Public Imagination Collective: Durban, South Africa

The 2018 International Symposium for Electronic Art (ISEA) happens in Durban, South Africa. At last year's ISEA in Manizales, Colombia, the Durban planning team invited me to support their efforts to engage local communities in a more integral and co-creative way at ISEA. I gladly accepted this exciting challenge and spent five weeks in South Africa in late 2017.

Meanwhile, I was almost halfway through my fellowship at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, exploring the question "Where is our public imagination?" The ISEA team's vision seemed to overlap with this notion of public imagination, and two weeks after landing in Durban, the Public Imagination Collective was formed. How did this come about? 

First, I met with Durban University of Technology, the City of Durban, and as many arts, culture, and community organizations as I could in the first weeks of my visit. Through these meetings and conversations, we gathered an intrigued group of creatives. These dancers, film makers, technologists, graffiti artists, poets, digital artists, community organizers, and data scientists agreed to meet regularly to explore overlapping interests and invent potential public projects.

The topic of social inequity was voted unanimously as the research theme of choice. We took field trips to observe the very tangible inequities in high-density transportation hubs, popular markets, and central plazas. Multidisciplinary project groups formed and work was underway!

As often is the case, I had to depart just when momentum was picking up speed -- but what remained and sustained was a handful of cultural research projects informed by radically inclusive collaborations integrating art, science, technology, and other disciplines to develop ongoing participatory public engagements.

Many of these engagements were featured at ISEA in June 2018, and continue to be developed. More importantly, new partnerships are envisioning new possibilities for social equity in Durban.

Kate Spacek