Are we living more bravely one month out?

One month after the close of Public Trust, and I find myself revisiting the 400+ participant surveys we collected, trying to make sense of what just happened and analyzing the project’s impact.

Were we successful in achieving our goal of supporting an artist to do his best work to date? Did Public Trust raise awareness of the value of our words in a time when words don’t seem to matter much? Did it challenge the notion of how a public is formed and fostered? And lastly, maybe most important to me, was the project accessible?

One comment from Dudley Square about what the participant enjoyed most about the experience jumps off the page.

The location [Dudley Square]. It is obviously used by people who are under-employed. Someone was sleeping here for 45 minutes. A self-proclaimed gangbanger in front of me promised to do better next year. He didn’t know he was participating in an artwork by a major artist [Paul Ramirez Jonas].

This gets me thinking. Could there be another criteria for evaluating Public Trust*, or another question I should be asking myself, such as, Did the work transcend definitions of art and stop needing that label to exist? Did it exist, humbly, for the public to do with as they pleased?

When I was child and experienced James Wine’s Ghost Parking Lot, it wasn’t art to me. It was just this really cool line of asphalt-covered cars in the parking lot where we shopped for food. It also made all the adults talk! My father was mad that they’d ruined vintage cars and my mom appreciated the symbolism and connection to Silent Spring. I was just in awe — how did they do that? — and curious about the conversation the adults were having.

James Wine,  Ghost Parking Lot , Hamden, CT, 1977 Photo from SITE New York.

James Wine, Ghost Parking Lot, Hamden, CT, 1977 Photo from SITE New York.

I’d rather do this anytime than walk into a museum and look at a painting on the wall.
— Dudley participant

Some of my most powerful memories of Public Trust occurred while witnessing some very brave and curious people approach the table without knowing Now + There, who Paul Ramirez Jonas was, or frankly caring that this was socially engaged art. They seized the moment, got real with a compassionate performer, and proudly exclaimed their truth with their community.

These people out here know me.
— participant on the importance of putting her promise on the board

On afternoon Kai was on her way to the library with her grandfather to pick up her summer reading. She saw the billboard and stopped to inquire about it.

Later, she sealed her promise, to make sure Black lives matter, with a pinky swear, a wide smile on her face, and conviction in her voice.  

I don’t know if she thought the billboard was art and I don’t care if she viewed it as such. I am simply proud that Now + There could support Paul Ramirez Jonas in creating a framework where this young girl, the self-proclaimed gangbanger, and 954 others could make their voices as big and loud as those of our political figures.

It will take many more months to fully evaluate the data we collected and to write the final exhibition catalog. While we do this important work, would you help me by sharing your story? You can use this handy form here, tweet or Instagram us your reflection with #PublicTrustBOS, or simply send me an email. I'd love to hear from you.

Let me know: did making a promise, and making it public, inspire you to take action or live more bravely?

Bonus: We're giving away a $75 gift certificate, good for custom framing your promise artwork, to one randomly selected person who shares their story by November 4!

* For an excellent read on the many definitions of socially engaged art, check out our four-part Art in Service series with Big Red & Shiny and Alter Projects.