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



Risk, n. |risk| rhymes with frisked (as well as pissed); it is the reigning deity of the .01% and stands opposite refuge, an apparently mythical sanctuary once attributed to the benefits of democratic governance. Used as an economic fermenting agent risk inflates the volume of one's personal property while depleting that of one's neighbor. Along with rampant privatization risk rules the ultra-deregulated economy and generally leads to one of two results: either remarkable affluence, or miserable failure. The majority of artists enjoy the second outcome. It is a fate they share with the superfluous majority of semi and under-employed precarious workers who today face the so-called new normal of the "jobless future." Thanks to neoliberal capitalism's radical redistribution of always-pending catastrophe risk has shifted from the collective level of the community, state, nation, or society, downward, towards each increasingly isolated member of the populace. Existential, psychological, and ideological pressures converge within this society of risk whose circumstances Sociologist Ulrich Beck ominously describes as "no longer trust/security, not yet destruction/disaster." Rooted simultaneously in real and fictive dangers this state of risk ranges from the accidental inhalation of invisible toxins or a mutated virus, to government conspiracies, genetically manipulated foods, sudden acts of police violence, or unforeseen terrorist plots. Individual "Being" is redefined by the society of risk as a perpetual state of personal jeopardy, or in philosopher Georgio Agamben's terms, as "bare life." Nevertheless, this state of unsettled indeterminacy radiates vulnerability in all directions, regardless of entitlement or cultural privilege. On one hand, this makes the unabashed policing of material inequalities essential to maintaining the current debtocracy, with "the winner takes all," as its official anthem. For even as many despise its terms, most willingly heed its injustice as if it were vested with an inviolable legal authority. On the other hand, such extreme risk also gives rise out of sheer necessity to political dissent, sometimes taking on a militant nature, as for example with the Occupy Wall Street protest encampment in in 2011, an early 21st Century "Hooverville" made up of surplus creative laborers turned urban desperados by the 2008 financial collapse several years prior. All of which underscores the fact that without the endless churning processes of capitalism and its constant dematerialization and re-materialization of everything solid and familiar on its centuries-long quest to monetize every nook and corner of life there would be no wave of dissident activists, resentful redundant artists, community cultural advocates, digital media tacticians, anti-police corruption agitators or other socially engaged practitioners who increasingly emerge into light and generate such interesting things as this lexicon that you are now reading. Instead, they would remain, as they have for decades, little more than a "hidden mass," a rag-tag population of cultural phantoms incapable of more than the occasional act of haunting or a brief moment of upheaval. They would essentially remain a type of cultural Dark Matter, (see Dark Matter).

—Greg Sholette
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.)