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


“Creating a platform for engagement”

I believe in the transformative function of art. Using aesthetics to touch, move and change people, encouraging them to take heroic action and to live a just and fulfilling life. I hope there will be a platform to engage with people who share the same philosophy.

- Amy Cheung

Some strategies for creating a platform for engagement

1: Get them to start the conversation.

Create a situation in which the desired participants choose to approach you, the organizer – not the other way around. If participants are drawn in through curiosity or self-interest, then they begin the conversation. They make the request.

2: Establish a foil.

It is hard to look people in the eyes and tell them the truth. It is hard to face someone you fear. It is easier to do something you both know how to do together, and begin to engage through that shared structure or action or goal. The foil is the shiny thing we look at together so we don't have to look at each other. But shiny things are reflective.


3: Rely on non-idealized human nature. *

A principal of Ghana ThinkTank that makes it work in most cultures is "everyone loves to complain and everyone wants to be needed." Fear and hate are closely linked. Remove fear, and what's left: jealousy? So then we start with "what's in it for them." And once you've got them self involved, you blow open the scale and they feel indebted. Maybe even inspired. If not: then guilt. Social pressure. Eventually people find their passion point. But people can be pretty jaded, and we choose to work with people who are difficult to work with.

*4: Make it their project, not yours.

If the goal is a platform for engagement, then you have not "succeeded" until you have given up control. I am not talking about ownership or authorship – as artists we need that to be able to keep making these sorts of things. I am talking about control.

5: Be selfish.

It's your project. You better like what you are doing or you won't keep doing it. Other people would call this "Practice Self Care."

6: Don't be afraid to contradict yourself.

Is your goal to be right?

7: Meet them where they are.

Allow yourself to treat art as a can to kick around, rather than a pedestal to aspire towards. Instrumentalize art. If the goal is to create a platform for engagement, then art becomes a tool for that. What good is a beautiful skateboard if you never grind on it?


8: Be the outsider

Make yourself the outlier so that others feel more similar in comparison to you.

You have probably noticed I am referring to "me" and "them." Art makes objects. As soon as something becomes an art project – even your own family – you become an outsider. The outsider allows people to do things they otherwise would not.The outsider becomes the outlier revealing a shared community they did not realize was there until you became the weirdo. The asshole. The idiot.

Maybe it works when you become the prophet or exotic or charismatic, but I am more convincing as the thing to bounce away from, towards each other.

9: Play identity politics.

Instrumentalize yourself.

—Christopher Robbins

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.)