Exploring Hopes and Disappointments in Community-based Art: A Study on the Direction of Socially Collaborative Art as seen through the Song of the Wind project

Dr. Hyein Kim

Director of Arts Policy Research at Korea Culture and Tourism Institute

This writing and observation trace back to a day in 2022 when I received a call from Dr. Oh, the artistic director of the Song of the Wind project, which took place in Wando from May 2022 to June 2023. Despite her direction of various art projects, she had consistently shown a strong interest in ODA projects and community-based initiatives. I had also enjoyed discussing with her about the social roles of art, the responsibilities of artists, and the challenges within artistic practice. Given her active involvement in discussions with artists from various countries about social collaboration and artistic practice, it didn't come as much of a surprise to hear that she would be moving to Wando to carry out a community-based art project. And until I heard the story about how difficult it was for her to find a place to stay when she first arrived in Wando, I had thought that it wasn't much different from the community-based art projects I had heard about and known about before. 1

However, when I heard about the process details, project intent, what should be premised, and what should be required of artists, I found myself thinking, 'Huh? This is quite different, isn't it?' Soon, that thought turned into worry. It was quite obvious that the concept of community-based experiment aimed at fostering relationships with locals by establishing an artists' residency and involving artists in the local seaweed business would be unfamiliar to all parties involved. So, I was concerned that this unfamiliarity might lead to backlash and refusal. As part of community-based initiatives, this project was specifically designed to involve artists in kelp farming for a minimum of one month and compensate them for their labor. If I understand correctly, this project not only requires the locals to hire artists from outside the island who may lack expertise in kelp farming but also demands these artists to reside on the island, akin to migrant workers. Not only would the artists be unskilled in kelp farming, but both the artists and the locals would likely raise their complaints in various forms. I wondered if the project would be successful.

Then, I found myself questioning why the anxiety had gripped me even before the project began. What perceptions do people have about community-based art projects? What understandings do they have about the roles of artists in this type of projects? And, why do these questions trigger my concern? Although I learned from Dr. Oh that some of the anticipated problems did arise during the project, I found relief in discovering that many others were unfounded, which prompted me to reconsider my understanding of community-based art projects. In Korea, what is the common meaning of the term ‘community-based art project’ within the art sector? The word ‘community’ originates from the Indo-European word ‘Kommein’, which combines ‘mei’ meaning 'exchange' and ‘kom’ meaning ‘together’ (Brown & Issacs, 2005). Peter Senge, known for emphasizing the significance of ‘learning community’ in 21st-century management organizations and corporate cultures, thinks that the essence of ‘shared by all’ is pretty close to the sense of community in organizations today, which can be described as ‘sharing among all its members the burdens and the benefits through exchange’ (Brown & Issacs, 2005; Senge, 2013). Commonly used Korean-English dictionaries also define ‘community’ as a group of people sharing a common residential area or having similar behaviors, interests, goals, etc. These are very sociological definitions and reflect the sociological perspectives of scholars like Peter Blau or Steven Albrecht & JL England, who argue that community members engage in reciprocal exchanges of resources, information, and services to provide benefits to one another, and the interdependencies generated through this mechanism contribute to the formation, maintenance, and sustainability of the community structure (Albrecht & England, 1984; Blau, 1964).

Let's assume applying the concept of interdependency, or the exchange of benefits, to community-based art projects. In community-based art projects that we have been familiar with, also known as socially engaged art, what exchanges have been proposed or provided to specific communities with interdependency to let project participants integrate and engage socially within those communities? Most community-based art projects fall into the following three categories: (1) those where artists install specific artworks in local spaces, (2) those where the existing community as an exchange unit passively participates in art activities led by non-community artists, and (3) those where community members and artists collaborate closely to create and engage in life-based art. Those that fall into the first category are generally considered public art rather than community-based art. This category represents the most passive form of community-based art, wherein the artwork is situated in public areas with good accessibility, aiming to encourage the residential community to appreciate and engage with it. While community-based art projects falling into the second category can be further subcategorized, the majority belong to a format in which the artist selects a subject relevant to the community. Within this framework, the artwork engages community members either as audiences upon completion or as minimum contributors during production, such as participating in painting or creating specific elements. In such artist-centered community-based art project, the artist selects a subject related to the community and provides social commentary, while community members engage in the project either as passive participants reacting to the commentary or as catalysts for the project. Those that fall into the last category emphasize collaboration and cooperation between artists and community members. In these projects, community members actively engage as performers and co-producers during the production process, addressing community problems and issues from a community-based perspective.

