When the first mediators fanned out across the French countryside in 1992 to get villagers excited about the idea of commissioning a work, art outreach specialists were shaking their heads. Why would people who lived far from the major art capitals want to team up with artists? Wouldn’t contemporary art be pretty far down the list of priorities of the residents of small towns with stagnant economies and shrinking populations? And why should artists actually occupy themselves with citizens’ concerns?
The New Patrons started out as nothing more than an idea. Now, almost thirty years later, this idea has brought together and inspired tens of thousands of people, and in many instances it has helped set communities on a new track. New Patrons’ initiatives formed all over France and then, following the French example, in other countries in Europe and beyond. The first projects in Belgium were launched in 2002, followed by Italy, Germany, and Spain. Over time, an ever wider international network of project initiatives was built that now extends from Finland to Cameroon, from Chile to Poland. To date, around five hundred citizens’ groups in fifteen countries have commissioned projects.
In some parts of Europe, citizen-commissioned art has become a fixture of cultural life. The New Patrons have matured into a strong movement that grows year after year, making fresh voices heard and generating a steady stream of new project ideas and commissions.