Aug 1, 2017 – The Call - Dameun Strange

Social Art

It should come as no surprise that one of my favorite artists of all time is the constant-innovator-ever-evolving master of the cool and fusion, Miles Davis. Now one of the many points in the mythology of Miles is his often contrarian nature. Apparently at one point he had corrected a reporter who had called his music jazz, Miles insisting that what he was making was “social music”–hmmm, social music.

In one way or another all art is social. Consider that there is a social function that art serves that moves beyond just the personal intrinsic value of art. Art has a way of communicating the dynamic relationship between individual and society which contributes to its social nature. But there is an intentionality to social practice; these artists are creating their work, inspiring debate and trying to catalyze social change. We live in a culture where we have most often focused on the aesthetics of a work to determine its value. We should also be reminded that those aesthetics are highly subjective, and often determined by external influencers, and existing in this hierarchical plane. Things like “peer reviews” have done little to nothing to level this insider’s game. In the work of social practice, commodities are not the intended outcome, the intent is to develop a mechanism or a process for social change.

For a number of years now, I have found inspiration in the work of MacArthur Genius Rick Lowe of Project Row Houses in Houston, TX, and Carlton Turner at Alternate Roots in Atlanta, GA whose work and organizations are a national standard for social practice in art. But we don’t have to look outside of our own NE community of creators to find leaders in the area of social practice:

Shanai Matteson and her partners at Water Bar, are often misunderstood as artists but I find excellence in their art as they are using their social practice to encourage community conversations about our relationship as individuals and communities with water, global climate change and other community issues. Through their social practice they are building the connections between art and artists and environmental activism in a profound way

Tricia Huering, Kate Iverson, Mike Bishop at Public Functionary use their gallery space and curation of that space as social practice by creating open space for community driven projects and curating shows that foster conversations about mixed race families, gun control, and islamophobia in art, to name a few.. Through their social practice, they are leading the conversation on the function of museum spaces in our modern world as well as equity in art space.

Julia Opoti and D.A. Bullock of Underground Media Collective are using the media arts and the art storytelling as social practice. They are using their social practice giving voice to people who are often unheard and providing both stories that are often neglected and a different perspective than we often see in corporate media. Through documentary film, convenings and the written word.

These organizations live at the intersections of creativity and community building, and of social justice work. They see the value in the connections to people, problems solved, and space being opened for conversation.

It is my belief that NEMAA cannot achieve our current mission “to build a more vibrant, diverse, and economically healthy community through the arts,” if we are not supporting and investing resources in social practice in art. We will continue to use the N|Motion series as a place to highlight artists and organizations doing this type of work , as well as our media partnerships to recognize art that is not only in the community but art that is both of and for the community. There is true value in non-market based art, social practice in art is intended to nurture. At NEMAA we hope through our partnerships with social practitioners that we can nurture their work and by extension nurture our communities.

Dameun Strange
NEMAA Executive Director

Back to top