Global Ambassadors

Artistic Practices for Social Change

Theory comes from practice—feeling comfortable with the unknown, with humility and compassion, in a very, very complex world
~ Alain Ruche

In recent years, my frustration, my curiosity and, yes, pure serendipity gave me privileged access to high-level scientific conferences on system analysis and complexity, where I was the only policymaker. Indeed, our results-oriented policies do not deliver their intended outcomes. They are biased by our self-centered, linear, reductionist, and mechanical Western worldview. And they depend on a narrow framework of planning, programming, and projects, mostly based on a static interplay between actors.

I applied the principles of a complex system approach to my job, starting from the context sensitivity to initial conditions, self-organization, interconnectedness, permanent and rapid change, emergence by design and pattern recognition. For example, we organized a seminar in Ukraine and invited artists from the separatist zone, from Kiev, and from the Bolshoi Ballet to share with us their feelings and experience with the conflict and to identify actions complementing the traditional papers presented by academics, researchers, and think-tank representatives. I also joined the amazing experiment carried out by The Complete Freedom of Truth for developing a global youth citizenship through the arts.

In brief, I started looking at things from another angle, giving priority to experimentation and improvisation rather than to (supposedly) new ideas to be implemented. This approach has naturally led to new insights for action. In our complex, interconnected, unpredictable, and rapidly changing world, we do not need to understand before acting. Theory comes from practice, not the other way ‘round.

After my retirement last year, I deepened my engagement towards policy-making in the arts. This strengthened my belief that artists are playing a pivotal role in the current transition towards a new civilization. They show us that feeling comfortable with the unknown matters more than expecting outcomes, that making sense matters more than solving problems, and that connecting the dots with intuition and serendipity matters more than detailed analysis and categorization. The flow is the unit. Artists work and act on internal dynamics to create meaningful interconnections and discover emerging patterns, often unexpectedly.

Our times have shown us the inherent limits of electoral politics and socioeconomic challenges. So, culture appears to be the natural channel for releasing new forces towards social transformation. The problem is that this movement has often remained at a jargon or declarative level. This is where artists manifest themselves as anchorage points for making sense and co-creating our collective future. They spread and share practices in our complex world, as well as expand creativity beyond the arts, across the full spectrum of current challenges.

It is key to complement the work of professional artists with actively engaging citizens in artistic practices to make their own culture and engage in grassroots self-expression. Artists are not isolated; they are also citizens and civic leaders, with an impact on the social capital and the identity of a place. We need new forms of collaboration between artists, academics, policymakers, local authorities, and other citizens. Partnerships between local policymakers and arts communities are critical.

The Commons plays a strategic role. The practice of commoning regenerates people’s connections with each other and with nature. It helps build new aspirations and multiple identities. It creates cultural spaces and nourishes inner, subjective experiences that have far more to do with the human condition and social change than market culture. The Commons is all about our shared DNA. Artists, therefore, put us in contact with spheres of life that matter to us—cities, neighborhoods, customs, ‘vivre-ensemble’ (living together), spirituality, food, water, land, money, and social services.

At the same time, artists pave the way for a world-centric worldview with both an ecological-spiritual and integral dimension, thus playing a central role in ensuring systemic change for peace. Indeed, the arts offer unique opportunities for transforming intractable interpersonal, intercommunal, national, and global conflicts.

This new transformational model places the dynamics of creative practice at the forefront of systemic social change, embodying a shift from industrial and transactional models focused on arts products for consumption towards insights of emerging models from lived experiences and partnerships. Arts organizations become laboratories for establishing evolving and long-term partnerships, including with local authorities and academic institutions. Let’s move beyond a project approach, which often gets stuck in delivery, towards an experimental adventure nurtured and geared by a holistic view and a profound intention. The priority action is to identify acupuncture points where we need to put our attention.

At the end of the day, it often boils down to money, doesn’t it? The artist feeds our soul, but who feeds the artist? Initiatives have emerged for artists to get paid in a digital age, and the concept of universal income is gaining ground until the currency itself changes, and new forms of value emerge.