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Interview with Milenko Matanovic Part 2

August 1, 2012

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This is the fourth post in the series featuring Milenko Matanovic
Continued from Interview Part 1

SZ And finally, in your talk about art and community building at PopTech, you mentioned a ‘rumble’. It seemed to be in the context of the conference, but I was fascinated by the concept of something passing through one, and suddenly familiar things falling into a new pattern, which in turn changes the significance of those things.

MM When I stepped out of the narrow arts trajectory, there were so many events happening in the world–large social and cultural events like the collapse of communism, the growing awareness of a global society.

In addition, I realized that what we were doing to the natural environment, to our Earth, was effectively a nuclear explosion happening so slowly that we did not even see it – how we nonchalantly take nature as an industrial resources and nothing more.

I tried to understand why we humans are so habitually destructive and how art is implicated in that destruction. I talked with leaders in environmental, artistic, and social issues to try and understand these issues. Together, I call all these ideas the ‘rumble.’ And it was why I felt I could not continue to make art in the isolated context of the traditional art world.

SZ How did you get into this type of work, from which Pomegranate eventually grew?

I came to the USA in the 1970s and I made it a point to meet many interesting leaders and visit cutting-edge organizations dealing with spiritual, environmental, economic, and social issues, and try to learn how they go about their business. I discovered that most organizations which were ideologically based were organized around core belief systems. These they promoted to attract like-minded people. Many eventually turned into psychologically gated communities tolerating some and ignoring others.

Increasingly I started to see this proposition as problem rather than a solution. When starting Pomegranate Center, I wanted instead to explore the idea of community of differences. I wanted to explore if it is possible to create conditions where differences are not perceived as obstacles and irritations, but as assets.

In other words, I wanted to see if it was possible to work together in spite of ideological and cultural differences. Is it possible to create conditions where people are at their best together in spite of seeing their world differently? Is it possible to combine their insights into larger understanding rather than compete for the prevalence of their pre-existing views and beliefs.

In other words, is it possible that we together uncover something larger and more meaningful than we can alone?

When we work on our community-built gathering places, I can’t afford to take sides or have preferences for a certain type of person. We get all kinds of religious and political volunteers, but we simply focus on what needs to be done, ‘Here is a project we can do together, do you want to help?’ We found repeatedly that people are perfectly able to collaborate and create great, meaningful projects together. Like any artistic work, we begin with hearing ideas; we sketch out possible designs; we select the design that is most in tune with the site, local culture and local talents, that is doable on time and budget; we work with many volunteers to build it; and we help them organize programs there and encourage the people to take care of them. I think the power of our projects lies in working with people who are participants in the creation of a large artwork and they see their ideas taking shape quickly. In our times where most people are in jobs where they are in charge of tiny parts of large and complex operations, where their contributions are abstract, our artistic and collaborative projects give participants a sense of real accomplishment, of great satisfaction that results in pride, increased trust, and greater sense of safety. In one neighborhood where we did a project four years ago, crime rate fell by 40% and has stayed there for four years. This is good!

For the article introducing Milenko’s work, please scroll down.

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4 Responses to “Interview with Milenko Matanovic Part 2”


  1. i love the photos esp. the alleyway transformation.

  2. michael davidson Says:

    Milenko brings home for me the timely and univesal message to seek the harmony and higer self results in the intuitive flow and ease of all of our diverse talents ; the artistry of course is to be able to make all this work first in the self; then within others so the credit and the effect is universal

    • szoutewelle Says:

      I agree, Michael. I’ve just read an interview with Milenko in a chapter in a book, ‘Between Grace and Fear’ by Willliam Cleveland and he speaks so eloquently about the process of enabling other’s creativity, at the same time nudging the volunteers to greater degrees of excellence. They often resist, but at the end they say, ‘Wow, did I do that’.


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