"What I always try, and this is what makes social design different from art, is to change the systems surrounding specific issues. It is my ambition to establish something beyond this disruption."

How can artists relate to urban and social processes? Societal systems that no longer function have to be redesigned. This works well in collaboration with artists according to social designer and intendant Tabo Goudswaard. Artists do not solve the problems, but make them bigger in order to see them from a different perspective. It is important that artists are involved in tackling certain issues by different societal parties, even though their work method is not always directly quantifiable. Cultural fund ‘The Art of Impact’ offers artists and designers the possibility to develop their involvement. How does the cultural fund do this? Tabo Goudswaard will explain.

Goudswaard made it clear at the very beginning of the conversation that he is currently fulfilling two roles. He once studied at the Gerrit Rietveld academy and the No Academy, now he is active as a social designer for a range of different art projects. Next to that, Goudswaard is currently busy with a meta-level design where he tries to see how artists and designers can relate to societal issues, and how they are indispensable in this process. As an artist he is connected to the innovative consultancy company Twynstra Gudde. On top of that, Goudswaard connects artists, theatre makers, designers and photographers to ministries and other agencies when societal systems are dysfunctioning. He does this together with his Twynstra Gudde team.

The impact of artists

Artists are often seen as outsiders, and Goudswaard thinks this is because artists themselves put them into that position. ‘The art world and the societal work field operate differently, they find other things more important and they don’t speak each others language.’ So how can artists still be valuable for societal issues? Goudswaard believes that because there are so many failing systems, the repertoires of artists are very welcome and necessary additions. ‘As an artist, you can work intuitive and inefficient, be in doubt, try things and see failure as a possibility. Artists are able to look at processes without a time pressure or dominating system rules. They ask fundamental questions and are well equipped to approach issues from a human perspective. They do what is necessary, not what is appropriate.’

Goudswaard names the example of the current art project ‘Mag Stad’ in the north of Amsterdam. This project researches the mental space that citizens and professionals experience to take initiative. The current rules concerning bottom-up initiatives are in this case completely left out of view. Instead, unexpected initiatives and daily practices are presented. The research has many parallels with our Nieuw Nederland platform (our Dutch equivalent of New Europe). ‘How does the daily life of people and initiators connect with participation projects from the government and how can you design new frameworks for this? Often policy makers are stimulating citizens to fill empty terrains. This while the interests of these people may lie elsewhere so that they want to do other things.’

‘Street races next to the quay, is that possible?’ Results from the art project show that there is already an initiative, called Damesbende van Buiksloot, active in the area of Amsterdam-Noord. This initiative consists of a group of retired ladies who watches the neighborhood closely and brings order to the chaos in it’s own way. New questions that are derived from the project are asked to policy makers and citizens. It offers a new perspective on what is possible.

Mag stad?

The Art of Impact

The cultural fund ‘The Art of Impact’ has been set up by Jet Bussemaker, Dutch minister of education, culture and science, together with six other national public cultural funds: Fonds Podiumkunsten, Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie, het Mondriaan Fonds, het Nederlands Letterenfonds, het Fonds voor Cultuurparticipatie en het Nederlands Filmfonds. These funds want to show how artists can efficiently shape society. Therefore, seven million euros is reserved for art with a societal impact. As an intendant, Goudswaard is responsible for selecting around 50 art projects. Each project will get 30.000 euros and Goudswaard will guide them in the impact they will make on the society.

One of the most frequent asked questions is: how is this impact to be made explicit? And how do you measure this impact? According to Goudswaard this is an immediate concern for many after a project ends, some cling to the number of visitors or other measurable results. ‘It is great if you can display the causal link between deeper societal effects and your work, but often this is hard to show.’ The Art of Impact involved a research organization that investigates our projects and the projects that we support. They try to answer questions like: Where and how do artists and societal domains find each other and what did this bring? Important is the question of how artistic actions can affect societal work processes.

‘An example of a typical artistic effect is that something gets deregulated, mirrored or challenged. This can be confronting. Maybe as an organization you are part of the problem. However, if you regulate the collaboration between an artist and a company and create the right expectations, it can prove to be very valuable and cause good self-reflection. All of a sudden it will become clear how certain issues are built up; what the paradoxes are; what keeps the system in balance and who is part of it.’

Designing the collaboration between artists and societal partners is seen as a very important aspect by Goudswaard. ‘Because the art world and the societal work field have a very different approach, value different things, and speak a different language their collaboration is full of opportunities. However, this is what makes it complicated as well.’ To improve this relationship and giving the topic more attention, Goudswaard introduced the ‘Impact Award, an art reward for non-artists’. This reward emphasizes the importance of the collaboration and stimulates people to participate as an impact producer of committed art. Vera Bachrach, who is connected to the initiative ‘De Tostifabriek’ was honored with the first Impact Award, because of her role as an impact producer. She was praised for her perseverance and resistance present at the connection of the different parties.

The type of artist

What is asked of an artist? What kind of artist do you have to be to start collaborating? Goudswaard thinks some artists fear to be ‘instrumentalized’ when they get involved in creating societal art. ‘This fear is however misplaced. The autonomy and the artistic aspect remain of equal importance. This is where their presence is complimentary. It is interesting to research how valuable and productive an artist can be in collaboration with societal practices.

Goudswaard worked together with his colleagues from Twynstra Gudde on a problem from the Rijkswaterstaat and the municipality of Amsterdam regarding the rebuilding of the A9 Gaasperdammerweg (a national highway). People living close by can expect an intensive and lengthy rebuild with a lot of nuisance. Instead of just thinking of the negative aspects, Goudswaard and his colleagues designed a new way to approach this six-year building project for the surroundings.

They proposed to see the project A9 Gaasperdammerweg as a temporary economy and to establish a social enterprise with the concerned parties. This social enterprise should aim for societal efficiency several investments: ‘De buurbouw, de plek waar de A9 en Amsterdam Zuidoost elkaar ontmoeten.’ A team is set up that studies the possibilities to increase the efficiency of the social enterprise. A concrete example is the establishment of the A9-academy, where people can get a complimentary starter qualification.

What skills does an artist need to work in such an environment? ‘After you have made it more complicated for the client first, you have to explain why your personal proposal –often expensive, a little bit strange and inefficient – is promising for the involved parties. This new author-driven proposal from the artist can be a way out for societal systems that are stuck. You don’t know what it will bring, it doesn’t guarantee success. But even just trying together makes it worth while.’

This article is translated. The original can be found here.

Tabo Goudswaard will be present at the City Makers Pre-Summit on the 4th and 5th of February during the expert session ‘Redesigning Democracy’.



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