Critical Conversations- Socially Engaged Art – THE STAGE KDHX

Critical Conversations- Socially Engaged Art – THE STAGE KDHX

Board of Critical Mass 

“A need for uncensored critical dialogue in our region (St. Louis, Missouri). A revolution enabling us to create vital connections between individuals, institutions, spaces and creative communities.”

“Accountability for creators and moderators is very important when dealing with socially engaged art practice.”

*I think artists have to be extremely careful when engaging with communities. Staying focused on the “Why” and affectively listening to the people you are working with is fundamental to every project. I’ll paraphrase a lecturer here who once said to me…..“Unless you are invited then don’t presume your input is wanted or needed”. Another point to note that was said in this presentation by Marcus Curtis “You don’t work ‘For‘ the people, you work ‘With‘ the people”.

Susan Colangelo (Moderator) – Project Artist (photography, stich and other mediums) – runs arts based workshops that concentrates on cultural awareness, inclusiveness, respect and literacy. She uses the arts to help various organisations and people to connect using creative methods.

Susan’s Work – The Why, at Tillie’s Corner

This is a talk is about socially engaged art or social art practice. Susan introduces us to some artists who have been working in the field. I found this really helpful and inspirational as I have felt a little lost in my practice of late.

Christine Llewski – Artist “Faces not Forgotten” 2013

Christine has coordinated artists to paint portraits of children who have died from gun related violence. The original portraits are framed and then presented to the family of the victims. Prints of the portraits are then collaged onto handkerchiefs and then mounted onto a black card background. These handkerchiefs are covered in flowers similar to a garland or a wreath when the portraits are centred on them. Christine says the handkerchiefs remind her of grief and of the mothers. The project is called “Faces not Forgotten”, which voices the wishes of the families. Their children should never be forgotten. Christine liaises with organisations such as the St Lewis Crime Victims Advocacy and other support agencies to reach out to victims families. She does not seek out the families herself, as she believes that this might be unethical. If a family hears about Christine’s portraits they can then applied to her directly. She invites many different artists to paint the portraits for her. This is a non-profit project, and its aim so to raise awareness to the crisis that is children’s deaths through gun violence in America and the prejudice that goes with it. The portraits have been displayed in an array of places; they have been brought out on marches and rallies, and displayed in areas of political influence.


Stephanie Wedden-Smith – Artist

Stephanie works in hospitals, institutions and community-based youth programs.

She is works with young people with the hope to empower and encourage them to make changes in their community using the arts. She organised the girl group called “GirlZ Taking Over” at The Spot, Youth Centre, in St Louis. It is a girl’s art group to help young women positively deal with sexism and racism.

Stephanie also helped with the set up a group in University City help young people find their voice. This  was done by providing them with a platform to gain skills in the arts, to consider civic engagement, advocacy and to help them to develop their research skills. This all helped to create a Youth Commission in the area.

Marcus Curtis – Artist, Carpenter and facilitator 

Marcus is one of the founders of the group called Citizen Carpentry – This group is dedicated to “creating skill-sharing opportunities, crafting related to education, transit and sustainability.” (Sustainability is of vital importance in my book) He has been working with the Pink House in St Louis, creating unique community chess tables to help the kids to learn to play after school. After making the boards the artists with the help of the local older generation teach the children how to play chess. They also try to relate chess to life. Marcus is interested in community driven projects.

He is also involved with the Human Current Design Studio, who look at building “affordable human centred design solutions that bring elements of wonder into peoples lives”. He helped to build a Mirrored Casket 2015 along with a team of other activists and artists all from the St Louis area. The concept behind the piece was to challenge onlookers to “question, empathise and reflect on their own roles in the remediating of the countless deaths that young men of colour experience in the United States from police or community violence”.

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 21.48.33.png

Freida L. Wheaton

Susan call Freida a “Renaissance woman” and political activist, curator, educator, lawyer, photographer and arts advocate. Poet, gallery owner and curator of “Salon 53”.  Thats quite a resume.

Freida is recognised for her mixed media collage and assemblages.


‘Hands Up Don’t Shoot – Artists Respond This project was triggered by the shooting of the boy Michael Brown in August 2014, by a police officer in Ferguson. Over 100 artists exhibited at 14 different venues. It was a visual response to this horrific moment. There has been a  huge movement to come our of this shooting, it is trying to affect change in how young black teenagers are racially targeted on a daily basis.

What is Socially Engaged Art? (US perspective)

Susan Colangela give her breakdown of where Socially Engaged Art Practice came from:

She says to think of each time and each artist as building blocks – starting from a base, she says “let’s name these blocks as a part of history, social movements and history movements.”

