50 TITLES / 50 PERSPECTIVES: A Reader’s Guide to Art & Social Practice


If you think about how grand the concept/movement/idea of Art & Social Practice really is, it can be quite overwhelming. What started out as a grass-roots movement has also begun to infiltrate academia, creating even more ways in which people are thinking, researching and writing about the topic. With that in mind, I decided to create a reading list of 50 hand-selected titles that form a cohesive and well-rounded collection designed to reach a wide audience and aimed to define and understand the multifaceted field Broken City Lab’s engaged with.

During the selection process of this bibliography, I tracked down and read several published reviews and customer reviews from a variety of sources, and ensured that each title provided the collection with a different perspective or filled a necessary gap. For academic texts, I also tracked citations in order to determine their relevancy within the field. Therefore, whether you’re an artist, an academic, an educator, or just someone who is generally interested in learning what the heck Art & Social Practice is, you’ll be able to find a title or two to get your thinking started.

50 TITLES / 50 PERSPECTIVES: A Reader’s Guide to Art & Social Practice

Failure!: Experiments in Aesthetic and Social Practices



Antebi, Nicole, Colin Dickey, and Robby Herbst. Failure!: Experiments in Aesthetic and Social Practices. Los Angeles: Journal of Aesthetics & Protest, 2007. Print.

A book of essays, interviews and artwork that traces the idea of failure through contemporary art, art protest and social practice.






Atkinson, Dennis, and Paul Dash. Social and Critical Practice in Art Education . Sterling, VA: Trentham Books, 2005. Print.

Emphasizes “the practical and critical” in art making, while using examples of art as social practice in times of social unrest to facilitate education.




Public Space: Cultural/Political Theory; Street Photography : An Interpretation



Baird, George. Public Space: Cultural/Political Theory; Street Photography : An Interpretation. Amsterdam: SUN, 2011. Print.

Provides insights into the use, identity and representation of public space from a variety of disciplines, particularly political and cultural theory.




Wildfire: Art as Activism


Barndt, Deborah. Wild Fire: Art as Activism. Toronto, ON: Sumach Press, 2006. Print.

Looks at ways in which academics blur the lines of art, activism and academia.  The book also looks at multiple art forms that address social change from different perspectives.  Also provides a Canadian and local context, as the author is visual arts professor at York University.



Collaboration in the Arts from the Middle Ages to the Present



Bigliazzi, Silvia, and Sharon Wood. Collaboration in the Arts from the Middle Ages to the Present. 35 Vol. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006. Print.

Providing context outside of North America, this collection of essays is from British and Italian scholars discussing the concept and practice of social collaboration in the arts.



Taking the Matter into Common Hands: On Contemporary Art and Collaborative Practices



Billing, Johanna, Maria Lind, and Lars Nilsson. Taking the Matter into Common Hands: On Contemporary Art and Collaborative Practices. London, UK: Black Dog, 2007. Print.

Looks at art and social practice, and collaborative art from the practitioner’s perspective, rather than the theorists.






Bishop, Claire. Participation. Cambridge, Mass: Whitechapel, 2006. Print.

The book is a collection of articles looking at ways in which art can engage with life on a social and political level, with an emphasis on participation and community engagement.



Relational Aesthetics



Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. Dijon: Les Presses du réel, 2002. Print.

A defining and seminal text introducing the concept of relational aesthetics which takes art outside of private space and explores it in terms of human relations and social context.



Art and Social Change: A Critical Reader



Bradley, Will, and Charles Esche. Art and Social Change: A Critical Reader. London: Tate Pub., 2007. Print.

A reader which a collection of artists’ texts and critical writings that concentrates on providing a clear overview on the subject.




Street Art, Street Life: From the 1950s to Now


Bussard, Katherine A., Frazer Ward, Lydia Yee, and Whitney Rugg. Street Art, Street Life: From the 1950s to Now. New York: Aperture Foundation, 2008. Print.

Examines the street as subject matter, venue and source of inspiration for contemporary, socially-engaged art.




The Practice of Public Art



Cartiere, Cameron, and Shelly Willis. The Practice of Public Art. Hoboken: Routledge, 2008. Print.

Juxtaposes publicly-funded art to grass-roots socially engaged art practices.




