To Peru and back: The art of place listening

Listen, learn, synthesize... then create. “Place listening” is a way to identify the context of a place, analyze it, and mine it to inform the design of a meaningful, resonant gathering space. It’s one of the approaches Jack Becker of Forecast Public Art brought to the city of Lima, Peru last year. And now he’ll bring place listening to the Creative Enterprise Zone through a series of forums later in 2018, aiming to gather community input on developing our own public spaces.

Chair of the CEZ board’s Public Realm Committee, Jack is the founder and director of consulting services for the nonprofit Forecast Public Art, based in the CEZ for the past 26 of its 40 years. Stay tuned to take part in the forums later this year.

But meanwhile, why Lima? Through a major Peruvian university, Jack was invited by an interdisciplinary research group, EMPLAZAR (Space + Art + Public) and funded by a Fulbright specialist grant. The purpose of the group—whose members are art historians, architects, curators, and philosophers—is to use the arts to improve citizens’ lives in Lima, a city of 10 million people who have endured long-term political corruption violence in the public sphere. Jack’s job was to serve as a bridge between EMPLAZAR, local artists, and Lima’s local politicians and district managers, helping them plan for public art that will express a sense of place and pride.  

And why did they seek out Jack Becker? “Forecast Public Art has helped connect the energies and talents of artists around the USA with the needs and opportunities of different communities,” said one of Jack's hosts, Fernando Perez Riojas. “This synergy between artists and architects together with the inhabitants and their local governments s precisely what we're trying to do in Lima.”
 
In addition to giving talks and meeting with district leaders, Jack led a public art and place-based design workshop for EMPLAZAR students, with place-listening playing a key role. “The public sphere is a venue for creative and meaningful exchange,” said Jack. “I witnessed so many unfriendly and unwelcoming streetscapes in Lima. People there had good reason to be afraid, given the history of corrupt politicians, the violence that erupted in the streets there a decade ago, and the culture of paranoia that still persists."  The photo here shows the nature of the challenge. 

Traveling outside of Lima, Jack and his wife Nancy found more place-based design lessons through glimpses of an ancient civilization. “The Incas designed and built amazingly complex and sophisticated cities, temples, and sacred sites,” said Jack. “We were in awe of the stonework, the engineering, the terraced agricultural landscaping and the architecture, especially in the sacred mountaintop village of Machu Picchu. In terms of placemaking, these artists, engineers and craftspeople were highly skilled. We could learn a great deal from them about creating public spaces with a sense of organization, connectedness, and equity.” 

To learn more about Forecast Public Art, visit www.ForecastPublicArt.org.

Julie James