Art in Hovinbyen

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Art in Hovinbyen

Hovinbyen will be extensively transformed in the next decade, creating a pool of resources for funding art and cultural projects in Grünerløkka, Bjerke, Alna and Gamle Oslo

Art in Hovinbyen is a proposal to use those resources to build a framework for community-led arts and cultural projects that improve and enrich civic life and the built environment in the area

Hovinbyen will be extensively transformed in the next decade, with urban redevelopment intended to realise a vision for the area as new city district to the North East of the historic centre of Oslo. A significant cultural opportunity exists as a part of this development, with a small amount of the vast wealth flowing into regeneration projects in the area creating a pool of resources for funding art and cultural projects for the city.

KORO and the Oslo Agency for Cultural Affairs want this funding to support artists to develop non-traditional public work. The ambition is not only to develop ways to think within the privileged spaces of design and governance, but to build a distributed, collective process whereby people that live, work and use parts of Hovinbyen can think and act together, over time, and that these processes act back on the city.

Normally, this would mean “consultation” – that is, the fractional spaces in which people outside of the decision-making spaces are asked what they think, or to contribute to that process already in motion. What we mean, however, is a process by which the day-to-day actions, feelings and realities of a group of people, who share ground, space and infrastructure can be understood as city-making, where the balance can slowly, perhaps over decades, be tipped, and the practice of city-making rebuilt around these relationships.

We understand that it is increasingly hard to imagine how cities, and they way we build and occupy them, might be other than they are. The built environment has emerged, from the later half of the 20th Century forward, as a kind of second nature, which actively self-reinforces its own logics and assumptions as it grows. Against this, our intention has to be whether we can, with our feet on the ground, and our eyes focused on the actual mechanisms that are making and remaking urban space, and the lives it is possible to live within it, start to create space for something else.

A process by which the day-to-day actions, feelings and realities of a group of people, who share ground, space and infrastructure can be understood as city-making, where the balance can slowly be tipped, and the practice of city-making rebuilt around these relationships

The role of art in Hovinbyen

Building cultural infrastructure

This project is an opportunity to build up a net work of projects – a cultural infrastructure – which incrementally and over the long-term support and enable a ground-up, strategic and informed conver sation about possible futures for our shared second nature, the built environment, and the kind of life we might live within it; starting with opportuni ties, building to principles and moving to practice.

Our aim is to develop a shared understanding of how artists and communities might think and act within the process of change, cutting across the habits and structures of contemporary urban development to create an approach that is more embedded, more particular, and more likely to produce the kinds of places that we want to live. And not only the kinds of places we think we want to live now, suitable for the kind of people we think we are now, but an active, living infrastructure which can provide the basic conditions required to enable interconnected, mutating social systems and cultural resources to grow and thrive over time.

The form that this will take requires collec tive discussion and development, building a shared understanding for where, with whom and with what agency local artists might work in Hovinbyen. This requires a dialogue to negotiate a shared sense for a way of working both individually and as peers to develop a community of practice supporting a collection of projects which will allow local initiatives to add up, to build, and to grow over time in a way that opens up new possibilities, and the possibility of new futures, beyond what we can imagine now. We are not talking about making space outside the processes of city making, but actually working out how to enable those processes to become more open, more varied and more humane, to make the creation of our shared environment a collective project, with the well-being, variety and diversity of that collectivity held as its primary motive.

• Art as public practice

Art in Hovinbyen cannot be about making public work for people and in places one does not know well, where public money is a precious and scarce resource for many communities and where the con text is complex. This is neither an efficient nor an equitable way of improving the urban condition, and it is not good practice. This is especially true when confronting economic, political and social climates that are always changing and in contexts where a vast number of vested interests are always in conflict. In Hovinbyen, intelligent and ambi tious art practice builds on the collective wisdom of people and organisations on the ground – people that think locally and act locally – as the basis for developing sophisticated, self-sustaining networks of project that can improve the city.

Rather than commissioning concepts, the pro ject should commission artists to work contextu ally and with specific communities and situations. By building on local initiatives that already exist rather than focusing on autonomous works in which the public is invited to participate, artists are able to bring a rare combination of skills and resources to support local projects to move from valuable community initiatives into wide-reaching, re sourceful and enduring resources which are shared, democratic and enrich local urban and civic life.

