Giving Compass' Take:

· Emily Esfahani Smith explains how art nurtures civic life and discusses the work of Candy Chang as an urban planner and artist.  Chang strives to create more public spaces that encourage spiritual and philosophical reflection in our daily lives. 

· How can donors support efforts to create an infrastructure that nurtures civic life and supports inner reflection? What is needed to ensure that public spaces reflect and serve the needs of local communities? 

· Read about the role of infrastructure in communities.

In her work as an urban planner and artist, Candy Chang has spent a lot of time in meetings with people who are trying to figure out a community’s needs and how to best fulfill them. But over and over again, she encountered the same problem—the loudest people in the room were the ones who set the agenda. Was there a way, she wondered, to involve more people in the decisions that affect them all?

To answer that question, she began creating “participatory art”—art that engages locals. Over the years, she has erected thousands of public art installations in cities around the world. Her intent initially was to revitalize civic life in these places, but eventually her focus shifted to exploring people’s inner worlds. Our civic life, she learned, is a reflection of our inner life—nourishing one helps nourish the other.

Her latest installation, which she created with her husband, the writer James Reeves, was called “A Monument for the Anxious and Hopeful.” On a wall at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, visitors posted handwritten notes describing their fears and wishes. Anyone could participate—there were pieces of vellum paper and markers on a nearby table—and when the exhibit was open in 2018, Chang and Reeves collected over 50,000 responses: “I’m anxious because I’m 80 and afraid of being alone”; “I’m hopeful because my children are making their way in the world”; “I’m anxious because I need to be forgiven.” Chang and Reeves are now working with social scientists to parse the responses and what they tell us about the current cultural and political moment.

Read the full article about building infrastructure for the soul by Emily Esfahani Smith at The Aspen Institute.