Nella mitologia classica, Musagetes è il nome con il quale si conosce Apollo nel suo ruolo di mentore e protettore della Musa dell’Esercizio (la fonte d’ispirazione che induceva l’artista alla pratica), la Musa della Contemplazione (l’attività del pensiero volta a sublimare la realtà circostante), la Musa della Memoria (la funzione del ricordo delle opere). Questa denominazione trascrive al meglio un’entità filantropica che mira a conferire alle arti un ruolo centrale nella realtà della vita di tutti i giorni.

Nel Manifesto di Musagetes si esprime chiaramente la “preoccupazione circa il diritto delle genti di sviluppare il proprio vero potenziale creativo. Questa prospettiva ci induce ad abbandonare la nozione di artista come un soggetto eccentrico, avulso dal resto della società, per adottare la visione dell’artista come un individuo in sintonia con gli altri esseri umani.” Quindi, la creatività quale elemento comune dell’umanità, altro non è che la capacità di modellare l’esperienza, immaginarla nella sua essenza e far sì che diventi un momento di ricerca per tutta la comunità.

Se questi sono i princìpi a cui Musagetes si ispira, come si realizza tutto ciò nelle attività di tutti i giorni? Come Musagetes rappresenteva l’ideale supremo dell’Arte, noi “favioriamo esperienze reali, di piccola o grande portata, allo scopo di accomunare i bisogni delle persone, generare idee e mettere in moto azioni”.

Le piaghe della  società

Nel Manifesto di Musagetes denunciamo l’assenza di contemplazione e meditazione nella società contemporanea, al pari della dissoluzione dell’immaginazione e dell’amore. Come suggerisce Charles Taylor, viviamo il malessere della modernità. Viviamo in un’era di profonda alienazione e di individualismo incentrati sull’egoismo. Riempiamo il vuoto della nostra spiritualità con la religione, il consumismo e la frenesia. Viviamo in un mondo dove il 99% della popolazione ha perso la facoltà di esprimersi, dove forze neo-liberali hanno devastato l’ambiente, minato la giustizia sociale e conferito l’estetica a istituzioni e leggi di mercato. Il malessere della contemporaneità aliena le genti dalle proprie intime realtà e le priva di un senso di appartenenza alla comunità.

 Il ruolo dell’artista consiste nell’indurci a mettere in discussione le nostre certezze, ad allargare le nostre conoscenze, a capovolgere le nostre concezioni, rafforzare la nostra umanità. Il progetto artistico di Musagetes mette insieme princìpi di analisi sociale, estetica e pedagogica. Da un lato l’analisi prende la forma della critica sociale, nella riorganizzazione degli spazi collettivi o nell’attivismo sociale. Dall’altro le finalità pedagogiche puntano a nutrire lo spirito di contemplazione e a migliorare le capacità d’osservazione, d’ascolto e di percezione; nonché a esplorare nuove forme espressive. Ci impegniamo nella costruzione di senso nei processi con i quali iniziamo a comprendere in profondità in che modo gli individui costruiscono il significato della loro esperienza artistica. Questo è il nostro approccio alla mediazione culturale. Musagetes, in pratica, evita di separare le discipline per fondere le tre Muse originarie che erano coltivate da Apollo Musagetes.

Gli obiettivi

L’idea trova sede in quattro medio-piccoli centri urbani, due in Ontario, Susbury and Gueph, e due in Europa, Lecce (Italia) e Rijeka (Croazia). In ognuno di questi luoghi conduciamo una serie di esperimenti correlati tesi a comprendere come le arti possano occupare maggiore centralità nella vita dei cittadini e quali riflessi esse possano avere sulle comunità. Questo ci induce al quesito: come possiamo estendere la nostra esperienza nelle quattro città sino a giungere a una narrativa di ampia veduta sull’importanza dell’arte? Il nostro intento non mira al cambiamento fine a se stesso, quanto piuttosto a ciò che suscita l’arte a un primo approccio, spronando gli individui all’azione in prima persona.

L’arte muove le persone verso la possibilità di un cambiamento, di una speranza. Instilla negli uomini la possibilità di mettere in discussione le proprie certezze e offre la possibilità di immaginare ben oltre l’attuale attraverso la trasformazione e il rinnovamento. Ma Musagetes non trascura nemmeno l’importanza dell’attivismo sociale, in quanto per noi è elemento fondamentale per fare dell’arte qualcosa di davvero significativo. Riconosciamo che le comunità sono fatte da individui e un movimento non è altro che un gruppo di individui che prendono l’iniziativa.