Our aim is to develop a shared understanding of how artists and communities might think and act within the process of change, cutting across the habits and structures of contemporary urban development to produce the kinds of places that we want to live

• A culture of collaborative practice

This approach will reshape the role of artists and cultural institutions at work in Hovinbyen, recasting the artist in a new role that places the precious combination of social, technical and creative skills that they possess in support of local initiatives, amplifying their potential to address the multiple and diverse challenges that a rapidly changing social, economic and urban fabric produces.

To do this will require co-operation from a broad community of artistic and cultural prac titioners, local groups and public agencies. It will require political support for something less immediately visual and tangible. It represents a change in way that public art institutions offer an alternative to patronage and support from the private sector. It suggests that the creative poten tial of collaboration and co-operation between professional artists and communities is richer, more valuable and more important than the creative autonomy and individual authorship. It asks us to reconsider what we think public art might look like, what we expect from it and how we measure and appraise its value.

• A mosaic, not a masterplan

What role can art practice play in making the city a productive and fulfilling environment within a context of rapid and extensive change? And how can it enable improvement at the scale of the city, or an area of the city without reproducing the simplified experience that large-scale development tends to produce?

Art in Hovinbyen is an opportunity to build-up a mosaic of small, complex projects across the area, beginning as a number of small-scale initiatives that can grow and be added to, building over time a densely interconnected system that recognises and works resourcefully with what is already there to create a rich picture of the city made of many fragments.

In order to do something big – to think globally, act locally, and make genuine and sustained improvements to the urban fabric and experience of communities in Hovinbyen – we need to start with small projects, and starts they will count the most. Art in Hovinbyen is about making the ordinary special and the special more widely accessible, expanding on the boundaries of understanding and possibility with vision and common sense. It is about building densely interconnected networks, making connections between unlikely partners and organisations and making plans without the usual preponderance of planning. It is about getting it right for now and at the same time being tactical and strategic about later. This is not about making visionary statements, nor about making deterministic plans for how future projects fit in …but it is about the long range, about being both politically connected, grounded in local situations and communities and disturbing the order and process of urban development in the pursuit of a richer, more plural and more responsive city.

Art in Hovinbyen is about being grounded in local situations and communities and disturbing the order and process of urban development in the pursuit of a richer, more plural and more responsive city

• Next steps

The next stage of the project is an opportunity to ask a number of key questions from partners we want to work with to make this ambition a reality, identifying opportunities and working through the challenge of how we can begin to develop and nurture a series of open-ended, communitydriven projects that are enriched, enhanced and made more accessible and more extraordinary through work in conjunction with artists working in public practice today.

How are horizontal networks built across the areas that connect the people that live there?

How can we create a robust case for making longer-term decisions? What kind of metrics do we want to test our city by?

How are these networks used, over time, to feed into and eventually shape discourse about the future?

If we can build a vision, how can we build a mandate and momentum around this vision? What narrative tools? Who will own the vision and champion it?

How can art practices help people cope with these radical changes?

How can the physical environment promote the idea of the city as a shared social, cultural and political site?

How can these practices reach into and support groups and individuals to live culturally rich lives?

How do we deal with the vast complexity of the range of forces that act on cities, whilst still building an identifiable vision?

Can we make a plan for Hovinbyen that will be an exemplar of positive, public minded urban development?

How can the work accumulate, be reinforced and become deepened over time, rather than simply repeated?

What means can we use to look at Hovinbyen more deeply, more emotively and more humanely and what evaluative tools can we develop to enable us to make better decisions and to test them?

Published by Assemble for KORO — Public Art Norway and the Agency for Cultural Affairs, City of Oslo, Norway.

Does the future of the city have to be defined by private development? What might we get by varying or even up ending this idea?

How do we make this back into a civic, shared conversation about the real issues?

Open questions

How do we capture the value of things that are now and are likely to remain hard to measure, but that we have heart-and-guts intuition for?

How can we sketch out what is really possible, once we sweep away the force of habit and learn from around the world?

How do we value art in an economic era, when the impact of design is usually long term and hard to measure?

Giles Smith Designed by Polytechnic Printed by Pressision ASSEMBLE Sugarhouse Studios 19 Collett Road SE16 4DJ Request a copies at: info@assemblestudio.co.uk +44 (0)207 237 0000 ©2020 Assemble
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