Art & Social Justice Working Group
Vera List Center for Art and Politics


Field Work

As a child I was a prodigious life science talent, and parlayed a State Science Fair Award into conducting research at the San Diego Zoo. I spent my afternoons doing Field Work – which meant tallying territorial displays of Green Iguanas in a giant greenhouse. The scientific method I worked under involved a deductive approach of testing a hypothesis. My data was fundamental for determining a baseline that our subsequent experiments would be compared to. I wasn't in the jungle, and the lizards had no choice in what was being studied. I collected what I thought was important.

After exposure to social sciences and a college degree in education an ethnographic approach to research became my inspiration. Influenced by models like W. E. B. DuBois' The Philadelphia Negro I recognized Field Work could include the physical and cultural site where research took place and reflect elements of the community's voice and sentiments through interviews – even if the primary lens reflected the theories of the individual researcher.

In late 2014 I became a partner in a project to revitalize eight of San Francisco's severely distressed public housing sites by creating thriving, mixed-income communities, without displacing current residents. Field Work includes advisory groups, literature reviews, interviews with key informants, interviews with SF Housing Program staff, interviews with residents, community workshops, and art installations to develop skillful strategies. A key aspect of assessment activities is that they are designed to result in meaningful products for the initiative (HOPE SF) with its stakeholders as well as serve as a practice-based learning opportunity for SF State University Master of Public Health Students. Now fieldwork is more than a beginning to justify a means, but a dialogue where many participants give and receive in the process and the outcomes of the project.

— Brett Cook
Contribute a Definition

Welcome to the Art & Social Justice Working Group.


The purpose of the Art + Social Justice Working Group is to examine core conflicts that propel, enrich, and complicate artistic efforts that assume agency to enact social change. In this examination the group expects to foster clarity around both terminology and effective artistic and curatorial practice.

This site is home to the developing dialogue of glossary terms for describing this work and strategies for enacting it.

Core Conflicts

The ASJWG is organized around conflicts central to current conversations and practice in socially and politically engaged art. The six initial conflicts include: Accountability: Artist, Curator, Institution, Funder; Authorship, Collective and Other; Audience, Participation, Spectatorship, Modes of Address; Aesthetics and Usefulness; Local and Global, Specific and General; and Now and Forever: Do Gooding, Criticality, Oppositional.

Case Study

Each conflict is grounded in a case study to provide context about a specific project and artist's practice. For example, the first conflict Accountability: Artist, Curator, Institution, Funder begins with Thomas Hirshhorn's Gramsci Monument as a case study to launch a larger dialogue.


Writing from artists, scholars, community members, curators, and others augment conversation about each conflict. You are encouraged to add your own favorites to further the conversation.

Glossary Terms

These key terms and concepts evolve out of the conflict and case study. There is no single official definition, rather many perspectives are aggregated here about each glossary term to develop a complex understanding.


Following a similar format to the glossary, effective strategies for enacting this work in artistic and curatorial practice are aggregated from many individuals. Together they create a series of suggestions, guidelines, and warnings for all participants in this work.

Your comments, fresh perspectives, and contributions of new strategies and glossary terms are welcome and needed to advance this field and support our work.

Commissioned Artwork

Artists were commissioned to attend the initial six conflict meetings and develop new artwork in response to the ideas and perspective shared. Artists include: Liz Slagus and Norene Leddy, Laura Chipley, Fran Illich, and Nobu Aozaki.

Core Group Members

Thomas Anesta
Sascia Bailer
Beka Economopoulos
Deborah Fisher
Elizabeth Grady
Gordon Hall
Larissa Harris
Kemi Ilesanmi
Jason Jones
Kim Katatani
Grant Kester
Pam Korza
Carin Kuoni
Cynthia Lawson
Laura Raicovich
Paul Ramírez Jonas
Yasmil Raymond
Prerana Reddy
Christopher Robbins
Barbara Schaffer Bacon
Robert Sember
Greg Sholette
Radhika Subramaniam
Johanna Taylor
Niels Van Tomme
Christian Viveros-Fauné
Jennifer Wilson

Plus additional guest participants.

The Art + Social Justice Working Group is launched by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School and A Blade of Grass, with support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The Vera List Center and A Blade of Grass are both dedicated to supporting individuals in pursuit of the intersection of art and social justice, and to developing related programs and scholarship.

Questions? Comments? Contact
1. What would you like to contribute?
2. To which conflict does this pertain?
3. What is the definition?
3. What is the link to the reading?
4. Who are you? (We promise we won't share your information.)