Public / Participatory Art Post #2: Some Questions to Continue With

So your answers to the previous set of questions have led you to some kind of public / participatory project, where you’re in public places offering people something and/or inviting them to do something. What’s next? More questions! As before, I’ve divided this up into structural and practical considerations, and I recommend answering the structural ones first.

A review of the 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?


– What do I (meaning you) hope this project will do for me?
– What do I hope this project will offer the people who talk with me / draw with me / meditate or do a ritual with me / whatever?
– How can I make that offer clear to them in a quick, inviting way?
– How much do I want to talk? How much do I want to listen? Is this more of a call-and-response thing? Is it an action we do together, or take turns doing?
– If I want to listen, what are a few open-ended questions, relevant to what I’m offering, that I could use to invite people to talk?
– Do I want the project to have other lives (like documenting it / writing about it / taking pictures / whatever) or are the conversations where the project’s happening? If I want to make one of these “other lives” public, how can I make sure I have people’s permission?
– What are my boundaries? What will I do if someone crosses them? What will I do if I start feeling scared, angry, embarrassed or impatient? How can I adjust tending myself and responding to others?


– #1 VERY IMPORTANT if you’re doing this in person: Where could I do this project that I already go or stay in my ordinary life? This is important for two reasons:

(1) It makes it more likely that you’ll do the thing and do it well. If this is a place you know well, you have a sense of who else is there and what for, how people inhabit and / or move through it; you will be recognized; you’ll have a reason to take care there.

(2), flip side of (1): It is extremely common and frankly dehumanizing for artists to go into places that they are not a part of, without invitation from people who are part of that place, and make or do something that the people who are part of that place did not ask for.

I ignored this when I set up at the Washington County Fair, and while I do think the “special occasion, lots of people in from elsewhere, got permission from the organizers” qualities offset the rudeness somewhat, I don’t think they offset it entirely.

– Who do I want to be able to participate? Where, within the areas defined by the previous question, can I place myself / the project so that they’ll see it and be able to get to it?

– How can I be visible, accessible and not in the way of other things that happen there?

– What kinds of permission do I need to be there, and who can I get it from — is anyone “in charge” of this space and do they check it? Does it cost money and, if so, do I have that kind of money? If not, where will I get it?

– How often and how long do I want to be there? How will my presence at those times fit into the other things that happen there?

– What materials and equipment will I need, where will I get them, and how will I transport them to and from the site? If I’m going away and coming back, can I leave them there or will I have to pack in / pack out each time? How can I do this without straining my own physical abilities? How hard will they be to repair if they get messed up?

– If it’s outside, will I do it in non-ideal weather? If so, what will I do to protect myself and my materials from precipitation? Wind? Heat or cold? How will any of these conditions affect setup / takedown? How might they affect who sees / participates in the project?

– Will I be on site long enough to need food or a bathroom? If so, where are those things in relation to the site and how can I get to them? Can I safely leave my stuff at the site long enough to get to a restroom, even a nearby one?

– Am I interested in having people come by with the intention of participating? If so, how will I let people know the project is happening?

– Do I want accomplices to help me with any of these things? (Not talking about collaborating, that’s a different post — talking about people who are willing to briefly and generously be your minions, essentially.) Who can I ask, and will I need to redesign the project if they can’t do it?

PLEASE NOTE: If you are considering a project where you confront people, AND/OR you are a member of a group that has reason to fear police or other authorities, I strongly recommend consulting someone who has done civil disobedience work (preferably someone who’s vulnerable to the same aggressions you are). Their suggestions will be much better than mine!

In my next post I will tell you how I answered some of these questions, both beforehand and through adjustments as I went along.

One thought on “Public / Participatory Art Post #2: Some Questions to Continue With

  1. Pingback: Public/Participatory Art Post #3: What I did, it turns out (part 1) | climateanxietycounseling

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