In our twenty-first century context, longstanding sites of production, consumption and display – such as the theatre, the museum, the gallery, and the publishing house – are being contested by new forces of media, popular culture, and commerce. These various forms of contestation and re-arrangement have given rise to new art forms, media and venues, from the street to the Internet. To what extent have old forms and new forms merged, replaced or challenged one another? In what ways do the various sites of reception and display affect sites of production – from the artist’s studio to the community hall? Is there such a thing as interdisciplinarity? And how do artistic media work with and interpret these cultural flows and institutionalized spaces?
We live in an increasingly visual culture, where all forms of media intersect with the ‘crisis of information’ that overloads everyday life. These media include the visual arts, the textual arts, the aural and musical arts, the gestural and performative arts, and the spatial arts. These categories roughly correspond to standard classifications of artforms as music, theatre, literature, poetry, dance, painting, sculpture, photography, film and television, and architecture. Such are the disciplines and artforms of our historical experience. While these disciplines undergo various processes of transformation and at times destabilization, they are sometimes displaced by new means of production and their related meanings (the raw materials and methodologies of representation), reproduction of forms and meanings (first mechanical and now digital), and distributions of meaning (the methods of reaching audiences and interacting with them). To what extent do we need to develop new creative tools and research approaches to redefine classical disciplinary classifications?
How does art shape educational, cultural and national policy? Given the proliferation of cultural institutions, such as museums and galleries, what role do these institutions play in larger projects of community formation, nation-building or international relations? How are hierarchies of art world classifications reproduced or challenged by new forms of institution-building and policy-making? Artists and the arts themselves are often referred to as ’cultural ambassadors’ in international forums. Such terms raise issues of political relevance and call into question related concerns of value neutrality, and the deployment of art forms and practices to signal or help to dissolve social and political conflict at local, regional and international levels. What is the role of public education in these debates? ‘Which publics’ are represented or included?
Who are the participants in today’s globalized art world? Has the art world fragmented into a scattered heteronomy of ‘art worlds’? Who are the players, the gatekeepers, and to what extent do our mainstream institutions reinforce or reflect the hierarchies of art world structures and opportunities for artists? How do artists and cultural workers reconcile their visionary projects with the mundane pursuits of marketing and profit as measures of success? What are the structural constraints that create and perpetuate the motif of the “starving artist”? How do shifting contexts create and redefine audiences and audience participation? What is the responsibility of the artist to explore these and other issues? What, finally, is the role of art in society?
More than ever, these are open questions. As a space to engage these questions and others, and to broaden a participatory base, the Arts conference, journals, book imprint and news weblog provide an epistemic community setting in which to make linkages across disciplinary, geographic and cultural boundaries.