Walking through Zefta hospital, in El Gharbeya, Egypt, outside Cairo, a man points to a filthy sink and shower stall. A few minutes later he says, “Look at the treatment Egyptians get. It’s inhumane!” This is a documentary film about healthcare conditions in Egypt, by the artist collective Mosireen, and as of this evening in New York, it will be viewable on a new website called Creative Time Reports from New York–based public art organization Creative Time.
Artists have always had a lot to say, but not all of it can be said in the context of their work. And artists who have what are known as research-based practices have a lot of knowledge and information to spare. Creative Time is now giving them a platform on which to share those things.
Part of the organization’s mission since it was founded 40 years ago has been to “foreground artists as thinkers in society,” said Laura Raicovich, Creative Time’s director of global initiatives. Creative Time Reports, which is backed by a major grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in addition to other sources, is the next step in the organization’s international projects, which Ms. Raicovich was brought on board last year to lead. One of those initiatives is to have 30 partner institutions around the world live-stream Creative Time’s four-year-old annual summit, which runs on Friday and Saturday this week and features speakers like Slavoj Žižek and Mike Daisey on the theme “Confronting Inequity.” A year ago, Creative Time also launched a global artist residency program that allows participating artists to spend extended periods of time somewhere in the world that interests them (one spent a month and a half in Bangladesh and will soon go back, and then move on to Pakistan).
The Reports will come in different forms, including writing, podcasts (there will be a monthly series called “Forms of Life” from Creative Time’s curator, Nato Thompson), videos, photographs and other mediums, allowing artists to be “at the center of a public discourse,” Ms. Raicovich said. Some of the artists see their contributions as artworks, others as reportage or diaristic accounts. A Kenyan poet, Ngwatilo Mawiyoo, for instance, has traveled to the Rift Valley during the country’s election season to write about the political views of warring tribes.
The editor of the reports, Marisa Mazria-Katz, visited Kenya and other places, like North Africa, Hungary and the United Arab Emirates, to meet with artists like Ms. Mawiyoo—also visual artists, musicians and even a puppeteer—and ask what the site could do for them. Many, she said, felt they were “being sidelined by the media.” On those trips, she learned that she would have to be sensitive to some artists’ concerns about government officials seeing what they are posting; she will agree in some cases to provide anonymity.
“You can’t just say you have global initiatives,” Ms. Raicovich said, explaining the reason for these trips. “Skype calls and e-mail are great but in countries where most things American are suspect, it’s important that we be seen person to person…[Showing that] we were willing to come out of our safe bubble in New York and have the conversations.”
One of the reasons to start the Reports, she said, was to change the commonly held misperception that artists are isolated from society, up in their garrets working. “Artists are seen in society to have hermetic existences but so many are on the front lines of the Occupy movement,” or politically active in some form, she said. “What we are trying to do is shift this cultural understanding. Totalitarian regimes have always been afraid of artists.”
Among the 25 reports on the site when it launches are an essay about the financial situation in the Basque countries by British-born, New York-based artist Liam Gillick as well as, Mexican artist Pedro Reyes on electoral politics in his country and Haitian writer Jean-Euphèle Milcé on the state of Haiti following the major earthquake that hit the country in 2010. Creative Time will post “dispatches” (smaller pieces) two or three times a week, and two longer features a month. The pieces will be assiduously fact checked, where that applies, and the artists will be paid for their contributions. Being a global initiative, the pieces will be kept in their original languages, and will also appear in English. Eventually, Creative Times hopes to integrate Twitter, Facebook and other interactive features into the Reports. “The global initiatives need to be premised on an exchange model rather than a broadcast model,” Ms. Raicovich said. She and Ms. Mazria-Katz have been combing Twitter for interesting artists tweets and are making a database of them.
There is much more to come. Phase two of the Reports program, after this week’s launch, involves pursuing two kinds of partnerships. The PEN Foundation, Printed Matter and Electronic Arts Intermix will be co-producing content that will live on the site, and Creative Time has been in discussions with The Nation magazine about programs such as partnering an artist with a Nation investigative fellow to work together for a year on a project. Creative Time will also seek out partnerships with established media outlets to distribute content. “We want to work with them to position artists as thought leaders in a different kind of context,” Ms. Raicovich said.
The overarching goal of Creative Time Reports is to get what artists have to say outside the bubble of the art world. “We will be successful if we can get lots of people who are not art people interested in what we are doing,” said Ms. Raicovich.
Update, Oct. 15: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to one of Creative Time’s content partners. The group is working with the PEN Foundation.