Common Ground And Communities 5


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Tableof Contents

Definition of Concepts and Scope 1

Common Ground as a Functional Element in Communities 2

Common Ground, Communities and Contemporary Artworks 3

Contemporary Artworks 5

Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) 5

Street Art and Graffiti – The Arab Revolution Case 7

Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) 8

Conclusion 10

References 11

CommonGround And Communities

Definitionof Concepts and Scope

Theidea of a common ground refers to the sharing of interests, purpose,the way of life and aims by individuals in a society. This entails aconcept in which individuals in a community agree about even if theyhave reservations on many other issues therefore, serves as a pointof intersection for diversity (Merriam- Webster, 2015, n.p).Communities, on the other hand, refer to a group of individualsliving together at a particular place or having certain attributes incommon. Alternatively, a community could denote a feeling offellowship between individuals owing to the fact that they subscribeto similar interests, objectives, beliefs or attitudes (Merriam-Webster, 2015, n.p). Since common ground entails a point ofintersection in the society and communities involves a group ofindividuals subscribing to similar beliefs and interests, policymakers have exploited the relationship between the two conceptsdeliberately and naturally as a base to leverage certain desiredgoals in society. This intricately structured relationship betweenthe two defines the context in which the role of common ground incommunities can be comprehended.

Thispaper seeks to elucidate the underlying mechanisms through whichcommon ground influences activities of communities in the context ofcontemporary artworks. In this endeavor, the various forms andmanifestations of common ground will be explored, especially thespecific mechanisms through which they influence communal activitiesin general as well as the ultimate outcomes of such influences. Thediscussions here will focus on creative works in the society asforming a common ground for communities. Moreover, the subjects ofdiscussion will be informed by how common ground and communities worktogether with the interplay of this primal creativity to result incontemporary artworks. This is informed by the fact that commonground forms the basis of communal activities and acts as theoperating element of communal functionality (Manzo&amp Perkins, 2006, 335).

CommonGround as a Functional Element in Communities

Crapset al. (2004) noted that the construction of a common ground incommunities is a critical task since common grounds serve as thefunctional elements of societies, providing the most required driveto steer forward communal ventures (p. 378-393).This paper focuses on the role of common ground in communities itsmanifestation in the context of contemporary artworks. For thisreason, this section undertakes a brief review of the pivotal role ofcommon ground in communities from a general perspective. Moreimportantly, it is important to understand how the “functionality”of common ground in the society is established, especially what makesit a suitable platform for channeling economic, political and socialcourses in societies. This is crucial to the overriding objective ofthis paper, which seeks to comprehend the role of common ground incommunities in the context of contemporary artworks (a political,socio-economic activity).

Thephysical and psychological settings of communities determine thetypes of common grounds established in specific communitiestherefore, their functionalities. Physical grounding of communitiesfor instance, enables researchers to understand how specificinterests, perceptions, beliefs, emotional connections to a placecondition a socio-economic cohesion between individuals (Manzo&amp Perkins, 2006, p. 336). Participation by community members ineconomic, political and social processes is usually influenced by the“intra-psychic” phenomenon that is created when individuals in asociety when individuals have their thoughts, beliefs and feelings“grounded” in a particular place or concept (Leiman, 2012,123-147.) This is the reason that led Manzo &amp Perkins (2006) toobserve that community-based planning requires one to understand howgrounding affects the participation of individuals in communalactivities (read artworks) (p. 336). Essentially, the common groundcomes across as the “drive” for activities in communities. Theliteratures on common ground and communities have a common consensuson the role of common ground in communities with some researcherseven observing that the idea of common ground is the “essence ofcommunities,” especially in community-driven development projects(Bennett &amp D`Onofrio, 2014, n.p). Nevertheless, the two concepts(common ground and communities) are so intricately related such thatone reinforces the other in a mutually reinforcing sequence.

CommonGround, Communities and Contemporary Artworks

Theessence of community art is that it is a collective effort by membersof a community with a common ground who seek to express theirconcerns through an artistic process (Lim et al., 2013, p. 8).Contemporary artworks in the society are mostly based on the communalsetting, reflecting the society’s way of life, atrocities oruniqueness. The creativity and efforts that may be inherent incontemporary artworks are usually intended to trigger a change at thecommunity or the national level. In line with this understanding, thedesired change is what forms the commongroundin the communitiesthat “drives”individuals (read artists) to produce an artwork that expresses theiropinions. According to Thompson (2015), artists who come together toproduce contemporary artworks to inspire social justice in thesociety usually employ both tactical and strategic approaches tonavigating the political and economic infrastructures in the statusquo (p. 1).