Come procediamo da un’idea radicale a un cambiamento radicale? Agendo come degli spacca-ghiacchi, permettendo agli elementi d’innovazione di operare nelle fratture che essi stessi formano – come Leonard Cohen afferma, “Esistono faglie in qualsiasi materiale; attraverso di esse passa la luce”. Noi abbiamo appreso che gli spazi sociali sono essenziali nel processo di costruzione di quelle comunità convinte che le arti siano più efficaci quando si intersecano con altri elementi sociali quali la politica, l’attivismo, la diversità, e anche con l’economia. Infatti Musagetes sostiene con convinzione l’istituzione dell’Ammirato Culture House a Lecce.

L’impiego di artisti finalizzato a un cambiamento sociale può avvenire in svariate modalità. Ciò significa porre un fine volutamente politico alla creazione artistica; coinvolgere la comunità incoraggiandola a esprimersi, assumendosi la responsabilità delle proprie scelte; sviluppare scenari e progetti ricchi di opportunità per la crescita dell’individuo; coinvolgere la comunità nella vita politica; favorire la rigenerazione urbana; supportare particolari vertenze sociali. Tutto ha un grande valore. Valore che ha trovato posto nei nostri progetti.

Nel nostro lavoro con una comunità non tutto è negoziabile: non facciamo “animazione”. Piuttosto, cerchiamo di stimolare un interessamento critico della comunità, in modo che essa possa sentirsi davvero coinvolta. Non intendiamo istituire nuovi centri culturali, quanto più costruire spazi sociali informali che fungano da perno per l’energia creativa. Noi impieghiamo sia artisti locali appartenenti alla comunità in oggetto, sia artisti esterni in modo da comprendere al meglio la comunità. Non siamo né dentro, né fuori il circuito artistico. Facciamo nostra una certa melleabilità che ci permette di costruire connessioni. Non siamo manieristici nei nostri progetti artistici, semmai siamo interesati alle specificità locali inquadrate in ambito globale, lasciando che il processo emerga spontaneamente lungo l’iter. I nostri progetti coinvolgono aspetti della ricerca, della costruzione di relazioni, del dialogo, del dubbio scientifico, della pedagogia e della divulgazione dei risultati.

Il Metodo

Musagetes stimola il potenziale creativo della comunità, consentendo alla conoscenza la possibilità di prendere atto di quella creatività latente all’interno dei propri individui. A volte questo processo necessita un’ispirazione esterna.

Il punto d’incontro

Lecce è un cittadina del Salento, terra bagnata da due mari, dove l’Adriatico incontra lo Ionio. Si tratta di un centro famoso per il connubio tra la curvilinea architettura barocca e le linearità del  periodo fascista; dove ulivi secolari crescono affianco a moderni pannelli solari; e dove le luci del pomeriggio si arricchiscono di cromature quasi soprannaturali. Ma Lecce è anche una città dalle grandi sfide economiche, dalle delicate questioni ambientali, dagli intricati equilibri sociali e dallo scarso senso civico. In poche parole, i problemi della città descrivono un microcosmo contrapposto al mondo globalizzato.

Ammirato Culture House è uno spazio sociale che nasce in una zona di cerniera tra tre quartieri di Lecce, fondato nel 2012 da Musagetes, Loop House (residenza artistico-musicale) e svariate associazioni artistiche.

Nel sedicesimo secolo fu utilizzata come residenza della prestigiosa scuola filosofica guidata da Scipione Ammirato, dal quale il casolare prende il suo nome: l’Accademia dei Trasformati, un’esperienza basata sull’idea che l’arte possa nobilitare le nostre vite e quindi le nostre società. Adesso, quattrocento anni più tardi, queste imponenti mura ospitano nuovamente questi valori. In questo contesto, l’Ammirato Culture House costituisce una piattaforma per la ricerca e la riflessione di un collettivo di artisti, intellettuali, attivisti, accademici, produttori, associazioni culturali e individui che collaborano alla creazione di progetti utili alla formazione di una comunità consapevole.

Come un centro sociale, puntiamo a instaurare una forte identità di quartiere, fornendo nuove opportunità per iniziative sociali, civiche e artistiche. Ad esempio, Musagetes ha invitato un collettivo di scrittori bolognesi, KaiZen, che ha condotto un workshop di scrittura creativa con gli abitanti del luogo. I personaggi che hanno preso vita nei racconti sono stati ispirati da precedenti ricerche effettuate per documentare storie di vita vissuta nel quartiere Santa Rosa. Il tutto è stato poi romanzato. Attraverso questo processo, le vicissitudini degli abitanti sono state elevate a un livello immaginifico in uno stretto legame con la realtà di tutti i giorni. Come Thomas King affermava, noi siamo storie che narriamo a noi stessi.

