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Walk the Walk

Participatory Walks with Todd Shalom of SVACE

What if you could make art out of the everyday, using only a walk through the city streets as a canvas? Todd Shalom, faculty in the City as Site Summer Residency program and founder of Elastic City and co-founder of Willing Participant, does just that. His artistic medium has been the “Participatory Walk,” a spin on the idea of a walking tour, that uses instructional prompts to engage poetically with the places we live in and visit.

The Participatory Walk typically involves a group getting together to perform these prompts, which are crafted by artists invited from a range of disciplines. Prompts are generally 2 – 10 minutes long, with a full walk containing a series of 7 – 10 prompts. Todd offered a few examples of prompts used in the past:

“Pair up in groups of two. One person draws a frame in any size or shape using a finger. The other looks through the frame and names the composition. Then you switch, framing and naming over a five-minute period as you walk down a block or two. It’s a way to see something through someone else’s eyes, but also a way to demonstrate the potential of a name—the chosen title can suggest either a masterpiece or a flop.”

“This next prompt was created by sound artist, Pamela Z. Look up at any direction you like and choose a spot on the skyline. At my signal, begin following the skyline in a clockwise direction and intone the contours of the skyline. In other words, sing the contours of the skyline using the varying heights of buildings as an indicator of pitch. Continue intoning, grabbing a breath when needed, and turn your body to allow the smooth and continuous execution of the line. The piece is finished when everyone has turned and read the skyline score for the full 360 degrees, returning to the skyline at the point at which they started.”

“There are other prompts that can be really personal, such as sharing stories, secrets or memories. And sharing can mean explicitly—by literally talking about them with others, or it can be interpretive—such as to share something with someone using only your eyes.”

Todd is currently working on a book of prompts from participatory walks given throughout the seven years that Elastic City was active. Alongside the workshop he conducts with City as Site residents, Todd hopes the book will inspire people to organize and conduct their own participatory walks.

“The walk as artistic medium gives people permission to be vulnerable in public with people they may not know. That can be a really contagious thing. In a way, the walk is built on this idea of breaking down our boundaries and bringing us together. For instance, it would make me very self-conscious to go out on the street and spontaneously start dancing. It would feel a lot better with at least one other person out there dancing with me.”

Our next Participatory Walk with Todd Shalom takes place Thursday, July 26th. View details on eventbrite. A version of this feature appeared in our summer 2018 issue of SVA ContinuEd, available now by visiting or calling our office. See more updates and stories on our Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram pages!

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