Between Social Networks and Real Space

During this past week, the 44th Kent State Folk Festival was held. The festival is the second oldest continuously produced folk festival on a college campus, preserving folk and heritage music through concerts, workshops and educational programs. There’s an authenticity here.

What’s really interesting about this particular event though, is how I found out about it. The popular marketing, trends, and culture website featured the campaign used for the festival. The design and marketing group Marcus Thomas created this campaign that enacts an interesting dialogue around the prevalence of social media and its role in and effects on contemporary music culture.

The overt criticism of social media networks is an inspiring gesture. It seems to have become so easy to click a “Like” button or click “I’m Attending” (without the social obligation to do so), when local music (and cultural) scenes are in greater need than ever to have “real” attendees to live shows and events.

The campaign is, however, also a bit hypocritical since the festival makes use of extensive social networking and internet based advertising — making this ironic gesture only fuels the “buy in” to social networking.

These points can go for other social groups or events, like Broken City Lab. Sometimes a lot of the networking is done in a digital context. This barrier of separation is sometimes difficult to surpass, in order to make that connection in person. It’s often worth the “trouble” of leaving the virtual sphere and venturing out into the city, it’s just a matter of figuring out what exactly the barrier is to seeing that happen more often. How communities are shaped online and translated into real space is going to become an increasingly important question.

It’s a conversation that’s been had many times before, but still worth bringing up — how does one translate online networks into real action?

All posters from Marcus Thomas Marketing Agency via

Making Art With Communities


Stephen Willats worked in relation aesthetics when Nicolas Bourriaud was 15. Willats worked has often involved a collaborative process, where he engages with residents of public housing units for projects that can span years.

I’ve been re-reading Conversation Pieces by Grant H. Kester, spending some considerable time on the section about Willats. Kester frames Willats’ work around the processes embedded in the work, which often attempts to examine the potential for his collaborative partners exercising autonomy from the places in which they’re situated.

The problematic of the artist acting in the position that Willats often occupies, that is, in the position of coming into a socially or politically difficult situation from the outside and working to uncover things for the people who have lived those situations for much longer, is something to consider when working within a community as we do. This practice of course forces questions about the artist as a social worker. However, our interaction with a specific community has been somewhat limited (and on purpose). We’ve been able to maintain a level of activity based on our concerns and our experiences, which is empowering, but also potentially limiting, and yet I’m nervous to think about what it would mean to try to work more directly with other communities in the city.

I believe that there is a lot of room to work with communities in Windsor, but my hesitation to attempt to work in this mode of choosing a group to work with, and then creating a project around their concerns (or worse, our preconceived ideas of their concerns) isn’t necessarily relieved by looking at Willats’ work (and not that it has to be). I think his work is worth noting though, as it certainly made possible what it is we’re doing today.

Pictured above, “Around the Networks” by Stephen Willats from January 2002.