Art and Activism in the Age of Globalization



Cauter, Lieven De, Ruben De Roo, and Karel Vanhaesebrouck. Art and Activism in the Age of Globalization. 08 Vol. Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2011. Print.

Questions whether artists should be activists and what that means in terms of social responsibility.



The Practice of Everyday Life



Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Print.

Another defining text that examines how we interact with everyday life on an active level.




Imagining Resistance: Visual Culture and Activism in Canada



Cronin, J. Keri, and Kirsty Robertson. Imagining Resistance: Visual Culture and Activism in Canada. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2011. Print.

Collection of papers that theorize connections between visual arts and oppositional politics predominantly from Canadian examples.



Tactical Biopolitics: Art, Activism, and Technoscience



Da, Costa Beatriz., and Kavita Philip. Tactical Biopolitics: Art, Activism, and Technoscience. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2008. Print.

Looks at how new technologies are beginning to influence socially-enagaged art, from the use of open-source software, to hactivism.




Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics


Deutsche, Rosalyn. Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics. Cambridge, Mass: Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, 1996. Print.

The collection of essays focus on contemporary art, space, and political struggle, with an entire section dedicated to urban theory and the role of art within processes of urban change.



Cultural Planning: An Urban Renaissance?



Evans, Graeme, and MyiLibrary. Cultural Planning, an Urban Renaissance?. New York: Routledge, 2001. Print.

Discusses how cultural planning can be a form of creative intervention and thinks about it ways in which terms of civic engagement.




But Is It Art? the Spirit of Art As Activism



Felshin, Nina. But is it Art?: The Spirit of Art as Activism. Seattle, [Wash.]: Bay Press, 1995. Print.

Affirms that whether art is “art” is not important, rather, creative minds engaged with social justice is what is important.  It samples both activists and artists, to give a comparison and overview.



Dialogues in Public Art


Finkelpearl, Tom, and Vito Acconci. Dialogues in Public Art. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.: MIT, 2001. Print.

Presents a collection of interviews with individuals-artists, administrators, architects, a critic, a philosopher, a resident in a public housing project-who were involved in different ways with public art during the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s.




Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics



Foster, Hal. Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics. Port Townsend, Wash: Bay Press, 1985. Print.

Looks at ways in which art and politics emerge in postmodernism.




Conversations Before the End of Time



Gablik, Suzi. Conversations before the End of Time. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1995. Print.

Uses an apocalyptic tone while addressing art as social 




Exercises for Rebel Artists: Radical Performance Pedagogy



Gómez-Peña, Guillermo, and Roberto Sifuentes. Exercises for Rebel Artists: Radical Performance Pedagogy. London: Routledge, 2011. Print.

Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Roberto Sifuentes use their teaching and performance experience to create workshops that teach about radical performance in a social practice context.



Value, Art, Politics: Criticism, Meaning, and Interpretation after the End of Postmodernism



Harris, Jonathan.  Value, Art, Politics: Criticism, Meaning and Interpretation After PostmodernismLiverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2007.  Print.

Provides a historical and postmodern overview, as well as through a post-colonial lens.



Education for Socially Engaged Art



Helguera, Pablo. Education for Socially Engaged Art: A Materials and Techniques Handbook. New York: Jorge Pinto, 2011. Print.

Acts a critical view of socially-engaged art by looking at its long heritage.  It is meant to be critical history for those who are engaged in the practice.




Communities of Sense: Rethinking Aesthetics and Politics



Hinderliter, Beth. Communities of Sense: Rethinking Aesthetics and Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. Print.

An assemblage of essays about art historians, art theorists and cultural critics working at the intersections of art, aesthetics and politics.




Escape the Overcode: Activist Art in the Control Society



Holmes, Brian. Escape the Overcode: Activist Art in the Control Society. Eindhoven [u.a.: Van Abbemuseum, 2009. Print.

Looks at activist art from a geopolitical stand point, and cites examples from across the globe, which is overlooked in other titles.




Byproduct: On the Excess of Embedded Art Practices



Jahn, Marisa. Byproduct: On the Excess of Embedded Art Practices. Toronto: YYZ Books, 2010. Print.

Presents texts from a variety of artists, activists, curators, and interdisciplinary thinkers that interrogate projects by cultural practitioners ‘embedded’ in industries, the government, and other non-art sectors.



