Citizen journalism comes to the art world with Creative Time Reports, an online initiative by New York public art agency Creative Time that launched yesterday and casts artists as news reporters and commentators. The website, which will be updated several times a week, is headed by Marisa Mazria Katz, a writer who has contributed to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications.
In the first batch of nearly two dozen articles, a global group of artists weighs in on current issues from the conflict in Syria to the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake and the legacy of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Contributors range from Haitian writer Jean-Euphèle Milcé to Mexican artist Pedro Reyes and Iranian-American comedian, actress, writer and filmmaker Negin Farsad.
Multimedium artist Liam Gillick files a dispatch from Spain's Basque Country on that country's economy. "The common understanding is that Spain is financially screwed," Gillick writes. "But the story is actually a political, rather than an economic, one." Much of his information comes from a "local contact" who is never named and whose anonymity is never explained. This Basque Deep Throat hints at collusion between government and finance: "Every single bank in Spain had politicians on the boards," he says. "For example, the reason corruption has been stronger in Valencia and Murcia is because politicians were using tons of money from banks for various speculative and ridiculous projects."
Performance artist Suzanne Lacy taps into recent developments in the American political system to file an election report, "Distracting Vaginas and the Body Politic." She puts controversies like Missouri Republican state representative Todd Akin about "legitimate rape," and an imagined ability of women's bodies to repel rapists' sperm, in the context of her research on psychoanalytic and mythological literature on sexual violence. "Uteruses have been political footballs since our country's founding," she writes.
In an opinion piece filed from Doha, Qatar, Syrian-born photographer Jaber Al Azmeh argues that the conflict in Syria "is not a civil war," as it is widely referred to in the media. "It is none other than a revolution of the people," he asserts.
At a time when newspapers and magazines are trimming staff to the bone, if not closing altogether, the Creative Time project may present an innovative way to bolster journalism, and in fact content from the site will be available free of charge to other news outlets.
But will artists contribute meaningfully to the global conversation about current events? David Simon, a former reporter who is best known as the creator of the HBO series "The Wire," testified at a Congressional hearing in 2009 on the future of journalism that the work is a profession that requires training. "Indeed," he said, "the very phrase ‘citizen journalist' strikes my ear as Orwellian. A neighbor who is a good listener and cares about people is a good neighbor; he is not in any sense a citizen social worker, just as a neighbor with a garden hose and good intentions is not a citizen firefighter. To say so is a heedless insult to trained social workers and firefighters."
Creative Time points out artists' "unique observational and investigative skills," and cites examples ranging from Goya's Disasters of War to Manet's Execution of Maximillian as predecessors of its new initiative.
"In times like these," notes Laura Raicovich, Creative Time's director of Global Initiatives, in a press statement, "we need new ways to view the challenges we confront, change the status quo and work towards greater social justice."