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A group of artists and writers, curators and administrators, activists and assorted citizens assemble on a November evening, packing a large room inside a museum in the US. Some wear name tags. They sit in tight orderly rows, chairs arranged in two groups so that they face each other across a narrow aisle. There is no stage, no focal point, no obvious delineation between expert and audience. Instead, when the event begins, one individual stands up amidst the crowd and talks for three minutes. As he sits, another stands across the room, also talking for three minutes. Heads twist and bodies turn to focus on her remarks. A third rises. It goes on, as thirty speakers — some analytical, some passionate, some engaging — use their allotted time to comment on the intersections of art, activism, politics and publics. This beginning is choreographed — the physical arrangement, the placement and ordering of speakers, the scope of aesthetic territory addressed, the intentional blurring of all kinds of lines — and then the event relaxes into a more informal discussion.
This structure probably sounds familiar. The event might have been a discursive extension of an exhibition, or part of a progressive museum education programme. Perhaps it was a session within the latest Creative Time summit on public practice, a gathering instigated by the artists and writers of the Midwest Radical Culture Corridor or a manifestation of West Coast social practice like the Open Engagement conference held last summer in Oregon.1 In other words, because of its format and subject matter, the event could fit easily within recent North American iterations of a