Pothole Party! Favorite 

Practitioner: 

Date: 

Jul 1 2012

Location: 

North Macedonia

“Potholes!” That’s what Nikola Pisarev, a co-founder of the Contemporary Art Center (CAC) in North Macedoniona responded with when asked what sort of impact creative activism can have. Nikola went on to explain what he meant, describing a series of actions that they had staged in small towns and municipalities across the nation. As is the case in many countries, Macedonia is plagued with official corruption. Officials often don’t do what they are paid to do, and money allocated for public projects often finds its way into their pockets instead of into public works. One result is potholes. They form, they get larger, they swallow tires and break axles, they fill with water, they get larger still, they make roads impassable – yet they never get fixed. Large potholes are a visible manifestation of this official corruption.

Standard political means of addressing the problem proved fruitless, or even dangerous. Citizen petitions were met with official assurances that the problem was being handled, public meetings resulted in a show of photos documenting bogus progress being made, and protests sometimes led to being beaten up by government thugs. And still the potholes remained. So the Contemporary Art Center tried a different approach. Since it was coming up on two years that one particularly glaring pothole in the municipality of Kratovo had not been fixed they decided to throw a birthday party...for the pothole. As Nikola describes:

We buy one cake, it cost ten dollars. At the supermarket we buy flags, candles and everything and we call media. But we don’t call it a protest, we call it a celebration of the birthday of the hole in the road. It was just as surprising for us that the main supporters of the regime, they fell for the trick and they come.

And “the trick” worked. As Nikola continues:

We were the main topic on the news. For two days, it was the only important news in Macedonia. And all of the media started asking the ministry what would happen... “Will you fix the road?” and they have to do something. And in three days they made a strategy, … and they found the money, and they started fixing the problem immediately.

The CAC were encouraged by the result so they tried again. Knowing, however, that one birthday party is surprising but two is old news, they decided to use another creative tactic. In the city of Veles a pothole had opened up and filled with so much water that it resembled a small pond: 10-12 meters long and 4-5 meters wide. So what to do with such a pond? Macedonians love to fish. You rarely come across a stream or a lake in the country without seeing a group of people sitting on folding stools, dressed in camouflage gear, casting out into the water. So the CAC went fishing: As Nikola explains,

We buy two carp and we put them on the hook first, as if we were fishing and we made a video….we put it on YouTube. It was very funny, it was super fast. It has a lot of views, it was again on the news. The result was that a week after, they started fixing the problem and now it is fixed.

from But Does it Work? The Affect and Effect of Arts and Activism
by Stephen Duncombe

Posted by srduncombe on

Staff rating: 

10
Simple, creative and it worked.

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