Make Things (Happen)

Make Things (Happen) is a participatory project organized by Christine Wong Yap featuring 29 artist-created activity sheets to make things or make things happen.




Artists: Lauren F. Adams, Oliver Braid, Maurice Carlin, Kevin B. Chen, Torreya Cummings, Helen de Main, double zero, Bean Gilsdorf, Galeria Rusz, Sarrita Hunn, Maria Hupfield, Nick Lally, Justin Langlois, Justin Limoges, Jessica Longmore, Mail Order Brides/M.O.B., Meta Local Collaborative, Roy Meuwissen, Dionis Ortiz, Kristina Paabus, Piero Passacantando, Julie Perini, Risa Puno, Genevieve Quick, Pallavi Sen, Elisabeth Smolarz, Emilio Vavarella, David Gregory Wallace, Lexa Walsh.


Social in Practice: The Art of Collaboration

Curated by Deb Willis and Hank Willis Thomas

March 27–October 2, 2014
Nathan Cummings Foundation
475 Tenth Avenue, 14th floor (between W. 36th & 37th Streets), New York, NY 10018
Opening Reception: Thursday, March 27, 6-8 pm
Reservations required; email

Mid-October to November 28, 2014
NYU Tisch School of the Arts Department of Photography and Imaging galleries
721 Broadway, 8th Floor (between Washington Place and Waverly Place), New York, NY 10003
Opening Reception: TBA

Project Statement

Make Things (Happen) is intended to multiply creative activity. I started by asking 29 artists to create activity sheets; these are downloadable here and freely available in Social in Practice: The Art of Collaboration. Anyone and everyone are invited to use them to make things or make things happen, then share their results (#mkthngs or #mkthngshppn) to encourage further participation.

ACTIVITIES. I was inspired by enjoyable, memorable, shared experiences—from showing my niece how to sew her own holiday decorations, to initiating a book club via video chat with distant peers. The invited artists branched out, enriching the project with their diverse artistic and didactic pursuits. Their contributions reflect their optimism and ambivalence towards how-to directives, and thus offer concrete objectives as well as space for open-ended interpretation. The activities range from drawing worksheets to elaborate constructions; community exchanges to gallows humor; and studio instructions to discussion prompts.

Activities fall into two categories. Make Things entails hands-on, tangible art activities. Through drawing worksheets, participants can encounter the techniques and social concepts in the work ofKevin B. ChenDionis Ortiz, and Lauren F. Adams, or potentially increase positive sentiment (Galleria RuszPallavi Sen). Participants can also create hands-on 3-D projects, such as a shadow puppet show (David Gregory Wallace) or multi-person swing (Kristina Paabus). The projects also intersect with the virtual; one could modify the code in digital images (Emilio Vavarella), or hand draw algorithmic patterns (Nick Lally).

Make Things Happen encompasses manifold approaches. Projects from Helen de MainMaria Hupfield, and Lexa Walsh catalyze or facilitate interpersonal exchanges. double zero has programmed a telephone menu as a public, interactive, and collaborative experience. Individuals can also improve bad days (Elisabeth Smolarz), meditate (Piero Passacantando), take a tongue-in-cheek personality quiz (Risa Puno), or explore looking as a form of time-travel (Genevieve Quick).

Other artists’ projects instantiate the expanded boundaries of contemporary art practice. The studio itself is re-thought with alternatives for creating and inhabiting spaces, both individually (Jessica Longmore) and collaboratively (Maurice Carlin). Meta Local Collaborative describes the extra-studio art practice of bicycling. Bean Gilsdorf’s kooky, illustrated handout, How to Use It, never identifies what “It” is, calling upon users’ interpretation and open-ended application.

Four artists riff on (im)possibilities, referencing feature films (Torreya CummingsRoy Meuwissen) and texts (Oliver BraidJustin Limoges). They alternately employ poetics, darkness, and ambivalence.

While how-to instructions typically describe concrete actions, four contributors ambitiously invite participants to engage in efforts and radical re-imaginations towards social change. Julie Perinidescribes how white people can challenge white supremacy. Mail Order Brides/M.O.B. parodies corporate handbooks to tackle gender and power. Sarrita Hunn contributes a well-researched How to… Make An Alternative Institution, and Justin Langlois’ list of provocations encourages collaborative visions for a self-determined future.

ARTISTS. I invited these particular artists, duos, and collaboratives because their practices are a mix of hands-on, participatory, and engaged with the world. They work across social practice, drawing, sculpture, video, and performance. About one-third of the artists are international—from the UK, Canada, Poland, Italy, and India; one-third are from California; and the rest are from New York or other parts of the US. A few actively create new conditions for art and engagement by founding organizations and initiatives. All excite me with how their lives and art-making are interconnected with the world at large. I am particularly interested in highlighting practices unconcerned with, despite, and agitating against the demands of the art market. Profiles and links to their sites are included so you can learn more.

BACKGROUND. About a year ago, I wrote an essay and created a diagram to explore “What Artists Make (Happen).” I wanted to think through how artists who create art objects make things in their studios, also make things happen with others beyond the studio walls—events, dialogues, possibilities. The point was that artists also involve and affect other people, and therefore manipulate social realities.




Make Things (Happen) continues to explore these ideas. In this case, making things is still defined as hands-on fabrication, while making things happen includes social, conceptual and performance actions. By participating, the public can sample activities that manipulate objects, forms, and social realities, and experientially encounter artists’ practices and thoughts. These activities are intended for participation—so it’s your move.

