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



Occupy an occupation - pretend to be something people expect as a way to insert something people don't expect. Hide in plain sight.

Construction Worker - If you put on a high vis vest and a construction helmet and act sort of bored you can get away with many things in New York City – if you look and act the part.

—Christopher Robbins

Taking this in a more OWS direction...

Occupy evolved the protest because it was an affirmative form.

To occupy means to be there. To take up space. To exist. To settle. To claim.

To occupy is fundamentally different than an act of protest, saying no, standing against.

The social movements of the 20th century were anti-bigotry, anti-sexism, anti-Vietnam war.

There was a clear enemy.

Occupy recognized in its inception and in its clearest and most brilliant work that the problems of the 21st century, even the ones that feel the most divisive, have no singular enemy. The enemy is often us. The enemy is often a system. The enemy is often something we depend on.

Occupy's rallying cry was we are the 99%. You would think it would be against the 1 percent.

But it held meetings all winter in the lobby of Deutsche Bank. And it wanted to Occupy Banks, Homes, Money.

Occupy was a library, a kitchen, it cleaned up after itself, it generated electricity, it created its own rules and customs and language.

It continues to produce alternatives. Occupy begat Strike Debt and the Rolling Jubilee and Sandy relief. It begat the Debtor's Manual. It begat a debit card.

That last one begat an epic controversy.

At Zucotti Park, Occupy accepted the Ron Paul people, the stop killing black people people, the student debt people and the medical debt people, the I lost my job people and the I question my job people, the I go to every protest people and the I've never done this before people.

Its perimeter was, for a long moment, permeable. It had people with signs that said "Talk to me," or "Ask me why I'm here," or "Ask me Anything."

(This was the job I gravitated toward.)

And the perimeter was also full of tourists and bankers who went to Zucotti Park to laugh at the hippies, and found people like me wearing nice work clothes and asking for a conversation.

At this perimeter Occupy transformed the Fox News v. MSNBC idiocy that passes for political discourse in this country into a shared, empathic conversation about the fact that we are all quite worried.

A big handful of the people I talked to who came to laugh at the hippies walked over to the cardboard pile and wrote signs and stayed for a bit.

In this way occupy was absorption, not opposition.

I stopped participating in Occupy when my role as Absorption Agent stopped making sense. At some point, there was too much anger and too much opposition and too much entrenchment to invite others in.

—Deborah Fisher

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.)