Working with the Arts in Embassies program in Norway, I saw how art as diplomacy necessitated the same process of cultural learning and dialogue that stands as the chief goal in the United States’ diplomatic missions abroad. Meeting with members of the Norwegian art community, government officials, and others on the ground where we would be working gave us the essential perspective we will need to complete this project, and to create something that speaks (and is heard) across lands and languages. – Tanner Bryant, team student member, Bennington College
In 2014, Art in Embassies (AIE) entered a partnership with Bennington College to design an outdoor, site-responsive sculpture for the permanent art collection at the new U.S. Embassy building in Oslo, Norway. To facilitate the process, the College established a yearlong curriculum titled Art in the Public Realm under its Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA). Participants include nine students from different backgrounds and disciplines headed by faculty and team leader Jon Isherwood and faculty member Susan Sgorbati. Another student and team member, Keegan Ead, is documenting the process from start to finish through social media, still photography and video. Throughout the project, the team will work closely with Art in Embassies Curator Sarah Tanguy.
During the fall 2014 term, the team engaged in interdisciplinary coursework and with guest lecturers to define critical social issues and develop key concepts in relation to the commission. After studying various models of public art, they looked at the country of Norway itself, focusing their research on topics ranging from the arts, anthropology, and environmental sciences to economics, politics and current events. On September 15, Tanguy and AIE Curator of Cultural Programs Welmoed Laanstra led a class and engaged in discussions and meetings with students, faculty and administrators at the College. Then on December 4, Tanguy returned to the College to hear students presenting summaries of their research and brainstorming about next steps.
Two of the students, Tanner Bryant and Sarah Shames are completing their six-week Winter Field Work Term in Oslo to gain in-country experience. Tanguy, Isherwood, team student Onur Fidangul, and David Rees, senior vice president for strategic initiative, joined them for a few days in early January. During their visit, they conducted a hard-hat tour of the site in addition to meeting with U.S. Embassy staff, local artists, art professionals, and politicians for additional background. When the team reassembled on February 21, they will begin the process of translating their research into a visual design.