Chapter 6: Listen

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Cincinnati-based organizations Wave Pool and the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati invited Caroline Woolard to create a socially engaged project in 2017. The artist decided to create a set of “listening objects” for four grassroots organizations — MORTAR, Cincy Stories, the Cincinnati Union Co-op Initiative, and the Welcome Project — each made in direct response to the existing facilitation practices of these organizations. Facilitation, the skillful guiding of the meeting process, is a key part of running these four organizations because they are horizontal organizations that share power and require that members attend meetings in order to make decisions together.

The finished pieces continue to live with these organizations as well as in a common space where the public can interact with them and use them as well as learn more about the project and the four organizations involved. The project debuted at the Cincinnati Neighborhood Summit in March 2018 with a presentation by Woolard, and the works were also exhibited at the Contemporary Arts Center. This project reflects Woolard’s current approach to socially engaged art, explained at length in the wall text in the adjacent Wilson Gallery.

The process utilized by Woolard to make LISTEN suggests that artists can bring studio-based sculptural techniques to artmaking that emphasizes participation and dialogue. With attention to material, form, and scale, Woolard recognizes daily, ongoing organizing for progressive community-building and political change.

As someone often attempting to bring artists into communities for positive social change, I often find myself having to navigate the territory of engaging visiting artists with communities that are not their own. I really appreciated Caroline being upfront about her schedule as well as her knowledge and background that would all play a role in how she could best connect with and understand certain communities within our city as a visiting artist.

—Cal Cullen, 2017