In realtà, siamo ancora agli albori della costruzione dell’Ammirato Culture House per come la desideriamo, anche se abbiamo già svolto molte attività culturali nel quartiere, con pieno riconoscimento delle autorità locali. E’ in via di definizione un progetto di collaborazione artistica che lanceremo nei prossimi mesi che abbiamo chiamato Quartiere Ammirato: un vero e proprio spazio di dialogo, come suggerito da Pablo Helguera nei suoi postulati sulla conversazione come centri per la socialità e la comprensione reciproca.

Con uno spazio sociale come l’Ammirato Culture House, che può essere considerato un progetto artistico in sé, Musagetes coltiva l’immaginazione e crea lo scenario nel quale questa può esprimersi. Si tratta di un luogo per avere esperienza da partecipante e non da spettatore. Ne fai parte, non lo visiti. Noi siamo l’incentivo per un rinnovamento della speranza e promuoviamo le arti come elementi fondamentali per la vita individuale e delle comunità. Unitevi a noi.

 Il manifesto

In Classical mythology, Musagetes is the name given to the god Apollo in his role as protector and promoter of the Muses. It’s an apt name for a philanthropic entity that strives to make the arts a more central and meaningful reality in our daily lives and in our societies and communities. Apollon Musagetes was the leader of the three Muses who originally comprised three goddesses: the goddess of poetry (Aoidē, meaning “song” or “tune”), the goddess of thought and meditation (Meletē, meaning “practice”), and the goddess of memory (Mnēmē, meaning “memory”). It wasn’t until Hellenistic times that they were expanded to nine muses, corresponding to the artistic disciplines and humanities that we refer to today.

Practice, poetry, and memory are the fundamental components of a creative imagination, embodied in artistic expression. The arts evoke the three Muses in harmony:

• Repetition (the mastery of articulation, representation, and analysis that is only
possible through practice);
• Contemplation (thought, which is the poetic material of the imagination); and
• Memory of that which came before (history and precedence).

Poetry is not just a literary term. It contains all that can be imagined through contemplation and all that can be wrought in a work of the imagination. The most concise, yet expansive, definition of poetry may be that which Bringhurst contemplated: “Poetry is a quality or aspect of existence. It is the thinking of things…. Poems are the tips of the icebergs afloat on the ocean of poetry…. When you think intensely and beautifully, something happens. That something is called poetry.”

That which we imagine — our creative idea — is not fully formed until it finds its concrete expression in an aesthetic or artistic form. Without the aesthetic (Aoidē = poetry), the arts would be no different from other processes that require practice (Meletē) and memory (Mnēmē), such as scientific experimentation, historical documentation, and innovation. Musagetes’ Manifesto, emphasizing the eminence of history, declares that the human values embodied by artistic creativity “are what give the arts deep significance for individuals, communities, and even, over time, history.” Alberto Manguel, in The City of Words, offers a correlation between the pace of human evolution and the development of the means to create, tell, and preserve stories.

Practice, contemplation, and memory are the Muses of the arts, of artists, and of those who desire the aesthetic expression of the imagination — that is, all of us. In the Letter from London, drafted in 2007 at the conclusion of a gathering of cultural thinkers who convened to discuss Musagetes’ Manifesto, the participants wrote that they were preoccupied with “the right of all people to express themselves and to develop their full creative potential. This perspective moved us past notions of the artist as the uniquely gifted individual acting in isolation from the community into a recognition of what artists share with all human beings.” The ability to shape experience, imagine it into being, and to do that in search of what is common to the community — that is creativity, for that which is common can only be our humanity.

These are the values and principles on which Musagetes was founded, but how do we realize this in our daily work? In short, we “create living experiences, some small, some large, that bring people together to articulate social needs, generate ideas, and spark action.”

The Malaises

Musagetes sees the absence of contemplation and meditation in today’s societies as the erosion of the imagination and of love: “With the emptying-out of mystery, spirituality is assumed to be dead except in organized religion. Some people fill this emptiness by taking refuge in fundamentalism or intolerance and hatred, others through a frenetic ‘busy-ness’ that keeps thought and feeling at bay.” With the diminishment of contemplation — that which Plato gave us, apart from his mysticism — we have also depleted our erotic life, our capacity to love; and have immersed ourselves in self-pleasuring practices.

