Intro • Ideas • Questions



The Civic Studio is an experimental applied studio project. The studio employs the methods of visual art as means to study, form, and present art in a specific public context. Each implementation of the project involves the development of a temporary project site and the individual and collaborative work of 8-12 artists. The studio operates “in public” and presents lectures, visual displays, and public gatherings. The Civic Studio is a project of the Grand Valley State University Department of Art and Design and the Johnson Center for Philanthropy.


Ideas that inform the studio

In the Civic Studio we:

•Understand civic life as plastic (to be formed).

•Ask the questions "what is art?" and "what is civic life?".

•Engage in the study and creation of civic forms through visual means.

•Understand that working visually is a rich mode of multi-valent investigation, inquiry and forming.

•Operate in public; the process is open.

•Work to apply the expertise of visual practice to the resolution of practical concerns of people.
•• While we hold that the imaginative and insightful are strategies largely dismissed in our world of logic and logos.

•Value the idea of reciprocity in relations with others: give and take - take and give: talk and listen - listen and talk. It is best when the exchange is balanced.

•Work to encourage and support an understanding of desires and risks.

•Intend to be useful, and work for a new definition/understanding of use.

•Work from a pretense of visual culture in which all visual forms have cultural, social, aesthetic, moral, and practical value, context and use; not from a point of differentiation of the applied arts and the fine arts.

•In lieu of a healthy overlap of the "art world" and "non-art world" the studio subjects its work to the valuation of the art world and the neighborhood - and aspires to contribute to creating work recognized by both as valuable.

•Are informed by the practices and pedagogies of community service learning.

•Are wary of recreating art that becomes empty, romantic, and ceremonial in that it presents unrealistic and overly pure concepts of humanity and art that are difficult to apply to daily experience.
••Are careful to not let a critical art eye restrict risk-taking, engagement, and participation and recognize the celebratory function of art.

•Are mindful that as agents of the university we occupy a supported position of privilege and separation in our activities in the project.

•Remember that as temporary members of the neighborhood we have special freedoms and responsibilities.

•Bring with us what we know of the visual world (and how to materialize knowledge) through art.
•• Leave behind ways of seeing that might restrict our true engagement with the present situation and preclude our situated and independent discrimination of the present experience.

•Are willing to encounter without prior knowledge.




The civic studio asks two questions:

The first is what is civic life? In this "studio" means "the study of" the civic. As visual thinkers we do this through the visual and material. This question unravels to a cluster of other questions including; what is public (civic) space, how does it look and function, what was here before, why is it this way, how might it be, and what are people doing here.

The second question is how do we make civic life? In this "studio" means "to form" the civic. This is really an aspiration or a strategy of practicing art as connected to other things. In this we acknowledge the fundamental value of the imaginative, poetic, and arbitrary while we continue to investigate real situations and keep our eyes out for potential practical results."