What is Socially Engaged Art?


There are many ways of interpreting the term ‘socially engaged art’ and many terms that are currently being used to label this area of practice (e.g. community art, dialogic art, participatory art, interventionist art, collaborative art). Along with the expected differences in perspectives among theorists and practitioners in the field, there is widespread endorsement of the following characteristics.  


Socially- engaged art:


  • has its roots in social justice and participatory learning;


  • is a grass-roots creative process that takes place in the context of a defined community or neighbourhood;


  • makes use of a wide range of art forms to invite community members to explore individual and collective themes and/or to explore potential solutions to social and political concerns;


  • is an inclusive process. Participants’ level of artistic skill in a particular art  medium is not an entrance requirement – in fact, it is irrelevant;


  • is not about training or mentoring emerging artists – although artists can and do emerge as a result of their participation in community art initiatives;


  • is concerned primarily with process rather than outcome. Practitioners do not start an initiative with an end product in mind; rather the artistic product emerges organically out of participants’ collaboration;


  • is not evaluative. There are ”no failed, unsuccessful, unresolved or boring works of collaborative art…” (Jennifer Roche citing Claire Bishop, 2010).  That being said, effective practitioners do provide participants with the skills in a particular art form needed to authentically represent the themes and issues being explored;


  • is not art therapy but shares with therapeutic work the capacity to engage participants in creative processes that are healing and socially transformative.


Roche, J. (2010) Socially Engaged Art, Critics and Discontents: An Interview with Claire Bishop