUNTOS community member. Almost a year after her project was powerfully installed in City Hall and outside of the ICE building, they’ll be conversing to make sense of the ethical steps and adaptations that her project took en route to being such an urgent intervention into our public dialogue around immigration issues.

Another Saturday panel features A Long Walk Home’s Girl/Friends, who are also doing urgent work with youth and young women of color, seeking to foster and create advocates against gender based violence. One of their founders is University of Pennsylvania professor Salamishah Tillet, along with her sister Scheherazade, and the panel will feature the artists who helped found the organization and some of the youth who are in their summer program in Chicago. It’s a mix of the kinds of artistic experiences and understanding across these projects and a deep focus around these particular interventions, which is one of the matters which we try to highlight through In/Out. With a sustained, focused look, together we might draw out broader insight for us to understand these projects and our own.

Carly: Thanks so much, Paul, and enjoy the weekend!

Last updated: Jul 22, 2016

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