09 June 2011
City of trust
When you visit another city do you feel safe? Do you trust the new city as much as you trust your own? For Natalia Toledo, an artist from Oaxaca, Mexico, the first thing that she noticed about Australia was "trust". Trust in the streets and trust in places where people meet.
Posters of people who took part in the project were displayed in Mexico City's metro stations.
The Trust handshake project was held in Sile, Istanbul.
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While in Melbourne working on the Alternative Worlds project with RMIT's Design Research Institute (DRI), Toledo was out at night with Geoff Hogg, Coordinator of Public Art at RMIT, and Karla Saenz, Director of the Kopalli Foundation, Mexico. Walking down one of the city's famous alleyways she mentioned the "trust" she felt.
"It was interesting to be out in your own city late at night with a visitor telling you how much she trusted Melbourne and how she could feel trust in every part of the city. This is rather different from many media views of Melbourne," Hogg says.
Out of this comment grew "Trust: Intervention Through Art". The project aims to reframe social experience in the urban context and is investigating the social value of trust between individuals in public urban spaces by design interventions through art.
"The proposition is that the shared exercise of trust between individuals, often in a cross-cultural context, can contribute to safer communities. By encouraging individuals to interact through aesthetic participation with one another, trust can develop and can mitigate against anti-social behaviours which manifest as crime," Hogg says.
The project jointly won DRI's 2010 Design Challenge on Crime. Brandon Gien, Managing Director of Good Design Australia and Chair of the Australian International Design Awards, says that the project captivated his attention and that of his fellow judges. "It's a unique project as it leverages the role of public art in helping create not only a more aesthetically pleasing environment, but a safer and more trustworthy one," he says.
RMIT's partners in the project include Dianella Community Health in Melbourne, the City of Melbourne, the municipality of Sile, Turkey, and the National Centre for the Arts and Kopalli in Mexico.
In Sile, part of Istanbul, the collaboration has resulted in a handshake project developed in partnership with local government. In Mexico it is helping to create a safer city. Safety is a huge national issue in public spaces in Mexico City and Kopalli decided to focus on public transport. Starting at the metro stations, the project gets people to tell their life stories via a range of media including posters, performances and video works.
Saenz from Kopalli says: "People are finding images from the project more human and appealing than the advertising they are used to. Through it people often feel a connection with someone they don't know in a crowded urban space. People love being part of it."
In Melbourne later this year, noted Aboriginal artist Karen Casey will create a major intervention as part of the project, building on connections between indigenous communities first explored in the Alternative Worlds project.
Professor Elizabeth Grierson, Head of RMIT's School of Art, says that trust is a value that the world needs. "I seriously believe that we can make a difference through public art. This project is captivating people around the world, from women on trains in Mexico City to people in coffee shops in Istanbul."
This story was first published in RMIT's Making Cities Work magazine.