The prevalent perception, or misperception, that has formed among people as community-based art projects have been carried out so far is that artists, despite being perceived as outsiders to specific communities, play a crucial role in community improvement. They are seen as those who not only identify core issues and problems (that need to be improved or can be improved) within the community, but also lead changes, foster positive transformations, facilitate communication, and contribute to the increase of community’s social capital that community members will benefit from. Setting aside the evaluation of whether community-based art has indeed served as social capital for community members, the format of community-based art project most familiar to both artists and community members typically involves an artist conducting art activities for the community with an external perspective and community members inviting each other to participate in the art activities they may have limited experience with.

However, the approach taken by the Song of the Wind project to outline its premises and involve both artists and locals was quite different from other projects. It is undeniable that the Song of the Wind project was not that different from other community-based art projects in that it also aimed to engage participants in collaborative efforts to address ecological or social issues. However, this project distinguished itself by requiring participating artists to work in labor roles demanded by the community as if they were ‘migrant workers’, not ‘someone who produce social capital through their art activities’. Shared labor with community members enabled the artists to engage directly with them, understand their lives, identify areas for artistic collaboration, explore suitable methods for collaboration, and figure out the best way to achieve intended outcomes. The common theme specified for this project, shared by both artists and locals, was ‘cooperative measures to overcome the marine ecological crisis’, intending to share wisdom helpful not only for locals seeking alternative solutions for the ecological crisis but also for artists exploring new formats for their art activities to effectively address the topics of climate change and ecological crisis.  

Given the approach of the Song of the Wind project, whether it was the director’s intention or an unavoidable situation, it would be apparent that the director envisioned three participant groups: artists, locals, and the director herself. However, it would have been more appropriate to categorize the participants into 4 players with different perspectives as follows. The first player is the director. The director organizes a pilot format of socially collaborative art, not socially engaged art, aiming to redefine the relationship and activities between art and ecological or social consciousness. Using art as a medium of cooperation, the director assumes a leading role, not only inviting artists, locals, and various stakeholders but also persuading them to engage in collaborative efforts aimed at addressing social issues. The second player consists of participating artists who are expected to adjust to a novel form of community-based art project, which entails a collaboration format distinct from that of conventional art residency projects. These artists are tasked with assuming the role of ‘migrant workers’rather than ‘artists’, engaging in actual labor jobs that have been performed by locals. This approach aims to help the artists develop a deeper understanding of the community, explore ways to integrate their art into local contexts, and contribute to the enhancement of art-social capital. The third player consists of locals who play vital roles as main cooperators and social capital providers in this project. As main cooperators, locals are expected not only to allow the director and participating artists reside in their community territory but also to hire these artists, even as paid workers for labor jobs they may not have experience with. Additionally, they are supposed to share their awareness and concerns about the marine ecological environment with the artists. In their role as social capital providers, locals are tasked with facilitating the artists’ adaptation to the marine ecological living culture and environment. The final player comprises institutional or public personnel in peripheral positions who are involved in any stage of this project, from planning to results. They can also be referred to as institutional participants. For example, personnel from the Jeonnam Cultural Foundation (JNCF) who implemented the Song of the Wind project as part of the foundation's assistance programs, as well as personnel from the Arts Council Korea who selected this project as one of the ‘ARKO Public Arts Projects’ would be included in this category. 

If I were to answer the question ‘Did the players in this project fulfill their roles properly?’, I would say ‘To some extent, yes’. However, it is also obvious that none of them was 100% successful in performing their anticipated roles. Given the project’s troubled journey, this failure seemed to be the outcome of a vicious sequence originating from existing preconceptions and perceptions about community-based art projects, which had significantly influenced the formation of misconceptions, eventually impeding flexibility and inclusivity in each player's roles. This failure does not imply a qualitative failure in terms of artistic practice or activities. Rather, it implies a failure not only in the context of community-based art projects but also as a co-producer, participant, and main player in socially collaborative art. Each player demonstrated the same pattern of making demands, criticizing, and expressing disappointment towards others, solely based on their desires and preconceptions. 

First, the director viewed herself as the pivotal figure in the project, expecting artists to be equally proactive. Unlike traditional community-based art projects, she believed artists should take a more assertive role in driving the project forward. The director expected participating artists to actively engage with the local community and demonstrate a high level of commitment, given that they were fully briefed on this community-based art project on marine ecological environment and migrant workers and they all agreed to participate. She made dedicated efforts to motivate the artists and catalyze positive transformations within the community. However, the director became disappointed with the artists' performance during the project. Many displayed reluctance towards labor-intensive tasks, lacked inspiration, and often objectified the lives and labor of the locals. The director also anticipated that locals would gladly support the artists who were tasked with kelp farming by facilitating their residency within the community during the project and actively participating in project activities. Unfortunately, she was once again disappointed by the locals' exclusive attitude and tendency to objectify the artists' efforts. She even endeavored to introduce institutional personnel to the concept of this project as a socially collaborative art initiative offering a fresh perspective. She hoped that they would recognize the importance of exploring new formats beyond conventional community-based art projects like mural painting, educational activities for residents, or artist collaborations. Additionally, she anticipated that institutional personnel would provide administrative convenience, considering the favorable outcomes demonstrated by this project compared to other community-based art projects in conventional formats. However, her hope was dashed when she encountered their inflexible attitudes and limited understanding of community-based art projects.

