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Italian Artist Collecting Local Stories for Radio Drama at the Institute for Contemporary Art 

click to enlarge Italian artist Marinella Senatore is shown here with her former project, Estman Radio, launched at Kunst Halle of St. Gallen in Switzerland. Senatore’s work involves creating group projects based on public participation.

Gunner Mayer, Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, Switzerland

Italian artist Marinella Senatore is shown here with her former project, Estman Radio, launched at Kunst Halle of St. Gallen in Switzerland. Senatore’s work involves creating group projects based on public participation.

It would probably be easier to find a Richmonder who doesn't have a family story, local legend or critical perspective about the city's future than to winnow down the scores who do.

But that's exactly what Italian artist Marinella Senatore intends to accomplish as part of her creation of a radio drama that will be included in the Institute for Contemporary Art's inaugural exhibit, "Declaration." Set to open April 21, the exhibition also will include local puppet-maker Lily Lamberta and Gwar.

Stephanie Smith, head curator of the institute, has been following Senatore's work for years, impressed by her ability to use public participation to execute large-scale collaborative art projects. In 2012, the artist created "Rosas," an opera for the screen that involved more than 20,000 people from Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom.

"Richmond: Symphony of a City," will incorporate many of the submitted stories into a larger narrative, which will then be performed as a radio drama for a single performance in June.

"We'll create an area in the ICA for a Web-based radio station, a place for the recording to live after it's performed," Smith explains. "There will also be images, drawings and other materials to help make the process visible even if you don't see the performance."

Submissions are open to anyone, although all ideas may not be used in the final performance. Even so, all who submits ideas will be credited as contributors to "Richmond: Symphony of a City." The only requirements are that entries be kept to 500 words or fewer and submitted by Jan. 14.

Senatore says she never begins a project with any specific expectations, feeling like it would be an imposition from her side, an attempt to fulfill her own desires. What she really wants is to be surprised, to learn from people and to create an open platform for a multivoiced work. Her goal is to make participants feel free to express themselves any way they choose.

That vision involves the myriad possibilities of shared communication.

"After working with over 80,000 people around the world, one of the most sensitive issues nowadays is how to stay together," she says. "My practice is characterized by public participation because I'm extremely interested in creating a dialogue between history, culture and social structures and rethinking the role of the artist as author and the public as recipient."

Part of that rethinking of roles means she doesn't need to know anything about a city or its denizens beyond what they want to share. Rather than just collaboration, she sees the focus of every project as making something with locals as a means of providing them with a platform to find their own way to join the project and shape it.

"It's not my role as the artist to be dominant or only highlight my point of view. We're creating a choral structure of work, and it's real, otherwise the project won't exist," she says. "What is a city but the people? And this is what we're going to celebrate, with a mix of my feelings, artistic approaches, sharing and celebration."

Since her first project in the United States in 2009, Senatore has returned regularly, most recently for a midcareer retrospective at the Queens Museum in New York that ran from April through July. Working here, she's found scores of people willing to proudly share their memories, stories of their communities and lessons learned from others. For an artist like her — interested in social structures, processes of aggregation and socially engaged projects — she's found the U.S. to be one of the best places to create.

"It's a privilege to be included for a while in such amazing communities," she says. "The variety of feelings, ideas and wishes shared enhance community-based projects and focuses the attention on the empowerment of people. Together with emancipating, these are the goals of every project I start. And the energy here, that's something you cannot find everywhere." S

Submissions for "Richmond: Symphony of a City" should be 500 words or fewer. Send to icastwk1@vcu.edu by Jan. 14

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