Artists and other cultural workers working at the intersection of art and social justice are compelled to use art to engage in and question the world, and perhaps actualize change. This is important work—art has the capacity to shift our sense of what is possible, to model or prototype new ideas, and to enable us to see intractable problems differently. Shifting our sense of what's possible is also audacious, even arrogant work that challenges humanitarians and creators to address tough questions. One of the most important aspects of artistic production is the way it engenders critical discourse. The intentions, levels of engagement, process, and impact of art driven by social goals are therefore open to such critique. "Doing good" is often seen as lacking criticality, as a mixture of arrogance and naivete. At the same time, criticality implies a distance that cultural workers with a social justice agenda might perceive as a luxury. As artists, curators, and cultural producers, we are implicated in the particular conditions we are working in, and at the same time our roles are inherently reflective, synthesizing, and critical. This is further complicated by political agency: both the individual agency of artists and participants, but also the agency of art within a global context. How are we to manage this difficult position of being implicated, while also retaining a sense of critical distance?
This is an important moment to question our work and the conditions that shape both its creation and consumption. What is the relationship between the unique contribution of art, and its intention, and is there a unique contribution art can make? How does political agency influence this debate? How are projects implicated by greater structural conditions, and how can we maintain both critical distance and true commitment? Can we leverage ongoing critical reflection to aid in navigating our work through this difficult terrain? What does our dual role as insider and outsider mean in the larger context? What tactics (such as listening, collaboration) do we bring to this work? Is intention visible, or relevant, and if so, to what good?