News // September 3, 2014

JXTA Tactics: Using interventions to ask, “What’s Going On?”

BY: Roger Cummings

Rogers CummingsThis past summer, our version of tactical urbanism used a collaborative approach. We worked with partners from the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, the West Broadway Business & Area Coalition, and Trust for Public Land with a goal to engage people through small to medium-scale, visual & interactive interventions in select public spaces in our city.

Our Tactical Urbanism team and Mobile JXTA traveled to neighborhood blocks and highly-frequented public spaces around the Twin Cities, seeking to create interventions to activate spaces and spark engagement with art making and energy. Our team, made up of myself, Kristen, Trey, Roxanne, Jahliah, Dean, Cedrick, Hawa, Cameron and Chango – a combination of youth apprentices and artists, community organizers and activists – was designed to deploy intentional “tactics” to amp-up community engagement.

Known as Mobile JXTA, we built pedal-powered engagement units by repurposing bikes and illuminated them with LEDs and fold-out surfaces that functioned as gaming units, art project units or rolling musical spectacles, complete with bubble machines. Then we hit six Northside areas, including Broadway, Emerson and Penn, Plymouth, Lyndale, 26th and Lowry. We also set up at 4th and 7th on Nicollet Mall during the Farmer’s Market on Thursdays as well as some evenings and weekends.

Interventions are non-traditional strategies or tactics, physical or figurative devices, that break up fallow social grounds to find out what’s going on in the community, and if things are not functioning well, to come in between what’s not working and bridge that to what could work or be better.”

Our team interacted with hundreds of people this summer by being in places where pedestrians could literally bump into us. We conversed with a variety of community members – elders, youth, business people, homeless people, the police – about social and community issues over a game of dominoes or spades. Our team was diverse enough that each of us had something to contribute to the engagement. In other words, certain topics or perspectives I could relate to people about, whereas other times JXTA staff member Kristen or youth artist Chango could.

What we found during our explorations was that tactical urbanism provides opportunity for interaction and learning between people who don’t often connect in public space. Our charge was simple and intentional: it was to engage with people who use the space. It was to observe how people interact with one another, friends and strangers. It was to identify what works and what doesn’t and how it could work better in the areas of functionality, fostering neighborhood safety, art appreciation, and cultural enhancement, all through a non-traditional, youth-centered approach.

MORE: Our plan for next season is to be even more intentional with our engagement tactics, but we want to hold onto the spontaneity and serendipity we experienced this summer. What would you like to see Mobile JXTA and the Tactical Urbanism team do next year? Roving dj parties? Workshops? Let us know your thoughts and ideas by tweeting us at @JXTA_Arts and use the hashtag #mobileJXTA.

Roger Cummings is an artist and maker and the artistic director of Juxtaposition Arts.