But is it Art? Unpacking Social Practice for the Arts Administrator
By: Katherine O'Connor
Published: 10/2015
Uploaded: 10/21/2015
Uploaded by: Arts Administration Program
Pockets: Arts Administration, Arts Administration Program Theses, Arts Administration Program Theses (Permission Required), Arts Administration: General, Community Arts, ARAD Theses: Fall 2013 to Spring 2015, Visual Arts, Museums, Crafts
Tags: activism, Community Engagement, Infrastructural attributes, social practice, Socially Engaged Art

Description/Abstract: “Social practice” has emerged in recent years as an artistic pursuit that emphasizes social interaction, community engagement, and activism. Despite terms that are used to describe work of this type, such as “social practice” and “socially engaged art,” there are generally few commonalities project-to-project. Works are varied in almost every aspect, and often look nothing like art in the traditional sense. As such, implementing these projects poses distinct challenges to sponsoring organizations and arts administrators. In this study, I explore some of these challenges by investigating infrastructural attributes, strategies for engaging internal and external stakeholders, and the ways in which administrators are trying to measure the success of these nuanced programs.

I find that the four organizations featured in this study tended to favor open structures that support knowledge transfer, skill sharing, and holistic thinking, as these attributes are conducive for adapting to unpredictability. Communication was a commonly noted tool for managing internal and external stakeholders, and it is clear that challenges arise when expectations and project goals are not articulated clearly throughout the process. Lastly, indicators of success vary from project-to-project and quantitative measurements related to social practice are notoriously challenging. Some organizations measure success by looking at how the work was received, whether there is an afterlife to a project, or how intensely the community was engaged. As with many aspects related to social practice, this is a work in progress and one that will have to evolve alongside the field.