Contemporaryart involves expression through various media such as television, theinternet, social media platforms, advertising and fine arts. Thesemedia also form the contemporary living in communities and therefore,what remains is a unity of purpose or the “drive” that channels acourse in the society. This is where the concept of a common groundcomes in. In the past few years, the use of contemporary art toexpress societal dissatisfaction and inspire change has increased.This process can only be comprehended in the context of common groundand communities. In order to exploit why contemporary art has becomea popular means of channeling communal courses, it is important toinvestigate the forces that comprise the discipline of contemporaryart. The infrastructure of contemporary art include the academicstudio programs, museums, non-profit art spaces, curatorial programs,magazines, newspaper art sections, street paintings and galleries(Thompson, 2015, p. 3). The common ground developed by artists andthe society determines the tactical and aesthetic standards ofcontemporary artworks. This implies that common ground plays aquality assurance role in contemporary art, a function that goes overand above it being the “drive” of such courses.

Adiscussion of communities and contemporary art cannot end withoutmention of online communities and the purpose that unites thesecommunities. Shared interests usually unite the virtual communitiesand what makes this group gain vitality is that communication israpid and access to a large group is possible. The use of socialmedia as a platform to display and circulate works of contemporaryartists has revolutionized the practice making it easier for artiststo reach wider audiences at decreased costs. Moreover, given thatvirtual communities extend beyond physical constraints and cultures,it provides a platform to build a common ground based on differentpoints of convergence. For instance, artists who have similar beliefson controversial issues such as abortion and gay marriages can find acommon ground on the virtual community even if the physicalcommunities in which they live do not embrace such beliefs. In such acontext, the artists, united by a common purpose (common ground) canconspire to produce contemporary artworks that will express theiropinions without necessarily being subjected to prejudice andvictimization. The upsurge in virtual communities and the ease withwhich common ground is built in such communities rely on the wideusage of internet connections and the advantages that come with it.

Afterproviding an overview of the interaction between common ground andcommunities and their interplay that results in contemporaryartworks, the following sections of the paper will undertake a casestudy of specific contemporary artworks with an overriding objectiveof espousing how common ground and communities work in the productionof contemporary art. A few contemporary artists and works arediscussed below.


Anarray of contemporary artworks and artists are discussed in thissection with an objective of establishing the functional relationshipbetween common ground and communities.

CriticalArt Ensemble (CAE)

Thisis a group comprising five tactical artists from various professionalbackgrounds in disciplines such as graphic design, film, book art andperformance. The individuals in this group are brought together bytheir desire to challenge unfounded perceptions, especially in thesocio-political context (thus common ground). In order to achievethis objective, this group has produced an array projects in thedisguise of contemporary artworks. The contemporary artworks producedby this group collectively seek to check the “rising intensity ofauthoritarian culture” in the society (Hawkins, 2015, n.p). Thisgroup has won the admiration of many including some museums in theUnited States that have invited them on several occasions to performand exhibit their projects, especially on communal issues relating tobiotechnologies, communication and information.

Intheir most recent book Disturbances,published in 2012, the group uses contemporary literary skills todenounce the fact that the society has a structure of how “thingsought to be done” (Hawkins, 2015, n.p). Their most notablecontemporary work is in the article NomadicPower and Cultural Resistance inwhich they advance their argument that the rich and influential insociety can do anything else but they cannot corrupt free media andtechnology (CAN, 2015, p. 13). In their works, they argue that powercannot destroy hypertext and network technologies since such kinds oftechnologies have a predetermined destiny of freedom. Moreover, thegroup engages other popular societal themes like individualism andlaw enforcement in their works. For instance, in the article NomadicPower and Cultural Resistance, theartists observe that when an individual carries out a rebellious act,he is regarded as a vandal rather than a protestor. Another notablecontemporary artwork by Critical Art Ensemble is the MolecularInvasion (2002)in which the group presented an exhibit on genetically modified cropsto espouse what their reservations on such crops.

Thecontemporary artworks of the Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) aresignificant to the endeavor of this paper because they demonstrate aunity of purpose (common ground) among individuals with differentprofessional backgrounds subscribing to similar interests (community)expressing their ideas using art (contemporary art). This thereforebrings out the interplay of the three concepts under investigation.

StreetArt and Graffiti – The Arab Revolution Case

Streetpaintings and graffiti are some contemporary works of art that havebecome a medium where artists express their opinions, especially onsocial and political concerns. In the contemporary world, graffiti isnow recognized as a legitimate medium and studied in academicinstitutions as a form of reaction to social injustice anddisenfranchisement, a way to create awareness of socio-politicalissues, a form of revolution trigger and also as an effort tobeautify urban environments (DeNotto, 2015, n.p).

