Anne Pasternak, President and Artistic Director of Creative Time USA, says artists have the power “to kick open the door to social change.” In this video for the World Economic Forum, Pasternak talks about some of Creative Time’s commissions – from lighting up the New York skyline to shaking the hands of sanitation workers – and how art can help expose and heal social issues.

Click on the video to watch the full talk, or read selected quotes below

On Creative Time

“Creative Time was founded in 1972 in New York City. New York City was at that time in a very bad state, on the verge of bankruptcy and corporations were in a mass exit from New York city. They were moving to the suburbs and to other states. Creative Time’s founders thought that artists could do a lot to create art in the public realm that would animate the city, and that the presence of artists in our neighbourhoods would also contribute significantly to the quality of life in New York City.”

“So their rationale for starting Creative Time was very different than the typical public art model of “Heroes on Horseback.” They really believed that public spaces were places for the free exchange of ideas. They thought artists should kick open the door to social change. They believed that artists needed opportunities to experiment, and if they could experiment they would push culture as well as our field forward.”

On art as awareness raising

“In the more than forty years of Creative Time’s history, all of our projects have been experimental and they’ve been groundbreaking for all of the artists we’ve worked with. Mierle Laderman Ukeles was an abstract painter, but she realised the city was on the verge of bankruptcy and social collapse. She wanted to provide herself as a service for public good, in particular by being artist in residence with the New York City Department of Sanitation. For one year, she went on the garbage collection route of every single sanitation worker in NYC. She shook their hands and thanked them for her work. And that single gesture over a period of a year helped to rebuild a very beleaguered department.”

“While all of our projects are experimental, they bring us together in moments of wonder and joy. John Berger said very wisely: “We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice. More and more artists are really trying to get us to look at things that are important for us to see, so we can really contribute to a wave of cultural understanding around important issues.”

On art and healing

Some of our projects bring us together to mourn and heal. Creative Time commissioned Tribute in Light – two beacons of light that illuminated New York City six months after the attacks of 9/11, and every year on the anniversary since – to reclaim our city’s skyline and to mourn the lives lost on that day.”

“The artist Paul Chan presented his production of “Waiting for Godot” in New Orleans in the lower 9th ward where the Levy notoriously broke, to remind people of the tragic consequences and the realities on the ground of people in New Orleans, as they were still waiting to return to a home, to identify the bodies of lost loved one, waiting for insurance, waiting for electricity, waiting for water, waiting for their neighbours.”

Watch the full video in the player above.

Author: Anne Pasternak is the President and Artistic Director of Creative Time USA.

Image: A taxi driver is silhouetted as she passes a poured paint public artwork.REUTERS/Luke MacGregor.