Outset Partners

‘The Constituent Museum: Collecting Relations and the Transformational Potential of Arte Útil’, 2019–2018

Outset Partners awarded a one-of-a-kind Transformative Grant – designed to afford the opportunity for one significant project to radically re-think the art institution of the future – to the Whitworth, the University of Manchester and Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven for their initiative, The Constituent Museum: Collecting Relations and the Transformational Potential of Arte Util.  

Using the methodology of Arte Util (‘art as a tool’ or ‘useful art’) developed by artist TANIA BRUGUERA over the last ten years, the two museums will radically transform their core protocols (which, as with most museums, are rooted in the 19th century) by redrawing relationships with local constituency groups, creating agency for them to inform the museums’ collecting, curating and presenting.

Both museums will create a new ‘constituency agency’, using existing staff and appointing a new part-time agency curator in both institutions. The agency will also be formed of local constituent groups in their home base and include other artists and social designers with whom they already collaborated as well as TANIA BRUGUERA. The curator will work as a mediator between the institution, the Arte Útil archive, and the constituents by convening meetings, workshops and public discussions with the selected artists and staff in the two museums and building up trust with the constituencies. The agency will be able to access all the resources of the museum including the collection, archives and embodied knowledge of museum workers. Each museum agency will work both locally and bilaterally, cross-referencing and exchanging information about their activities, creating better learning opportunities and shorter project cycles. The constituency agencies will create a feedback loop to the museum from the constituents and be the main activator of projects both in the museum and the community.

“We are delighted to have this generous support from Outset. As an organisation dedicated to supporting public institutions with private means it has become a vital stimulus for creating and presenting contemporary art. Outset values art as a public good and positive contribution to society.  Our museums are also committed to those goals and we will use the Transformational Grant to experiment with ways to repurpose the museum as a new social power plant to collectively generate ways of navigating the huge economic and political transition ahead” – Charles Esche (Director of Van Abbemuseum ) and Alistair Hudson (Director of the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery) 

The Whitworth, the University of Manchester and Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven want to transform themselves institutionally using the concept of Arte Útil and expand its digital and physical networks. The project will set up a Constituency Agency with the task to transform both museums from the inside into Constituent Museums.  The Constituency Agency will be able to roam across the museums, collections and knowledge banks of people and histories,  connecting the museum’s resources with the constituents they are working with. This will lead to proposals and projects that will be commissioned and funded and establish a way of working for the future.

The Constituent Museum is a project based on transforming the key functions of a museum – collecting, mediating and curating – to work more effectively in a changing context. These three areas undergo a transformation as follows:

1: Collecting: the collection dematerialises. Both museums will expand their collections through the ‘collection’ of digital archives, actions and relationships to enable meaningful effect and impact in society.

2. Mediating: the idea of ‘audience’ is replaced with active ‘constituencies’  and both museums V will collaboratively apply the research and new thinking around constituencies and usership to move us away from the 19th-century broadcast model to one of convening, listening and social making.

3. Curating: the dissemination of art moves from representation to operation. In this light, art changes from an object of contemplation or translation, into a tool for social change and the resources of the museum are aligned to this ambition, making a real impact on the communities around it, on terms prescribed by them. The mechanism at the centre of this merges the digital and the physical, through the methodology of Arte Útil, transforming and expanding the digital archive of historic Arte Útil projects into a series of realisable and actual interventions and public commissions, working with constituencies in the immediate surrounding urban environments.

There will be a major investment in the existing website of Arte Útil, embedding the collections and institutional websites. The archive will function as the basis for a newly promoted online collection of Arte Útil projects and develop new online interactive guides for how to implement these projects, as well as new ways in which video documentation of real social projects can be made accessible at the point that visitors encounter the archive. This provides the ‘toolkit’ for people to make, re-use and initiates their own projects in their own communities. Using the website as a point of inspiration and departure and the trusting relationship built up by the agency, the project culminates with activation of agency-led projects.

 

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