Graffitiand street art are forms of contemporary artworks that are said tohave fueled the Arab spring that led to revolutions that began in2011. These paintings manifested the opinions of oppressed citizens(community) that sought a social-economic freedom from undemocraticgovernance (common ground). During the revolutions, the street wallsof Cairo, Tripoli and Tunis were locales of vibrant socio-politicalcommentary. Moreover, street paintings provided platforms wherecreative artists could rebut tyrants and speak directly withdictators, especially after all mediums of mass communication werenot available (Khouri, 2014, n.p).

Someoutstanding works that resulted from the Arab uprising include the ElSeed Muralthat was dedicated to those fighting for socio-political freedom inTunisia and the ZooProject,a painting representing the 236 people killed in the Tunisianuprising. However, the most outstanding work is the Tankvs. Bicyclepiece by Mohamed Fahmy (shown below).

Figure1.0: The Tank vs. Bicycle

Adoptedfrom Khouri (2014, n.p)

Thepainting above represents the will of the protestors against thestate machinery during the uprising. A contemporary work of art, itbrings out the inspiration of the unity of purpose (common ground) ina community showing how creativity can be used to inspire change inthe society. This work is an illustration of creativity, commonground and community.

Centerfor Urban Pedagogy (CUP)

Centerfor Urban Pedagogy (CUP) is a non-profit organization that uses thepower of art and design to provide waste removal services,transportation, urban design and planning services and othermodalities that involve living in urban centers. CUP is critical tothe objectives of this paper because it was founded as a group ofdesigners and artists in 1997 (CUP, 2015, n.p) implying that it is acommunity with a common ground. The activities of CUP representstrategic contemporary works of art, a subtle form of culturallyengaged pedagogy (Thompson, 2015, p. 6). The contemporary artworksundertaken by CUP involve collaborations with schoolchildren so thatthey are able to interpret the world that they live in.

TheProjectRow Housesadvanced by the organization is an apt example of an artwork that isdistinct from the artworks discussed in the preceding sections in thesense that it is more directly geared towards socio-economic changeand has a systematic approach to doing so. These projects aresignificant in the sense that they involve individuals workingtogether (community) with the desire of providing large-scalelow-cost housing to residents (common ground) using modern art anddesign (contemporary artwork).

TheStreet Vendor Projectby CUP is another example of a contemporary artwork that illustratesthe interplay between common ground and communities. This projectbrought together CUP and graphic designer Candy Chang and sought todesign artworks including drawings and texts that would empowervendors in the streets of New York to know their rights whenapproached by police. This project utilized the resources andartistic capabilities of CUP to publish and distribute at no cost thespecially designed posters that enabled vendors to avoid unnecessaryfines and earn an honest living. The StreetVendor Projectin essence is an example of a contemporaryartworkthat involved a collaboration of CUP and Candy Chang to form acommunityunited by a commongroundto enable vendors avoid fines, know their rights, be enlightened andearn an honest living in the streets of New York.


Theidea of a common ground refers to the sharing of interests, purpose,way of life and aims by individuals in a society while Communities,on the other hand, refer to a group of individuals living together ata particular place or having certain attributes in common. The twoconcepts are so intricately related such that one leads to the otherin a mutually reinforcing manner. In this relationship, common groundserves as the “drive” for a course in the society that is usuallyexpressed in the disguise of contemporary art. Contemporary artworksdiscussed in this paper such as NomadicPower and Cultural Resistance, Molecular Invasion (2002), El SeedMural, Zoo Project, Tank vs. Bicycle, Project Row Houses andThe Street Vendor Project haveall shown how common ground and communities effectively exploitedcreativity for expressing social, political and economic concerns.Essentially, individuals who are united geographically, emotionallyor psychologically to form a community will always find a commonpurpose and use the means available to them to express their desire.It is important to note at this point, that however the objective ofsuch courses is not included in the scope of this paper, such desiresusually strive to create social, political and economic change insociety. This is usually the ultimate goal of the common effort.


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Craps,M., Dewulf, A., Mancero, M., Santos, E., &amp Bouwen, R. (2004).Constructing common ground and re‐creatingdifferences between professional and indigenous communities in theAndes. Journalof community &amp applied social psychology,14(5),378-393.

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Lim,M., Chang, E., &amp Song, B. (2013). Three initiatives forcommunity-based art education practices. ArtEducation,66(4),7.

Manzo,L. C., &amp Perkins, D. D. (2006). Finding common ground: Theimportance of place attachment to community participation andplanning. Journalof planning literature,20(4),335-350.

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