Cultural Capitals: Revaluing the Arts, Remaking  Urban Spaces



Johnson, Louise C., and MyiLibrary. Cultural Capitals: Revaluing the Arts, Remaking Urban Spaces. Farnham, England: Ashgate Pub, 2009. Print.

An optimistic book about the power of the arts to enhance city images, urban economies and communities.



The Arts: A Social Perspective



Kaplan, Max. The Arts: A Social Perspective. Rutherford, N.J: Associated University Presses, 1990. Print.

Presents an optimistic assessment of how a turn towards creativity and the arts have led to sustainable urban development.  The urban development outlook on social practice in the arts is a nice contrast to the other more theoretical texts, and provides more insight for those interested in design or architecture.


Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art



Kester, Grant H. Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern ArtBerkeley: University of California Press, 2004. Print.

This book does not set out to only define and conceptualize community or socially engaged art, but to trace its antecedents in art history and locate it in relation to critical theory by providing a framework to evaluate it.



The One and the Many: Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context



Kester, Grant H., and Inc ebrary. The One and the Many: Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context. Durham [N.C.]: Duke University Press, 2011. Print.

Provides an overview of the broader continuum of collaborative art, ranging from the work of artists and groups widely celebrated in the mainstream art world to the less publicized projects.


Urban Interventions: Personal Projects in Public Spaces



Klanten, Robert, and Matthias Hübner. Urban Interventions: Personal Projects in Public Spaces. Berlin: Gestalten, 2010. Print.

Looks at multiple artist’s personal project within public spaces, which is a shift from the focus of collective art in other titles.




Public Art: Theory, Practice and Populism



Knight, Cher Krause. Public Art: Theory, Practice and Populism. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008. Print.

Compares art in public places and intervention art to art that is institutionalized.




Artists, Patrons, and the Public: Why Culture Changes



Lord, Barry, and Gail Dexter Lord. Artists, Patrons, and the Public: Why Culture Changes. Lanham, Md: AltaMira Press, 2010. Print.

An attempt to debunk how anything can be considered art, and why socially engaged art is valid.  An excellent starting point to begin thinking about these fundamental questions.



Paper Politics: Socially Engaged Printmaking Today



MacPhee, Josh, Deborah Caplow, and Eric Triantafillou. Paper Politics: Socially Engaged Printmaking Today. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2009. Print.

A collection of contemporary politically engaged printmaking showcases art that uses themes of social justice and global equity to engage community members in conversation.



Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice: Inquiries for Hope and Change



McLean, Cheryl L. Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice: Inquiries for Hope & Change. Calgary: Detselig Enterprises, 2010. Print.

An action-oriented and transformative research text that points to a new path for hope and change while showing how the creative arts in inquiry and in action applied across disciplines can make a critical difference for individuals and society.



Art, Space and the City: Public Art and Urban Futures



Miles, Malcolm, and MyiLibrary. Art, Space and the City: Public Art and Urban Futures. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.

Looks at socially engaged art from the perspectives of Marxism, feminism and ecology in relation to the city.







PSU MFA Social Practice – PSPJ ISSUE 1.” PSU MFA Social Practice. Web. <http://www.psusocialpractice.org/articles/>.

A brand new publication that is available free and online and features the newest scholarship that is coming out of the only program in North America that is completely focused on this topic.



What We Want Is Free: Generosity and Exchange in Recent Art



Purves, Ted. What We Want Is Free: Generosity and Exchange in Recent Art. Albany, NY: State University of New York, 2005. Print.

Thinks about how artists should be thinking about their role and responsibility as such, and how social practice can engage and affect peoples lives.




The Interventionists: Users' Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life



Thompson, Nato, and Gregory Sholette. The Interventionists: Users’ Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life. North Adams, MA: Cambridge Mass, 2004. Print.

Serves as a handbook to the new and varied work or interventionist art.




Art and Revolution: Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century


Raunig, Gerald. Art and Revolution: Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2007. Print.

Argues that the most important contemporary art is made outside of the institution and has ties to social engagement, revolution and political action.





ARTocracy: Art, Informal Space and Social Consequence : A Curatorial Handbook in Collaborative Practice



Sacramento, Nuno, and Claudia Zeiske. ARTocracy: Art, Informal Space and Social Consequence : A Curatorial Handbook in Collaborative Practice. Berlin: Jovis, 2010. Print.