Social Movements 

Artist Movements

  • 1916 – Conceptual Art
  • 1960 – Happenings
  • 1970 – Land as Catalyst
  • 1980 – Community-based Arts
  • 1990 – Architecture as Catalyst
  • 2000 – Social Enterprise

Movements in Art History

Dada – Conceptual Art

Dada began in 1916 in Switzerland and subsequently spread to Berlin and then to Paris. Dada spray from the horror of the WWI. In the 1900s there was a desire to merge art and life amongst the avant-garde. Dada was all about Anti-Art. It was all about using art to criticise the dominant culture. This was done by making fun of everything. Abstract Art, Sound Art, Poetry, Performance Art and Spoken Word Art all came about from Dada.

Some Dada Artists Include: Marcel Duchamp, Paul Clay, Jean Arp and Curt Switchers.

Curt Switchers once said, “We members of the Dada movement merely hold mirrors up to the times.”

Conceptual Art is thought to have began with Marcel Duchamp in 1917. After little success Duchamp from Paris to New York in 1915, he then became one of the founding member of the “American Society of Independent Artists”. They had their first exhibition in April 1917 and Duchamp submitted, under the pseudonym name of R Mutt, a readymade urinal, which he named ‘Fountain’. Placing the urinal on its back and on and on a pedestal thus undermining its utilitarian associations. He said “the creative act is not performed by the artist alone – the viewer completes the work.”

1930s – The great depression and the Works Project Administration by Roland Regan, that funded community art centres ( a time when the government funded community artists to create within the community). It also funded art centres.

1960s – Vietnam and the Civil Rights Era – Greater social engagement in art and led to the emergence of Installation Art and Performance Art – This art focused on Process and Site Specificity.

In 1957 Allan Kaprow (Performance artist and student of John Cage) coined the phrase “Art Happenings

Suddenly visual artists are getting involved in performance art, Happenings could happen anywhere; its performance based and it is meant to be seen as art. One of the key elements is that it is planned by an artist and that is still is important to socially engaged artists today. Artists wanted to eliminate the boundary between art and viewer. Audiences start to become important.

Yoko Ono Body of Gauze Orchestra

Joseph Beuys – “the artist has a participatory role in shaping society and politics, the artist is a sculptor who creates structures in society using language, thoughts, actions and objects to bring about change.” Joseph was the first to see this, that art could change society. Just also said “every man is an artist”. Art can Transform Society.

Participatory art requires an action from the viewer in order to be a completed. This is taking it a step further than Marcel Dushanbe where he said is that a piece of arts has to be completed by the viewer looking at the object. In other words the viewers ideas keep the work. Whereas the participatory arts requires a physical action to complete it.

7000 Stones” – Presented at Documenta – Beuys dictated that the stones in his piece could not be moved unless an oak tree was planted where stone was placed. 7000 Oak trees were planted as a result. People planted the stones in areas where they could be of a social and political use. For example one community planted the stones with the accompanying oak trees in an area that the council had decided to turn into a car park, the residents did not want this area turned into a car park as it was there communal area and play area for their children. So they took some of Bueys stones and planted them with the oak tree in such a way that the car park was now no longer possible as they were considered pieces of public art to be protected and could not be moved. So you can see this as an example of how Participatory Art that transformed a community within societies constructs, through art practice the community were empowered.

1960 – Photography, videography and television was capturing and spreading the images of the Civil Rights Movement. This helped people to see the human side to the movement. This altered the progression of the Civil Rights Movement.

1970 – Women’s Movement

Above is a list of the CatalystsBelow is a list of Social Enterprise

Suzanne Lacy‘Three Weeks In May 1977’ – Looked at violence against women. In 1977 Serious of Art work over 3 weeks in May that recorded the number of rapes in an area in that time. Performance Artist and Conversation.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles – Shaking hands with sanitation workers “Touch Sanitation” – She recognised these workers for their invaluable but hardly recognised contribution to society. This she pointed out was similar to the work of women within society. “Women as the ancient maintenance class and sanitation workers” (Waste – Urban Waste)

Gordon Matta-Clark – Artists restaurant ‘Food’ in SOHO 1972

Open Engagement – National Conference Headliner John Rubin

John Rubin

Conflict kitchen 2014 – Pittsburg US – Non for profit art project, they only serve authentic food from countries that the US is currently in conflict with. The kiosk is expertly painted using patterns colours and designs from the country that they are cooking from. You are also given a piece of paper that contains interviews that happens over the Internet within the restaurant. Sometimes you can even engage in an interview would somebody from that country whilst at the restaurant. You can also talk to somebody via WebCam with the country why do there if you’re lucky.

This restaurant is puling in 1 million dollars a year. John Rubin says that we should look to simple projects – everyday things to pull in money instead of seeking patronage, because that can give us freedom of speech and freedom from politics.

Rick Low – Artist – “Community is our artform, the canvas of our transformation”

We Are the People” – Project Row Houses 1990

“People in those communities already know the issues, if you are an artist then why can’t you come up with the solutions?” – Rick Low

Community based art – Bought up a row of houses that are now community houses that holds arts education, a theatre, a kitchen, and on the other side they contain social work homes with day care for young mothers so they can get an education.

The mission of Project Row Houses is to be the catalyst for transforming community through the celebration of art and African-American history and culture.



















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