Changing Communities and the World Through Art
The global arts initiative Micro Galleries reclaims disused and forgotten spaces to transform them into small galleries with the help of international and local artists, to be enjoyed by the communities. This October, Micro Galleries will make its way to Jakarta.
Micro Galleries, blurring the line between street art and fine art, wants to make art accessible for everyone – instead of admiring artworks in a gallery, the local community will see them in their immediate surroundings, on forgotten land, ignored walls or unexpected potholes.
NOW! Jakarta spoke to Kat Roma Greer, the Artistic Director of Micro Galleries, about this unique project and what to expect when it finally lands in Indonesia’s capital.
Could you first tell us a little bit more about yourself and your background?
I am an Australian creator based in Asia. I creatively lead the global arts initiative Micro Galleries, am Director of Sydney alternative arts space, The Red Rattler, an Advisor for French-based global arts initiative United Sketch Freedom, co-founder and creative collaborator with arts collective Rue de la Rocket, and was – somehow – named as one of Australia’s 100 Women of Influence for Culture. The common theme is that I work as an urban disruptor and creator of public art interventions and initiatives that focus on positive social change. I have trained in a range of arts practices ranging from theatre, classical singing, some exceptionally bad piano playing, contemporary performance-making, performance installation through to multi-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary arts practices.
I grew up in a low socio-economic housing commission area called Berkeley, 90 minutes south of Sydney and, unlike those around me, I was completely and thoroughly addicted to the arts in all its forms. Unfortunately, due to the low-income nature of the area I had little access to arts nor any opportunity to pursue it. The art world seemed closed-off, like we were the “wrong type of people” to be creating art or even entering a gallery. When I moved to Hong Kong, I had the same type of feeling. Art was locked away in shiny, white galleries or it was at trade fairs. It felt like art was for commerce only. Where was public art for the people? I believe deeply that everyone should have the right and opportunity to create, access, engage with and appreciate the arts, and that arts has fundamental power in generating positive social change for the individual, the community and on a global level. So, Micro Galleries’ mission is to reclaim public spaces, develop local arts and artists, and bring art directly to the people who need it the most.
Could you share with us how Micro Galleries first started?
Bess Hepworth, the curator of TEDxHappyValley and Director of Radical Resilience Week, Hong Kong, initially commissioned Micro Galleries. She requested that I develop an art project that was accessible to all members of the public and lent itself to the theme of Radical Resilience Week.
I am based in Hong Kong. Asia is an incredibly dynamic and exciting place to be artistically at the moment - Hong Kong in particular. It’s such an insanely expensive place to get hold of or access to any property or venues. What that means is that artistic development needs to be supported and validated by the government, or by commercial enterprise. We are only just beginning to see here in Hong Kong a growing interest in arts practices breaking out of these models and free, public, accessible arts starting to inhabit and disrupt the urban environment. A lot of art, visual art particularly, is locked away in pristine, high-end galleries that many people are intimidated to go into or they believe they don’t have the finances to buy anything, so they don’t engage with it. This also means that art here sometimes is not seen as having any value unless it has a large commercial value. Performance and other live arts has a hard time being present as rehearsal and performance spaces are so difficult to access due to high rents and small spaces. Therefore, I decided to reclaim public spaces and public access to art as a way to change our perception on how art can be engaged with and who has a right to access and enjoy it. I extended this theme into the content itself and invited artists from around the world to contribute any work they had that aligned with the theme “changing the world...in small and creative ways.”
So I was charged with coming up with an interesting art project that reflected the theme of radical resilience with very little time, funds and no venue! I also happened to be 12 weeks pregnant with my first child and on a one-month residency in Beijing at the time! Amusingly I think this is always the way great things come about – with no time to over-analyse and just raw ideas coming to the surface – hence Micro Galleries! I called on many of my amazing creative networks to donate their artworks digitally to me. I made the project mobile, slim, raw and gritty. The most important part was generating a public art culture that was interesting, accessible and changed or reclaimed some neglected spaces in the community and presented art that was thought-provoking or fun and wonderful.
After that pilot installation we realised the project really had meaning for communities and was making an impact. We wanted to continue sharing this project and its ever-increasing collection of works with other communities around the world where we felt there was a need for us to appear. We now go where there is creative and social need for us to be.
What made you decide to bring Micro Galleries to Jakarta?
I have been visiting Jakarta over the past two years and really love the dynamic, raw energy of the place and the people. I have seen a lot of the spray, wheatpaste and mural street art that has been happening around the city, which is exciting and political and socially aware. Indonesian urban artists are edgy and informed. What was also really exciting for me was learning about the kampungs, their small community base within a thriving metropolis, and the difficult situation many of their communities are in, juxtaposed with their hunger to improve things for the next generation and their amazing initiatives and community-based programmes. I went and spoke to the Australian Embassy in Jakarta who have been very excited and supportive of the project. Between their support and that of the Australia Indonesia Institute, we felt really confident that a Micro Galleries in Jakarta would have an amazing impact.
We have an amazing Indonesian creative and communications team we work closely with and they have connected us to wonderful communities and artists. Everyone seems to be really excited about bringing Micro Galleries into Java and showcasing it in Jakarta. We are working closely with several arts collectives like Ladies on Wall, local businesses like Le Papyrus Cafe and of course, the local community organisation #belajaran – all of whom are incredibly supportive and excited about the project.
In what way can the local communities benefit from Micro Galleries?
We aim to achieve several benefits for the community. First, we want to reclaim sections of the community that are run-down, forgotten, disused, or are promoting negative behaviour and turn these areas into wonderful places full of colour, creativity and information. We also aim to encourage and empower the community to continue nurturing these spaces as their new creative playgrounds!
We are bringing contemporary, live and experimental art into these spaces. Most people in these communities are rarely able to actively access art – especially fine art. We facilitate live performance, projection art, sound art as well as spray, mural and paste up art into these spaces, bringing it directly to the community. We help inform through free workshops, think tanks and tours of the artworks.
Lastly, we also promote the local community to the wider community, and the world and provide an opportunity for local artists to exhibit alongside international artists they wouldn’t normally meet, showcase local artists to the world, and sometimes we can even facilitate collaboration opportunities between local and international artists.
This article was first published in the July 2017 issue of NOW! Jakarta magazine.