We live in the malaises of modernity, as Charles Taylor describes our contemporary condition. We live in an era of intense alienation, individualistic centering on the self, and less concern for others in society. We fill the emptiness of our spirituality with religion, shopping, and excessive busy-ness. We live in a world where the 99% have lost their voice, where neoliberal forces have devastated the environment, undermined social justice, and left aesthetics to institutions and the market. The contemporary malaise alienates people from their own inner reality and deprives them of a sense of shared belonging to a community.

The artists’ role is to induce us to continually question our beliefs, enlarge our understanding, overturn our assumptions, and broaden our humanity. Because of that, the arts are continually under attack from nefarious forces as extreme as fascism and neoliberalism or as subtle as austerity and back- to-basics fundamentalist economics that we see in so many nations and cities worldwide.

Musagetes’ artistic projects consist of aesthetic, social, critical, and pedagogical elements. The critical often takes the form of societal critique, spatial reorganization, or social-justice activism. The pedagogical hones the spirit of contemplation; practices the acts of seeing, listening, and feeling; and investigates forms of articulation. We engage in sense-making processes whereby we begin to understand more deeply how individuals make sense of the art they are experiencing. This is our approach to cultural mediation. Musagetes, in practice, doesn’t have much mind for separating the disciplines but rather returns to the three original Muses that were promoted by Apollon Musagetes. The language of the Manifesto is thereby inspired.

The Mission

We work in four mid-sized cities, two in Ontario — Sudbury and Guelph — and two in Europe — Lecce (Italy) and Rijeka (Croatia). In each of these places we have a series of interwoven experiments investigating how the arts can be more central and meaningful in peoples’ lives, in our communities, and in our societies. This leads to the question: how can we amplify our experiences in the four cities into a larger narrative about the importance of the arts? We’re not looking for change for change’s sake; rather, we’re looking for a shift in perception ignited by an encounter with art that can inspire and move an individual to action. Art instills in people the possibility of change, of hope. It sparks in people the possibility of living with uncertainty, with the possibility of imagining something beyond present conditions, of transforming and starting again. Musagetes doesn’t lose sight of the importance of social activism and social change, but this element of our narrative happens alongside our goal to make the arts more central and meaningful. We recognize that communities are made up of individuals, and a movement is a group of individuals who take action.

How do we go from a radical idea to radical transformation? By acting as brokers, allowing innovators to operate in the cracks that form — as Leonard Cohen says, “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” We have learned that social spaces are essential to the process of building communities that convene around their belief that the arts are most powerful when intersected with other elements of our communities, such as politics, activism, diversity, and even business. As Musagetes lends more emphasis to this with the formation of the Ammirato Culture House in Lecce and Publication Studio in Guelph, we can look to others for ideas, models, and solutions such as the Feminist Art Gallery (FAG) in Toronto — they crack things open and leave the door ajar. Our Manifesto speaks of a mistrust of institutions, but perhaps this could be reframed in our contemporary, mid-recession malaise as a mistrust of growth.

The engagement of artists with social change can take many forms. It can mean creating art intentionally expressive of a political or social aim; making art in collaboration with communities, to give them confidence in expressing themselves and taking charge of their lives; developing sites, venues, and projects rich in opportunity for human growth; getting directly involved in politics; influencing regeneration and community renewal programs; supporting particular social causes — or any combination thereof. We recognized that all of these can be of great value. They are all of great value, and have found their way into our projects.

Claire Bishop identifies a misconception at the heart of socially engaged practices, one that Musagetes also continually resists — that is, “the tendency for advocates of socially collaborative art to view the aesthetic as (at best) merely visual and (at worst) an elitist realm of unbridled seduction complicit with spectacle.” The aesthetic, in fact, is present in the situation created, the social interactions enabled, and the experience of the spectacle itself. Or, as we will see with the Ammirato Culture House in Lecce, the aesthetic is in the processual, the visual, the textual, the social, the political, and the accidental. “Art is perceived both as too removed from the real world and yet as the only space from which it is possible to experiment: art must paradoxically remain autonomous in order to initiate or achieve a model for social change. “ For Rancière, the autonomy of art (its removal from an end-means relationships) and its heteronomy (the blurring of art and life) create the tension that makes socially engaged artistic projects so meaningful. The beauty of it all is that aesthetics remain the representation of the imagination whether it is merely visual or profoundly social. What Rancière adds is that it must also be political.

When we work with a community — that is, a city consisting of multiple communities — there are negotiable and non-negotiable aspects to the design of our projects. We don’t do community arts. Instead we want to form and critically engage communities of concern so they become communities of engagement. We don’t build new institutions such as art centres, but we will enable the shaping of informal social spaces as hubs for creative energy. We engage artists who are local to our communities to support cultural production, and we engage artists from outside in order to understand better the community. We are neither inside the art system nor outside, giving us the capacity to be mutable and to build bridges. We aren’t formulaic in our artistic programming but instead we remain responsive to local specificities, framing those within global themes and allowing the process to emerge iteratively and self-reflectively. Our projects involve aspects of research, relationship-building, dialogue, artistic inquiry, pedagogy, and dissemination.

