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Art, a pedagogic tool for urban resilience.

Resilience thinking and citizen empowerment. Resilience thinking is a matter of perspective. It goes beyond the definition of urban resilience as the ability to withstand shocks. It implies a capability to reconsider what could be seen as granted and by doing so, enables a holistic approach encompassing the ways we interact with our environment. For urban citizens, standing back from daily lives and dealing with the unexpected change is not an innate gift. Though, understanding such capability is key. It will help to build the link with scientists mastering the concept of urban resilience and will enable citizens to be efficiently empowered. But how can scientists fulfill their social responsibility in a transfer of knowledge from teacher to learner? Skilled and recognized experts have no or limited training in such matter. Though the sociological dimension of urban resilience advocates for a better understanding of philosophical and sociological concepts, as those developed by E. Levinas and P. Freire on alterity and dialogical pedagogy, it is unfortunate to see that few publications underline their critical role in the process of building citizens empowerment. 

Do artists give a better understanding? The very first question coming to anyone’s mind is of course “What is Art?” But the relevant point on the topic of urban resilience is not “What is Art?” It is “What Art teaches us?” The answer plays a predominant role as “Art” enables to think differently compared to more traditional ways of thinking. As such, it may be seen as endangering institutions by breaking norms and creating counter-powers. “Art” can be politically incorrect when needed; it should not aim to “aestheticize” politics but possibly to “politicize” aesthetics. The artistic approach, whatever its outcome, basically aims to ask questions, to think differently, to build new narratives. Seen from this perspective, artistic approach and resilience thinking deal with the same issue: reconsidering what needs to be reconsidered. 

Art, a pedagogic tool.  Pedagogy cannot be decreed; it earns to be learned. In the specific case of urban resilience, teaching is cognitively challenging. It requires an ability to share the same wording, to connect to urban citizen’s sensitivity and at the same time to contextualize the teaching. A critical step in building this connection will be to learn and share a common language enabling to understand the meaning of urban resilience and the philosophy backing the concept. This should be thoroughly prepared by artists and scientists beforehand, to make sure that the message will be correctly understood, but also to help artists. Indeed, the artistic approach is often based on personal experience, living conditions and emotions. Writing a poem from a white sheet, painting from a blank canvas or carving a block of marble does not aim necessarily to teach something. The message does not appear always at first glance. But nothing prevents from translating emotions into a learning process. Emotions can also help us to think. 

Both scientists and artists need to recognize their social responsibility and be involved respectively in a transfer of knowledge from teacher to learner and in an artistic approach consistent with the objective to reach. Some of them may find difficult to leave their comfort zone. For scientists, a transfer of knowledge also means a transfer of power; scientists cannot expect to empower urban citizens and at the same time, not to be challenged if they cannot provide convincing arguments. For artists, going beyond a natural sensitivity finding its expression in a painting, in a sculpture or in a poem is not easy, and sometimes not feasible. To be used as a pedagogic tool, the approach will need to be described objectively. This could be seen as “counter-artistic” by those defending the idea that “Art” is essentially subjective. But the opposition between objectivity and subjectivity is as counterproductive as the opposition between figuration and abstraction. Though some artists may have difficulties to explain objectively their approach of “Art”, it can be assumed that those willing to engage into a learning process will have no difficulty to explain why their approach is consistent with the issues raised by urban resilience. 

Three guidelines for a pedagogical approach. Building the tripartite relationship between scientists, artists and non-expert citizens should be thought in terms of narrative. Narratives are commonly used during teacher to learner processes. They help to better understand our environment and are useful to create a group dynamic. In theory, a narrative should be structured to enable a quantification of its efficiency. Depending on the objective to reach (from “soft” awareness to “hard” teaching), the teacher may decide to structure the teaching process accordingly.

Guideline 1: understanding the paradigm of cognitive apprenticeship. Though pedagogy earns to be learned, self-studying is fully conceivable. A lot of publications are available online and though most of them are dedicated to a typical “teacher-student” relation, they are appropriate to acquire the basic knowledge needed to engage into a learning process gathering scientists, artists, and non-expert citizens. To build their program, artist and scientists should keep in mind the following recommendations:

1- defining urban resilience as simply as possible. 2- naming the hazard(s) which is/are relevant for the urban community. 3- brainstorming on the limits of the definition and what makes it incomplete or questionable. 

Guideline 2: sharing a common language. Building a pedagogic tool based on “Art” is challenging as it relies first on building a “joint productive activity” which itself depends on the message conveyed by the artist. When an artist is influenced by his relationship with Nature, he/she will have generally no problem to translate his/her emotions into the appropriate wording. But when it comes to speak about the relations, he/she has with our urban space, the artist will have to acquire a basic knowledge of the wording used by experts, admittedly incomplete but necessary for a dialogical process.

Guideline 3: selecting the appropriate artistic approach. Using art as a pedagogic tool is aimed to improve our common well-living and wellbeing. Therefore, the needs of urban citizens should be at the core of the process. When there is a requirement for a local community in the southern hemisphere, asking the contribution of an artist coming from the northern hemisphere with a global approach is risky as potentially off topic. Priority should be given to local artists conveying a message that could make sense for local citizens.