Public / Participatory Art Post #1: Wanna Make Something Of It?

So you have an urgent need to respond to something that’s harming the world, or an urgent desire to enact or enable a different way of living. We’ll take as part of our premise that you’re not content with sitting on the couch and crying, or however despair combines with inaction for you. You’ll want to ask yourself two major questions:

1) What thing do I want to do, and who might be glad I did it?

2) What parameters will make it most likely that I will do the thing?


And some subsidiary questions (I’ll tell you how I answered those for the first phase of this project):

What are you great at? List everything, even things that don’t “count”, and circle potentially useful items.

HOW I ANSWERED IT (useful items only): Writing, drawing, sewing, talking to strangers, keeping conversations going, doing unusual things in public, noticing animals and plants.

(Another stunning and relevant answer to “What are you great at?”: Rachel Schragis’s flowcharts)


What are you not great at, but willing and able to devote some time to learning? How much time? Can you learn concurrently with the things you’re already doing?

HOW I ANSWERED IT: Listening, building things, stopping conversations, keeping my temper (future things to learn: figuring out how the climate action resource library will need to work; asking people for information for it and making sure the information is accurate; designing a performance version of the booth). A few months. Yes.



What do you enjoy? I ask this because if there’s no pleasure, no reward in action for you, it’ll be hard to keep yourself doing whatever it is. Similarly, what can you tolerate and what do you not handle well?

HOW I ANSWERED IT: Enjoy: more or less the same answers as “What are you great at?” (and now you know a little more about me than you did before). Tolerate: People who talk at repetitive length, inclement weather, noise, police presence, hunger up to a point, muscular effort up to a point. Not handle well: People laughing at me, people needing me to express agreement (as distinct from acknowledgment) to what they’re saying, electronics not working perfectly, 


What kind of help can you draw on? Who has skills they can teach you, who can lend you their labor or time, who knows where you can get permission to do the thing … ?

HOW I ANSWERED IT: My husband knows how to build things. My friend was once in charge of programs and events for the spots I wanted to do my project in. (Again, this is going to have different answers for the project’s different next phases.) I work at a university where some of the students had worked to develop Resilient RI legislation, as well as having done activist work; they had some good suggestions for how to set up, and they came down and spoke with me and kept me company.


You may find that something like what I did with the booth, or what Lucia Monge did with Planton Movil, or what Devi Lockwood is doing with One Bike, One Year, is not the best use of your time, gifts, resources, knowledge, connections, and preferences. One person I spoke with at the booth is a visual artist and filmmaker who decided that working for a solar power installation company is more effective than what she can do with her films alone: “My greatest love is making things, but it’s hard to combine that with engendering any kind of change in a really pragmatic way.” Maybe, to quote the Kids in the Hall, you’re more of a scientist than a wiggler. I opted to create the booth because I had, as mentioned above:

*An urgent need to respond to something that is happening in the world

*Some pleasure in making things 

*A habit of, and some pleasure in, talking and listening to people

*The possibility (discussed at length in the first section of this post) of being in public with relative safety


So now is a good time to start figuring out whether you have those things, or what combination of things you do have. That will help you choose the mode you’re going to work in. If you choose a mode similar to mine, the next post may be of help in planning how (and where, and when) to do it. 


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