Ghana ThinkTank

By Julia Munemo

Don’t be surprised when you see a trailer around campus this fall with the words “Ghana ThinkTank” emblazoned on the side. The international artist collective, invited by the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), is one of the many elements of this year’s campus-wide initiative Confronting Climate Change.

Ghana ThinkTank “‘develops the first world’ by flipping traditional power dynamics and allowing the ‘third world’ to intervene into the lives of the people living in the so-called ‘developed’ world,” the collective states on its website. The artists collect problems in communities throughout the U.S. and Europe and send them to citizen think tanks they’ve created in developing countries. The think tanks propose solutions that are then implemented by the communities.

“This innovative approach to public art reveals blind spots between otherwise disconnected cultures,” says Sonnet Coggins, associate director for academic and public engagement at WCMA, who is heading up the project. “It challenges assumptions about who is ‘needy,’ and turns the idea of expertise on its head.”

As part of Confronting Climate Change, the collective will begin its work in the fall, inviting members of the Williams community to the trailer to record their thoughts about problems associated with climate change. The problems will be sent to think tanks in Morocco and Indonesia, where solutions will be developed. Members from the think tanks will then visit campus to advise on the implementation of those solutions, which will take place in the spring.

Meanwhile, for a Winter Study course in January, students will work with members of the collective to design and implement an installation in WCMA’s Rotunda. “The installation will immerse the public in Ghana ThinkTank’s process as it unfolds,” says Coggins. “It will reveal the range of climate change-related problems submitted by members of our community and invite visitors to submit their own problems and observe the think tanks in discussion.”

And in the spring, Williams students will be engaged with another of Ghana ThinkTank’s projects, this one in Detroit. The collective visited the community there to explore how neighborhoods can remain cohesive in the face of gentrification. The solution is to transform three buildings into apartments and small businesses, and center them around a riad, or a Moroccan courtyard. During spring break, Williams students will travel to Detroit to help build the riad.

Since establishing its first think tank in Ghana in 2006, the collective has brought questions about immigration, social and economic disparity, racism, and others to the problem solvers they’ve hired in the developing world. Think tanks include a group of bike mechanics in Ghana, people who run a rural radio station in El Salvador, and Sudanese refugees seeking asylum in Israel.

“These are regular people who are paid for their work,” says WCMA director Christina Olsen. “Some of the solutions they suggest may look like an art installation or even a party, but each one brings attention to the problem in a completely new way.”

Says professor of art Michael Glier, whose Drawing 101 class will collaborate with the group, “Ghana ThinkTank provides an extraordinary reversal of assumptions about power and creativity. I appreciate their optimism about the future and that they see art as a way to have agency in a complex, confusing world.”

To learn more about Ghana ThinkTank, visit its website.

Read more about Confronting Climate Change.