This book looks at curatorial practice of socially engaged art within “informal” spaces rather than traditional institutions.



Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture



Sholette, Gregory. Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise CultureLondon: Pluto, 2011. Print.

Focuses on cultural workers in terms of artistic production, which provides a Marxist view within the collection.




Collectivism after Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination after 1945



Stimson, Blake, and Gregory Sholette. Collectivism After Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination After 1945. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2007. Print.

A collection of ten essays that demonstrate collectivist art social practice in the context of actual artist collectives.



Group Work



Temporary Services. Group Work. New York, NY: Half Letter LLC, 2007. Print.

Temporary Services are one of the most active and successful social practice collectives in North America.  Group Work compiles multiple perspectives of collaborative social practice from both artists, scholars, and even musicians.





Temporary Services. Public Phenomena.  Chicago, IL: Half Letter LLC, 2008. Print.

Public Phenomena is the result of over ten years of photo documentation and research of public interventionist art.




Journal of Aesthetics & Protest



The Journal of Aesthetics & Protest.” The Journal of Aesthetics & Protest. (2001 – 2012). Print.

The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest  is a Los Angeles based artists’ collective’s journal that “sits at the discursive juncture of fine art, media theory, and anti-authoritarian activism.”  It takes critical theory out of the academic or cultural institution.


Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011



Thompson, Nato. Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011. New York, NY: Creative Time, 2012. Print.

A very new and current view and history of socially engaged art.  This title will work well as a historical introduction for undergraduates who are just beginning to research the subject.




Wu, Chin-Tao. Privatising Culture: Corporate Art Intervention since the 1980s. New York: Verso, 2002. Print.

Looks at the opposite side of the spectrum and discusses how art is a commodity and has monetary value.  Contrasts well with the rest of the literature that focuses on the aesthetics of socially engaged art, rather than the inevitable business side of all artistic practice.  Also looks at art intervention within these institutions which brings the text back to a politically driven stand point.




Cultural Appropriation and the Arts



Young, James O. Cultural Appropriation and the Arts. 6 Vol. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2008. Print.

Discusses the difference between copying art and stealing art in order to create new expressions.   Looks at ways in which artists have “stolen” bits of culture in order to appropriate them as social commentary, whether political or not.

Research Update (some things I’ve been working on the last couple of days)

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts — a kind of summary of some of the things I’ve been working on. It seemed about time. I like posting as a sort of summary for myself, but maybe it’s interesting for my dearest BCL colleagues to see what I’ve been up to as well.

One of the things that has been taking up a lot of brain space has been a project I began over a year ago developing some Windsor / city-exploration specific iPhone apps. After wrestling with Objective C for way too long, I’ve moved over to HTML5 and in particular using Sencha Touch as a base. My progress has increased a lot.

I’m comfortable with HTML, CSS, PHP, but I’ve somehow avoided picking up a firm grasp of javascript. Sencha Touch is a set of js libraries, or more specifically, from their website, “Sencha Touch is a mobile JavaScript framework for developing HTML5 web apps that look and feel native.” I’m just following tutorials right now, but things are sinking in.

A project building off of something Josh started a little while back. Basically a set of questions for a list of people. I’m hoping to post the responses on here — I’ve asked for a photo and text as answers to the questions — and maybe turn it into some kind of short run publication.

Awaiting my perusal, the latest copy of Fuse!!!

And, a trusty guide already, the HTML5 cookbook.

Also, as you may have noticed, I’ve been playing around with other webfonts. We’re currently deploying Adobe Typekit, using Adelle and Museo-Slab.

And, in preparation for some work we’ll be doing for a project in Hamilton, I’m working with Gravity Forms and a tutorial for creating mad-lib style forms. Gravity Forms seems flexible, but there’s some basic stuff that I haven’t been able to get an answer for on the forums, specifically, an issue with the Reply To part of a contact form.

Basically, I’m try to get this effect. I’m thinking there’s too many blanks above, but you get the idea.

A final shot of some mad code. I type things out from tutorials by hand then try to catch my own mistakes. It’s kind of like a game, but then it’s not actually fun when you can’t find your own error.

Tomorrow, mid-week BCL work time! We’ve been meeting Fridays, taking minutes, prepping for a potentially incredibly busy year, etc., just in case there was any thought that we’d been taking it easy.