Neither artists nor locals acted differently. The artists were reluctant to accept labor activities as a crucial aspect of this project, as they did not perceive them as such. Furthermore, they openly expressed their displeasure at the notion that locals were offended by their perspective of considering such labor merely as an experiential element for communication or artistic inspiration. The locals cannot escape criticism either. It seems highly probable that they were indifferent to the concept or intent of this project and were uninterested in sharing their thoughts about local issues with the artists. They likely didn't expect the project to last for about a year in their community, with unfamiliar outsiders intruding into their lives and worksite. In a highly unfamiliar environment, the artists likely realized that collaboration was practically impossible with the locals, who had unacceptable demands and were significantly different from other workers they had encountered. Besides, even if institutional personnel had grasped the initial intent of this project, they likely wouldn't have anticipated being asked to serve as a direct mediator in a socially collaborative, community-based art project.

However, if this project aimed to apply ‘The Social Turn’ perspective by Claire Bishop to socially collaborative art, the interpretation might differ. Claire Bishop's perspective on socially engaged, community-based, and collaborative art beyond studio production as part of ‘social turn art’ was not focused on fostering good communication and relationships or exchanging productive experiences between artists and participants (Bishop, 2004). If this project aimed not only to raise awareness among all players about the unstable reality but also to encourage independent and self-driven interpretation in tension with others, the struggles and mutual disappointment that arose during the project due to misunderstandings among the director, participating artists, locals, and institutional personnel would not necessarily indicate the failure of this project as socially-cooperative, community-based art.
Community-based art projects, as a form of socially collaborative art, necessitate the involvement of many players across all stages of the project, from planning and implementation to completion and post-completion maintenance. Achieving such mutual involvement and cooperation is challenging without direct and engaged communication. Hence, in socially collaborative art, it is imperative for all participants not only to acknowledge each other as essential players but also to maintain a steadfast commitment to ongoing interaction, even amidst challenging communication, disappointments, and setbacks. Participants should also demonstrate dedication by engaging in continuous discussions to find compromises, without hesitation to invest their time, space, and efforts to expand their interaction and involvement. 

Hyein Kim is a researcher specializing in policies and management of culture and arts, currently acting as the head of the “Culture and Arts Policy Research Division” of “Korea Culture & Tourism Institute (KCTI).” In addition, Kim also acts as head editor of academic journals “Journal of Arts Management and Policy” and “The Journal of Cultural Policy”, as well as a committee member to several government projects. For the last 30 years spent being an art major, working at art galleries, and operating a private arts & culture education organization, Kim always questioned how she has always loved the arts despite her tendency to become easily bored with so many things. Kim has always pondered what she could do for her passions and remained beside fine arts by researching art-related policies. Her main areas of research concern art-related policies and management, policies related to museums and galleries, the art market, arts and culture education, intercultural exchange, career paths of artists and personnel, arts & culture trend analysis, and gender equality in arts & culture. Some notable researches include Methods to Introduce Artist Fee System, Career Formation Analysis of Art-related Personnel, Establishing Comprehensive Plan for Promoting Art, and Establishing Comprehensive Plans for Museums and Galleries.

1 As my profession may not be as easily recognizable as that of a critic or curator, allow me to briefly introduce myself. I hold a degree in art and art administration and currently work as a researcher at a government-affiliated institute, focusing on arts policies and administration. In addition to my government-commissioned research on topics such as arts policy, museum policy, human resources, art and culture trend outlook, and arts administration, I also conduct personal research. This breadth of experience has equipped me with comprehensive knowledge and understanding of projects within the arts sector.


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Brown, Juanita & Issacs, David (2005), The world café: Shaping our futures through conversations that matter, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Peter, M. Blau (1964). Exchange and power in social life. NY: John Wiley & Sons

Senge, Peter, et al., (2013), 30 years of building learning communities: a dialogue with Peter Senger, Otto Scharmer, Darcy Winslow, Reflections: The SoL Journal on Knowledge, Learning, and Change, Vol. 13, No. 1: 1-9.