“I want to consider three specific contexts for urbanity that help mediate art and the city: the idea of the public, the idea of democracy, and the idea of interdependence. These mediating ideas provide a context that helps render the abstract practical, the invisible transparent. In the words of Peter Brook, these contexts give the “holy” in art an invigorating dose of the profane." (Barker, 2013)


The three contextualizing ideas, briefly elaborated, are these:

The Idea of the Public, which points to the “us” of art–to communication, community, common space, and shared ground, and hence to a richer conception of audience;

The Idea of Democracy, which points to the ideals of equality, participation, and justice, and identifies in imagination a fundamental affinity between the arts and democratic life;

The Idea of Interdependence, which points to the cosmopolitan and the universal, a world without boundaries or border that demands to be recognized but has been largely neglected, even denied, by the parochial an insular for whom walls are a form of security.

In mediating the city and the arts, these three notions suggest how culture can advance the civic and collaborative interests of the city without reducing the arts to mere instruments in service to the urban. Not that such mediation is easy. Our times are hostile to the idea of a “public”-to community and common goods. They are equally hostile, for some of the same reasons, to democracy and equality. And they resist the looming idea of interdependence with a stubborn parochialism that prefers competition to cooperation and takes comfort in the shadows of once-mighty urban walls rather than the hope of much-needed urban bridges-above all in the United States, but increasingly in other parts of the world that ape American market practices.”

Barber, Benjamin R., If mayors ruled the world: dysfunctional nations, rising cities, Yale University Press, 2013, p273