By Hélène Bussy-Socrate and Nicolas Aubouin
In the context of one Open Walked Event Based Experimentations (OWEE), Nicolas and I were in charge of organizing a learning expedition in Paris about Street Art. Most OWEE and past learning expeditions organized by RGCS so far have been organized as a set of visits. We thus walked between places and indoor times. Our idea idea here was to spend all our time in public spaces, and to discover collectively with participants’ streets, public walls, gardens and places open to the public. Nicolas and I were not street art’s nor art history experts. Although we realized very quickly that organizing a tour about something that has a short-lived is complicated and risky, we tried to figure out what could be our role during the tour. We had two strong assets to organize this walk: our institution is based in one of the most important scene for Street Art in France, the XIIIth arrondissement of Paris, and we possess initial network that could help. Thus, we named ourselves ‘facilitators’, helping the group to learn more about street art through different point of views. We decided to divide our OWEE into three stages.
The first stage involved identification of actors. Nicolas get in touch with a good friend elected at the XIII arrondissement city council. Very quickly, the mayor himself answered ppositively to our call and invited us for a breakfast. A visit of the city council would give to participant the elective representatives point of view. In partnership with a gallerist, they ordered several pieces to promote a positive image to citizens. On my side, I got in touch with several artists I knew. Despite their interest for the walk, most of them were traveling abroad at that time. So I visited Urbacolors, and interactive maps, picked up names of artist working in the XIII and contacted them via Facebook Messenger. Two days later, Lor-K called me. She is doing sculptures with rubbish and was really interested in bringing up her critical vision of street art, so did I! She would explain to participant how she meanders in the city to find the correct place.
The second stage involved “spotting”. Once we had our contacts for guiding participants in the street art world, we had to design the walk. To make sure participants could enjoy some street arts between the city council and Lor-K projects, we decided to go and have a look ourselves. We did a first spotting together in bicycle. It helped us to familiarize ourselves with the area, and to look at practical things such as quiet places to discuss and where to have lunch. Nicolas went for a walk and spotting of the places alone one day before as he guides the group. This walk was an opportunity both to consider all possible trajectories of route, to think about the street art works that can be presented, the spaces and times of sharing. It was also a step to enrich the network. Indeed, Nicolas took the initiative to go meet Mehdi Ben Sheikh, the head of the itinérance gallery, which is a key actor of street art in the 13th arrondissement. He was immediately excited by the project and opened to help us. He proposed to welcome us in the gallery and to present himself the philosophy of his approach of production and accompaniment of artists. It was also a stage to discuss on issues of the institutionalization of street art and the role of the gallery owner in this process.
Pictures 1: Map and and short walk to spot the places that would be at the heart of our learning expedition (source: authors’ own)
The last stage involves the management of serendipity. Like most plans, nothing happened as planned and this is truly what is expected from OWEE process!
During our D day, we have thus has many good or (rarely) bad surprises. We had planned milestones but we left a lot of room for improvisation. From the City hall to the gallery we let ourselves be carried away by unexpected discoveries of art works on the street or places like the Frigos, by the people we met (Lor-K, Bamba, Emmanuel, the Frigos member, people in the street), by the anecdotes that have generated questions and reactions. This serendipitous process was particularly enjoyable. We had to adapt to the climatic conditions (by looking for a covered space) to the physical conditions (by looking for a café where to settle and debrief) to the opportunities related to the meetings in particular in the Frigos.
We also rethought the trajectories of our travels both to meet the constraints of timing but also to maintain an openness to the opportunity of a discovery such as taking the metro to discover the frescoes in height and find more quickly one of the artists with whom we had appointment.
The group set up on Whatsapp and occasional phone calls to participants allowed to manage flexibly the constraints of time and place that appeared on the way. The adaptation of the role of the guide was also important to accompany the different phases of the OWEE: first a leadership role to move the group in motion towards the first landmarks (physical and intellectual); then, a role of facilitator to create link with the various stakeholders; lastly, a more elusive role to keep a space for improvisation and autonomy of the participants.