The Method

A methodology is emerging, along with patterns we recognize. Musagetes undertakes artistic projects that are social, engaged, and pedagogical, leading to further creativity and production. As with any story, ours “is an assemblage…of intellectual chromosomes.” The narrative must empower in the same way that our artistic projects do, so that when people are already engaged at a certain level they can take the work even further. Our exit strategy from the cities in which we are working relies on this. Art inspires art. Musagetes taps into the creative potential of the community, helping it to acknowledge the possibly latent creativity of its members. Sometimes it takes an outsider to make this happen.

To this end we are experimenting with forms of sense-making — processes of understanding how people make sense of the artistic experiences they encounter. This was a logical development from a project in Sudbury, where we recognized that a more specific set of tools are required to elicit insights from participants. We don’t just produce art but are engaged with art and artistic projects. Our pedagogy is designed to encourage individuals to have a deeper, lifelong engagement with the arts: every individual is a site of culture. It is our belief that the facilitator of the pedagogy is not the proprietor of knowledge. “People do not go through the process of developing consciousness (conscientization) by having things explained to them, but rather by engaging in dialogue about their lives and the lives of others.”

Musagetes is developing SenseLabs that are designed to identify how the arts reveal beauty and ugliness to us, how we sense and interpret those signs, and how we can further use artistic processes to transform that which we perceive to be unjust, destructive, and unloving — that which is dehumanizing. Pedagogy, then, is the process of collective discovery of what humanity contains and how we can do something about its healing.

The Meeting Place

Lecce is a small city in Salento, near the point where the Adriatic and Ionian Seas meet. It is a place where illustrious High Baroque architecture meets the simple lines of Fascist design; where 500-year-old olive trees grow next to fields of solar panels; and where the light at noon can only be described as transcendental. But it is also a place of enormous economic challenges, environmental devastation, social alienation, and diminished civic pride. In other words, its problems are a microcosm of the concerns facing our globalized world.

The Ammirato Culture House is a social space at the crossroads of three neighbourhoods in Lecce. It was established in early 2012 by Musagetes, Loop House (a sound-art residency), and numerous artists and organizations. Housed in a 16th-century villa that was once an Enlightened philosophy school led by Scipione Ammirato, the Ammirato Culture House has given new significance to Ammirato’s name for the school — The House of the Transformed, that is, a school based on the belief that the arts transform our lives and societies. Now, 400 years later, the heavy stonewalls are once again housing these beliefs.

Within this context, the Ammirato Culture House is a platform for research and reflection by a collective of artists, activists, scholars, producers, cultural associations, and individuals who are collaborating on projects that aim to build a community of critical engagement with art and ideas in Lecce. As a social centre we aim to establish a strong neighbourhood identity with new possibilities for social, artistic, and civic engagement — ideas that will arise from the dreams and needs of the inhabitants. As an example of this, Musagetes invited a Bolognese writing collective called KaiZen to conduct a workshop on collective writing with community participants. The literary characters that took shape during the workshop were based on prior research that documented the stories and the lived experiences of people in the nearby Santa Rosa neighbourhood. Each character was conceived as a composite of real people and then fictionalized as a novel. Through this process, the writers — thinking intensely and beautifully — elevated the inhabitants’ experiences to the realm of the imagination, creating an imaginative space for individuals to find themselves in the work, and thereby to feel a sense of belonging. As Thomas King says, we are the stories that we tell about ourselves.41

We are still at the advent of building the Ammirato Culture House into what we intend it to be, but so far we have made substantial inroads into the neighbourhoods; built political support among the local government; created a weekly program of social gatherings; and designed a collaborative artistic project to be launched over the next few months. We’re calling the project Quartiere Ammirato. Most importantly, we have created a space for conversation, for as Pablo Helguera says, “conversation is the centre of sociality, of collective understanding and organization.”

With social spaces such as Ammirato Culture House, which can be considered an artistic project in itself, Musagetes nurtures the imagination and then creates an environment in which the imagination finds its creative outlet. It is a place to have experiences as a participant, not a place to be set apart by onlookers. You belong there, you don’t just visit. We exist — to be a catalyst for renewed hope, bringing the arts more centrally and meaningfully into individuals’ lives and their communities. Please join us.

Shawn Van Sluys

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