Transformative practices in the public space

By Sara Zambon and Francesca Disconzi

The artist Giovanni Scotti, with his project Innobiliare Sud Ovest, reminds us how important it is to keep in mind our freedom to act in public space, with the awareness that it is a collective good and that every citizen has the right to enjoy it. He does so with a subtle irony: with the same logic of real estate agencies, Scotti invites us, in a subtle performative mechanism, to buy back (for a zero amount of money) something that is already ours: former military bases, disused warehouses, theaters, relics of the frenzied construction processes put in place in past decades. Scotti, with this part of the project (South West), makes us part of the phenomenon of general abandonment of Bagnoli (Naples), a neighborhood that is referred to as an ironic “capital of de-skilling,” considering the assonance with the European brand “Capital of Culture.”

The resulting photographs communicate to us a sense of nostalgia and loneliness, rather than degradation and abandonment, and the spaces are imbued with an irreparable dreamlike atmosphere. Scotti, however, does not limit himself to sterile condemnation, but sees in these liminal spaces the possibility of a real transformation into a place of frequentation and sociality, and it is here that the virtuous mechanism takes over.

A lot of considerations could be made from the sensibility evinced in Scotti’s photographs and performances. The one that may be most fitting in a regenerative and sustainable growth discourse is a brief excursus on the criminological theory of broken windows by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling.

It argues, with disarming simplicity, that vandalism and crime create (and perpetrate in turn) a vicious cycle from which it would seem impossible to escape. To demonstrate this, a 1969 experiment was conducted: two identical cars were abandoned in the Bronx and Palo Alto, respectively. They were obviously two completely different social contexts: while the Bronx was vying for the record as the most degraded neighborhood in the city, the California town was renowned for being wealthy and quiet. A team of social specialists studied the behavior of the inhabitants in relation to this abandoned object. In the first case, in the heart of the Bronx neighborhood, the car was completely dismantled in a few hours and the parts were stolen, while in the second case the car remained intact for a long time. From a superficial analysis, one might think that the car was dismantled so that the parts could be sold for a small profit, given the extremely poor situation of the residents of the neighborhood. However, there was a small detail that completely changed the meaning of the experiment: the Palo Alto car had a window smashed out. From that onward, the exact same scenario, of theft and vandalism, of the Bronx. This is obviously a brief anecdote taken out of its context. A great many experiments have been conducted along these lines to validate the theory and demonstrate how the environment surrounding citizens, when degraded, has a negative influence on them.

In light of these brief considerations, it would seem linear and obvious that the role of social policy designers, and related stakeholders, should be to break down the problem at its root, taking care of the areas where people interact and socialize, redeveloping the disused areas that can be catalysts for degrading practices.

Without going into technical discourses that are beyond our competence, it is important to be conscious in thinking about sustainability not only in relation to the complex climate crisis but, also and above all, from a social perspective. This is intended to bring forward a very simple axiom, namely that there can be no improvement without a condition of equity among all citizens. Not coincidentally, it is this idea of sustainability that is one of the pillars of the UN’s 2030 Agenda, in which there is a mention of sustainable infrastructure and more accessible city models. And it is cities themselves, and human settlements more generally, that are defined as centers for new ideas, for commerce, culture, science, productivity, social development and more.

Continuing with this axiom, we should be led to believe that it is artists, and those who work with them, who play a key role in designing new models of regeneration. They often have the role of revealing some unspoken truths, and Scotti, with the Innobiliare Sud Ovest project, takes on precisely this role, revealing what lies behind an unhealthy idea of housing and behind the bureaucratic practices that make it impossible for citizens to effectively reappropriate disused public property.

