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SOC(i)AL: Art + People

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In Partnership with SOC(i)AL: Art + PeopleA series of discussions around LA about Socially Engaged Art, September to November 2012. Instigated by Anne Bray of Freewaves.org

By Anne Bray

Say passé to the sculpture in the square; the leading edge of public art is changing. Art is passing from isolation, to intervention, to participation, to engagement, to integration. Are we ready for this next stage? A growing number of artists want to engage the public directly, confront public situations, bypass the museum, and galvanize solutions to some of our most complex social and environmental problems. In this new arena, they use a range of conceptual and practical strategies: permanent to temporary, visual to performance. Around the world, artists, theorists and historians are discussing the origins, ethics, and implications of this emerging "socially engaged" way of practicing art.

Public Art has been the term for a spectrum of art activities in public space, useful until art is successfully integrated into society. Art is humans' most subjective activity. Art is artists intersecting with audiences. Consciousness is the medium. The more people who are making art, the more they will be viewing. The more viewing art, the more discerning and the more demanding in front of the screens and paintings and in schools. It's cyclic.

But what does socially engaged art mean in the context of Southern California, and how does it work here? Who are socially engaged artists practicing in LA now, and in which communities are they working? What kinds of problems are they addressing, and what kinds of solutions are they proposing?

SOCAL SOCIAL: Art + People is a free, public series of roundtable discussions and weekend events that explores socially engaged art in Southern California from East to West. Join the dialogue with SoCal artists, scholars, activists, and administrators as we think about socially engaged art in relation to zoning, technology, ethics, food, ritual, performance, gentrification, museums, Occupy L.A., democracy, nature and art support structures in the here-and-now.

Each panel, roundtable or event (described below) asks a specific question while the whole series asks communal questions we may answer eventually:


  • Are arts excellence and equity at odds?

  • Is L.A's lack of connectivity what is preventing it from becoming a world-class global city?

  • Is L.A. generating enough good, visible public space?

  • Should we have an art of disagreeing?

  • How do we integrate art into community, community into art?

  • If public space is real and virtual, should our thoughts be visible in the street?

  • If we are networked, are we getting stronger or sinking collectively?

The series of individually produced events takes place at venues across L.A., instigated by me as part of Freewaves, promoted by For Your Art, interviewed by Sue Bell Yank (a blogger and Hammer culture worker) here in advance of each event and summarized
here by a different person after each event. As many as of the talks as permissible will be audio recorded and posted here and on the Freewaves website.

Culture is a collective process of meaning making, helping us to distinguish reality from illusion or archetype from stereotype, evaluate priorities, and rebalance polarities, to surpass fear or arrogance, exercise our imaginations, and experience our connectedness. What functions of art do we want to strengthen and abandon in this age of steep economic, social and environmental hurdles? Discuss here via your comments, Sue's interviews, audio recordings and others' summations.


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Top Image: Downtown Los Angeles | Photo: Mulling it Over/Flickr/Creative Commons