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Christopher Stiegler

How does the term ‘public engagement’ differ from artist to curator? Public engagement is a form that an idea can take in the same way that a painting or a photograph or a table is a form. Artists who make work in this way seek to highlight the interactive qualities that exist between the idea or the maker and the viewer. There are as many ways to make a work of public engagement as there are ways of engaging in public, ie parties, talks, craft workshops. When curators seek public engagement they generally are looking for bodies in their exhibitions. Public engagement has been a concern of museum and gallery staff longer than it has been a form for artists to employ. The artist, you see, co-opted the term.

What role, if any, has public engagement played in the valuation and monetization of art? In both senses of the word public engagement has broadened the audience for contemporary art. It has therefore led to a democratization of the art world. This is a good and bad thing depending on who you ask. To my eyes, it is bringing more perspective to the field without necessarily altering its configuration that much. How does that bear on the bottom line? The more people we have in our audience, the more value (cultural and monetary) we can find in our work. The trick is to make sure that all those involved in these public engagement projects are adequately compensated.

What evolution/change, if any, do you see in students from their first to last year in their awareness of the world outside MECA and their capacity to engage with it constructively? Graduating students should always feel like they can change the world. For too long art schools reinforced the idea that artistically, all ideas have precedence in history and therefore have been done before. Couple that with a society that does not value the labor of artists and the picture can be dim. But as initiatives for public engagement spread from the classroom to the studio, so too does the ability for young artists to see and make change within their communities. They, as artists, can find publics, activate them creatively and hopefully find some avenue to get paid in the process. This is part of the development of our students.