So if the artist has the role of “unveiling,” conscious private citizens and enterprises should have the task of enhancing the message and spreading it by their own means. All the more so, if they are enterprises with a strong social vocation. R&P Contemporary Art1 was born in 2021 closely linked to Raimondi & Partners - R&P Consulting, an accounting firm and consulting firm that has been supporting art as a universal value and promoting a new form of entrepreneurship related to contemporary art for several years. On November 21, 2021, R&P Contemporary Art is transformed into a Benefit Society by integrating the company’s Articles of Incorporation to formalize what was the company’s purpose since its establishment, namely the concrete and specific commitment to operate in a responsible, sustainable and transparent way to accompany artists, collectors, businesses and the entire community in a fascinating path of enhancing beauty. By statute, R&P Contemporary Art is concerned with contributing to nurturing widespread knowledge of contemporary art, through the nonprofit organization of exhibitions and cultural, artistic events and the dissemination of art culture and artistic sensibility, including through the organization of artistic residencies, meetings between emerging artists, established artists, and artistic curators, so as to encourage the birth, growth and development of young talent and the promotion of knowledge and culture of art in the community; research and support nonprofit associations that are concerned with promoting and/or supporting the artistic development of young emerging artists in Italy and/or abroad, the widespread knowledge of contemporary art, and the promotion of activities and events aimed at nurturing the culture of art in the community.

The added value that Benefit Societies can bring is evidenced precisely by their commitment to achieve their purposes of common benefit in a responsible, sustainable and transparent way. Where common benefit precisely means the pursuit of one or more positive effects (including the reduction of negative effects) on people, communities, land and the environment. These goals require the company to operate by balancing the interest of shareholders with the interest of the community consequently achieving strong corporate stability in the event of new investors’ entry, leadership changes and generational transitions. In this R&P Contemporary Art is a pioneer in Italy of a model, already established in other countries such as the USA, which sees the creation of a real virtuous circle between artists, collectors and companies.

In particular, artists involve collectors and businesses by making them participants in their own artistic-professional growth and the consequent growth in value of the works created. Enterprises support the work of artists both to benefit from effective and virtuous marketing tools and to bring value within the enterprises themselves, including through the direct involvement of their employees with the artists.

What we, as a Benefit Society, hope to do is not only to work on projects that promote social sustainability in the broadest sense, but also to set in motion best practices that make the art projects of nonprofit organizations and artists sustainable. In fact, economic sustainability is another major challenge that grips the public and often makes impossible precisely the implementation of those urban redevelopment mechanisms advocated by Scotti.

Suffice it to say that only very few nonprofits that have a vocation to work on the territory manage to reach three years of age, thus making it impossible to establish roots or work continuously on their areas of interest. This, of course, also applies to young artists, who are very often forced to relocate or sacrifice their artistic activity in order to find more remunerative work.

However, there are several acclaimed case studies of virtuous mechanisms that can be established between private and public entities, or third sector entities, in order to carry out ambitious social redevelopment projects that have a high cultural proposal. One could cite numerous cases in which disused factories have been transformed into real incubators for young creatives and artists and have had a substantial positive impact on the territory.

So it is not enough just to bring a space back to life, but also and above all to find ways to animate it and bring it back to real sociality, offering a valuable cultural and aggregative proposal.

In short, there is an urgent need to put in place structured redevelopment mechanisms that are environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable. They can be set in motion by the synergy of different stakeholders, but it is essential that there be a vision, even a utopian vision if you will, underlying these processes.

Sara Zambon is involved in the promotion and enhancement of artists in the alternative segment. CEO of R&P Contemporary Art, a benefit company that supports new research by contemporary artists by promoting contemporary art to bring beauty to the world from an aesthetic, cultural and educational point of view. She is a member of the Board of Directors of Metamovie S.r.l. Movie production and distribution company for the Metaverse.

Francesca Disconzi has a degree in art didactics and economics. She works on the economics of culture, with a particular focus on non-profit and independent art centres. In 2020 she co-founded the experimental centre and exhibition space Osservatorio Futura. She works as a cultural planner and curator, writes for Quadriennale Di Roma.