—Christine Wong Yap, 2014

THANKS to curators Deb Willis and Hank Willis ThomasNYU Tisch Department of Photo and ImagingKarl Peterson and Sonia Louise Davis; and the Nathan Cummings Foundation. My sincerest gratitude to all the artists for their time, enthusiasm, and thoughtful contributions; and to Sarrita Hunn for exploring the potential of the initial concepts. And thanks in advance to participants!

LINKS. For more participatory contemporary art projects, see Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher’s Learning to Love You More, Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Do It, and Paper Monument’s Draw It With Your Eyes Closed.

Caption: Various Artists, Make Things (Happen), 2014, 29 activity sheets, 8.5 x 11 inches / 216 x 279 mm


Artists are the People in Your Neighborhood

By Elizabeth Hamby for NAMAC

The narrative of artists in neighborhoods often follows an arc that goes something like this: artists, in search of space to live and work cheaply, move to an industrial/low-income/out-of-the-way neighborhood. Real estate values rise, and all of a sudden the industry/low-income housing that made the area affordable, disappear, people are displaced from neighborhoods where they’ve lived for generations, and national chain coffee shops open up on every corner.

Meta Local disrupts this narrative by using community engagement as a vital strategy to develop projects collaboratively with our neighbors. We use our artistic practice to amplify the work that is already taking place in our community, bridging the gap between art, activism, everyday people, and the environment.

Meta Local is the collective practice of Hatuey Ramos-Fermín and myself. Hatuey and I are partners in both life and art, and Meta Local contains our work, which is grounded in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx, where we live. Together, we investigate the dynamics of urban spaces; exploring the histories of buildings and neighborhoods, and tracing the flows of people, ideas and products. We combine documentary strategies with performance and fine art, in order to articulate concepts of origin, and the sense of place.

Often, artists whose work deals with community engagement grapple with the challenges of working outside their own community. Urban Bush Women, creators of dance and community talk elegantly about the work of “Entering, Building, and Exiting Community.” This is important work. But I also wonder about the day-to-day life of being an artist in our own communities.

I’d like to share two of our ongoing Meta Local projects as examples of how we define and create engagement in our own community.

Boogie Down Rides is a bicycling and art project that started in 2012. The goal of the project is to create a culture of bicycling, and build a diverse community of cyclists in the Bronx. By creating and celebrating active transportation, Boogie Down Rides increases awareness of bicycles as a mode of transportation and recreation, promoting safe cycling and bridging existing efforts to expand cycling in the Bronx.

“Bicycling is Art,” is the tagline of Boogie Down Rides, highlighting the aesthetic, as well as political function of creating a visible bicycle culture in a borough that struggles with disparities in health, infrastructure, and income. The project brings together artists, activists, public health workers, advocates for safe streets, and everyday folks who like to ride their bikes. It has also sparked a local conversation about who rides bikes in the Bronx, and the barriers that keep others from joining in. This dialogue, which often takes place at stop lights and street corners, is the link between art-making and place-making that is the crux of our practice.

Mind the Gap/La Brecha considers the relationship between the neighborhoods of the South Bronx, and the surrounding waterfront. As part of the Laundromat Project’s Create Change Public Artist Residency, this project was stationed at the Blue and White Laundromat on East 140th Street in the South Bronx. Collaborators included James Rojas, an artist and urban planner who helped us design an interactive 3D model, local community groups, such as South Bronx Unite, who are advocating for more South Bronx waterfront access, and the everyday people of the neighborhood who shared their visions, fears, and aspirations for the waterfront.

Hosting this project at a laundromat helped to broaden the constituency of the conversation about the future of the neighborhood’s waterfront access beyond those activists and organizers, including children, parents, elderly people, and others who are not typically able to attend community meetings. By facilitating storytelling, working with interactive models, and creating an “Ideal Waterfront” photo booth, our project created a space where art-making was a living thing — contingent on the relationship between people and place that constitute the neighborhood.

It is not strange that community engagement in the arts is becoming more visible in the broader art world. In a moment characterized by startling inequality, global crises, and threats to civil liberty, artists are compelled to respond to complex problems with projects that seek to not only articulate the conditions of everyday life, but to engage them head-on. Art-making requires sustained attention, both stubbornness and willingness to change,professional amateurism, and deep engagement. It requires collaboration across disciplines, and a long-term perspective that pays close attention to the present. In short, the practice of art-making is well-suited to the task of confronting social and political climate that is more and more often characterised by fear and fraction.

Conversations like artsENGAGE are important in the midst of this practice because this work is not easy, but also because we are the constituents of the community of practitioners, working to articulate the terms of our engagement. We are storytellers, visual artists, media makers, and administrators, and we are also the people in our neighborhoods. This salon has presented powerful examples, and raised important questions. I hope that it is the beginning of a longer conversation that can sustain the work of the participants, and support the creation of new, powerful work.


GUEST BLOG: Global to Local, environment and space – ideas from around the world


By Maria Adebowale (Capacity Global) for  Local Trust

Boogie Down Rides: Bicycling as an art (New York, America)

Boogie Down Rides was set up by artists who use bikes and art to start conversations about improving local space and how people access it.

Elizabeth Hambey and Hatuey Ramos Fermin, the two artists who set up the project, were keen to show how riding down a street can be a starting point for turning a place around. The conversation starter they used with the local people they met focused on how bike riding helped to encourage a cycling culture or make an area even safer. If more people felt comfortable riding bikes around the neighbourhood then more people using the streets and lanes could help to reduce crime and give an area a buzz.

Talking about bikes helped people to start thinking about why areas feel unsafe to ride and what the solution might be for people living locally.  Elizabeth and Hatuey noticed that more local people started using a bike, mending their bikes or learning to ride (particularly women) for the first time.

For some residents cycling represents the ability to get outdoors and explore their local green spaces.

To find out more about Boogie Bikes click here.