“Beautiful Trouble is essential reading for the socially engaged artist.”Ken Krafchek, Graduate Director, MFA in Community Arts, Maryland Institute College of Art
Cultivating a fluid, symbiotic relationship between activists and experts is key to organizing effective interventions into complex issues.
Experts can be terribly helpful co-conspirators and there are plenty of them out there to befriend. So go ask one for help. Why? An expert can be a great source of powerful, actionable information or can save you much embarrassment by pointing out flaws in your approach. An expert can help you do something you don’t know how to do or gain access to something that requires credentials. An expert can put you in contact with even more experts. And an expert can introduce new audiences to your work.
Choose an expert whose work is aligned with your mission to increase your chance of a positive response. If the response is no, then simply move on to the next. (Remember: there are many experts in this world!). Experts often respond favorably because they secretly wish they could act like independent artists and activists like you. Experts tend to work within established institutions and are beholden to power structures that typically limit speech and action. For that reason, it’s important to be respectful of the limits of what they can say, do, or sign their name to.
As you continue to work on your project or campaign, you might find that people start treating you like the expert. People, you notice, are really listening to what you have to say. You might be invited to give a talk or a journalist calls for a quote. A “mediagenic” project propels your cause, bringing your message to the widest possible audience. Fantastic! Use the attention to your advantage.
But beware of getting too comfortable in the role of expert. Remain tactical. Construct your environment and apply pressure as needed. If your job is done or the project has run its course, then don’t linger at the mic. Reap the benefits of acting fast and freely, then disappear. Experts have made a long-term commitment and are good at sustainability; they choose their territory and stick it out, for better or worse. Activists and experts are simpatico but not interchangeable.
As a tactician, your job is to take risks. Generate a lot of ideas, prototypes or situations to see what works. Don’t worry, good ideas have the tendency to stick, whether you see them through or others pick up where you left off.