We’re outside around a table, together. It’s May. How to Forget the Border Completely.

We’re back to Friday nights. Someone thought to move the tables outside. In the dimming light, we worked. Many things are on the task list.

We’re starting to work on a publication of sorts for How to Forget the Border Completely. It’s been a really clarifying decision to pull the strands of research we’ve been working on for the project together in a form that will allow the entire project to be read at once.

Continue reading “We’re outside around a table, together. It’s May. How to Forget the Border Completely.”

The Creation of Place in Abandoned Railway Cuts in Windsor: 1/4 Intro

Lee Rodney teaches one of the best courses at the University of Windsor, Border Culture. I took the course in the fall of 2010 and wrote a book: The Creation of Place in Abandoned Railway Cuts in Windsor.

The book serves as documentation and comparative analysis of three specific forgotten spaces in downtown Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Each of these are former sites of railway lines that ran across the Detroit River into Michigan at the height of industrialization in the first quarter of the twentieth century, but are now closed up dead ends and dead zones, unlit at night and undetectable from street view due to their below street level geography.

These spaces have a transient quality, as people exist in them only while passing through, usually as quickly as they can in order to reach a safer location. The contents of this book are based on my own personal experience in and around these spaces as a young adult white female artist, including historical research on the areas as well as references from multiple disciplines including activism, art, urban planning, geography, design, visual culture, gender and feminist studies. The invisible borders embedded within the fabric of these hidden, forgotten underused and misused spaces is examined.

Over the course of the next month, I will be posting chapters of the book with images on a weekly basis. However, I would like to introduce the book by providing some info and context around what I was reading prior to and during the research phase of this project.

So, without further adieu, a few books that informed my book:

Continue reading “The Creation of Place in Abandoned Railway Cuts in Windsor: 1/4 Intro”

BCL Report: End of April, 2011 (the Art of Planning & Collaboration)

Over three days this week, we got a lot done. And, as I write this, stuff is still getting done. This is why collaboration is such a valuable model for art practice.

But, it’s not just about getting stuff done, it’s the challenges, the insights, the novel perspectives that can be brought up around a table that push the work forward. With some of us having worked together for nearly three years, we can anticipate one another and move ideas and projects that much further along because there’s a context, there’s a history, there’s a resonating understanding of what we can do together.

Collaboration FTW.

Continue reading “BCL Report: End of April, 2011 (the Art of Planning & Collaboration)”

Nicole Lavelle’s Lovely Projects: Be Okay + Neighbourhood Flags

Lovely text-based work. It’d be great to randomly run into this!!

As Nicole puts it:

This piece was an experiment in context, engagement and language. Uh, actually, what I mean is: I wanted people to see these phrases in interesting contexts and engage on an emotional level with the words I had chosen. This piece was also about my grandmother dying.

Materials: xerox, colored paper, thumbtacks, paper coffee cups, xerox transfer, manilla envelopes, cellophane bags, staples.

Nicole was also commissioned by GOOD to design a neighbourhood flag — great idea, right?!

Gorgeous work all-around. She’s also designing materials for Open Engagement 2011!!!

Spend some time checking out all her work — book design, typography, you know, making stuff and doing things. Very specific aesthetic choices, but fun reference for our (imaginary) future publications.

Anxious to Explore the Border Bookmobile’s Winter Reading Room

I stopped by the Ecohouse today (where our collective studio is housed) to check out one of our new neighbours — The Border Bookmobile Winter Reading Room. Collected and curated by Border Bookmobile founder, Lee Rodney, the books assembled as part of the winter reading room are going to be incredible helpful for our upcoming How to Forget the Border Completely research project.

I did a quick tour of the collection, though I anticipate that we’ll all be getting a lot better acquainted in the coming weeks.

Continue reading “Anxious to Explore the Border Bookmobile’s Winter Reading Room”

Planning for Spring

Cristina takes a look over the Text In-Transit Submissions

Despite the snow, the lethargy onset by exam schedules and year-end assignments, and a few core BCL folk leaving town for the summer, we had a great and productive meeting. We started going through the Text In-Transit submissions, continued working on our magnetic planters, worked on our Rhizome commission, brainstormed the idea of a book, and started to refine our ideas for our community garden (more details on this soon).

Continue reading “Planning for Spring”