Mobile Access to Knowledge: Culture and Safety in Africa. Documenting and assessing the impact of cultural events and public art on urban safety is an international, interdisciplinary, and comparative research, focusing on safety and based on the analysis of cultural events and public art installations in three African cities: Douala, Johannesburg, and Luanda.
The research addresses the questions: “How cultural events and public art affect urban safety in African cities?” and “Can we assess these changes as positive according to a group of factors?”. These questions rely on the hypothesis that arts are a space for experimentation and research, not directly connected to urban safety, but capable of triggering unforeseen ways of producing higher livability, civil cohabitation and social cohesion.
From a theoretical viewpoint, the research question is extremely direct. Compared to other research on the impact of public art and cultural events, the project does not aim at generically presenting the benefits of contemporary art; it addresses a very specific question related to urban safety. At the same time, compared to other research on urban safety, the focus on public art and cultural events allows to identify specific factors and to address the issue with an interdisciplinary approach and a high degree of freedom. The comparative approach on three “extreme contexts” (both for the quality of cultural events and public art they host and for the level of insecurity they present) allows to concentrate on emblematic case studies and to produce relevant observations also for other
contexts. Furthermore safety, art and landscape are strongly related to perception. The interdisciplinary approach of the research question allows to overlap methodologies.
This research relies on fieldwork and relationships with cultural organisations and research institutions strongly committed to culture and urban development. From an empirical viewpoint, the research question is addressed through existing public art and cultural events and it intertwines with the current and future work of the institutions involved. The research question allows the research team and partners to increase the level and quality of information available both on site and on-line on issues scarcely envisioned by the mainstream literature of visual arts. The availability of documentation under open licenses contributes to the production of local learning material for the secondary and tertiary levels of education, in the context of the Access to Knowledge (a2k) movement and the Millennium Development Goals concerning education. At the same time the research questions allow the institutions involved to compare their experiences with others and to observe and analyse their own work. The strong existing links between the institutions involved and the real interest of the institutions for the research results contribute to an articulated and sincere answer to the research questions. By directly addressing the issue of safety, the research question involves citizens and their needs. At the same time, by addressing something immaterial, poetic and experimental such as art, the research question allows citizens to express themselves freely and to talk about their aspirations.
This study does not aim at influencing or providing guidelines for the development of artworks: we intend to study the effects of public art and cultural events on safety and the urban space. From a policy viewpoint the research questions allow the local cultural institutions involved to have more elements to evaluate their work, their impact and their methodology and to use this information to plan their current and future working directions. The research
questions also allow grant-makers to better understand the wide implications of the cultural projects they are supporting.
At the same time the research questions allow stakeholders to confront the issue of safety with a different approach and to consider new factors in order to promote a higher liveability, according to Millennium Development Goals.