Social art projects


House of Commons meeting – scientists, the public and MPs holding up drawings made with Fukushima’s children

What is social art?

Social art has a political or social purpose in addition to (not instead of) all the other ways in which art can work. Like community art it is done out in the world with people, often with groups, rather than being a solitary activity in a studio. It values participation, inclusion and a person-centred, rather than artist-centred approach. Social art has an added emphasis on attempting to change something – often the situation of the participants or the place and culture in which it happens. For this reason it is less common to see social art in mainstream galleries, which are often either politically conservative because of tradition and sponsorship, or promote a more self-referential view of art. You are more likely to see social art in informal settings, often shown where it is made, where the public are doing something else, or targeting people who have the power to change the issue concerned. You could say that if scientists have a responsibility to “speak knowledge to power” social artists work with others to “speak imagination to power.”

My own social art ethos

  • Work with groups and organizations where possible so that the artwork has a useful wider context informed by experience and knowledge; and the participants are supported
  • Power and decision making should be shared, typically more in favour of the particpants’ needs, ideas and imagination, not the artist’s
  • Try and find effective ways for the work to be exhibited locally, internationally and on the web – and let participants know this is happening
  • The participants should receive a personal copy or record of what is made where practical

Shinjuku Homeless Festival, Tokyo: drawing in front of UK homeless portraits; I showed this photo to the people depicted