Art in Service: a conversation

This is the first post in a four-part series entitled Art in Service, a collaboration between N+T and Big, Red & Shiny attempting to unpack the definitions, benefits and participation modes of socially engaged projects.

Art in Service:  A conversation between Leah Triplett Harrington of BR&S, Kate Gilbert of Now + There, and Maggie Cavallo of Alter Projects

Last month, the City of Boston launched Boston Creates, its first-ever cultural plan. The ten-year plan aspires to enable all of its citizens to “participate and take pride in the vibrant cultural life to be found in every corner of the city.” Simultaneously, the City is beginning its second round of Boston AIR projects, putting socially-engaged artists in residency with government offices and agencies.

As citizens engaged in contemporary art practices in Boston, how do we understand the network of artists currently working in socially-engaged practices? How can we (or do we need to) assess and optimize access to the medium? Is it our task to build a field and lexicon for artists and audiences, or do these practices rise above the requirements of such definitions? What traditions do these artists and projects emerge from and how can we, as writers, practitioners and artists, critically engage with art that seeks to serve a community from which it evolves?

Over the course of the next several months, we will be discussing and writing about these projects and issues through Art in Service, a four-part series co-produced by BR&S and N+T with contributing writers Maggie Cavallo, Leah Triplett Harrington, Kate Gilbert, and other local artists.  In the conversation below, we let a broad view of the topics we’ll discuss in this series unfold, including projects happening this summer, attempts at defining socially-engaged art and proposing what the qualities of participation in art can, or should, look like. Our goal is to contextualize our thinking about socially-engaged globally, nationally and site-specifically to Boston where our own precedents and critical histories offer a unique and valuable approach to such practices.

MC: Our initiative here is dedicated to 'field-building' - pinning down language, describing methods, identifying practitioners and resources. But these practices (of socially-engaged art) are transdisciplinary, sometimes but not always 'centered' within the field of contemporary art (see: art world, art industry, art institutions). What do we think about this? 

Read the entire conversation on Big, Red & Shiny