In the last decade it has been more and more apparent that a certain kind of conceptual art is too cerebral and too specific to be appreciated by a wide public. Some artists, aware that the public needs to be welcomed in order to appreciate complex works, have found out that if you engage the public in an active way, the public will become involved in the artistic process and will be able to appreciate it in a full level. This type of approach is now widely known as “Participatory Art”.
Mexican artist Pablo Helguera has been making participatory art for over a decade now, when in 1993 he re-enacted a rather banal event (a reunion of the Rotary Club in Mexico City where his grandfather was present) and noticed that by getting people involved in an artistic action can be a strong approach in order to reach their attention. These people will be the first ones to talk about their experience, thus reaching a wider public, which is much needed in the art scene at the moment. In Bologna, Italy, in 2011, Helguera founded a new public radio, Aelia Media (www.aeliamedia.org) where local artists where asked to make up a team of “producers” and broadcast all the cultural diversity of the world's oldest university town in an innovative way. The result was a strange mixture of experimental programming and politically aware broadcasting that for a month informed the city in an different way, and got a lot of people to notice the little artistic events that were taking place in town.
A similar approach was thought up in the small town of Pfyn, in Switzerland, by artists Alex Meszmer and Reto Müller, who organized the “Democratic Art Weeks” on the occasion of Pfyn being cultural capital of Switzerland. They invited artists from all over the world who thought up projects that involved the local population in order to get involved in the arts. Meris Schüpbach worked with kids from Pfyn and Bern and made a great theatre piece that most of all created new friendships, whilst Eva-Maria Würth and her group Interpixwel organized a complex Monopoly game that took into consideration also the economic, political and gender position of the players. Ana Laura Lopez De La Torre brought ambassadors from the problematic Tulse Hill Estate in South London to exchanges ideas, interests and hobbies.
In New York, where art is part of everyone's life, the performance festival Performa also plays a key role into spreading its wing across the public, and it does so in a very physical way, by challenging people in the street with its performances, and asking people to participate actively in the performances of artists from all over the world. What better way of experience art in its totality?