The Questions We Ask Together /// Published by OE In Print, Edited by Gemma-Rose Turnbull for Open Engagement, 2015


As an advocate for civil rights and an artist investigating my own whiteness and privilege in the context of the American South, I want to be very clear about this. I absolutely believe that the movements of affirmative action, nondiscrimination workplace law, women’s voting rights, etc., have all had and continue to have incredible impact on the US as a whole. Sometimes we need interventions to set things straight. I just think make, in this context, is a very bad word. Making someone do something implies privilege. Let’s focus instead on the word encourage. How do we encourage multicultural social practice? How do we design projects that actively invite diversity? How do we enter communities genuinely? How might we work with a multitude of ages, economies, religions, and races? First, we listen. I’m more interested in being a part of my community as an artist, not a proselytizer. Less missionary, more participant.

The nature of social practice, to me, is about filling a void. What can we do better? What is missing? What is important? Most interesting are the ideas born of radical necessity, especially projects that cultivate knowledge, collaboration, understanding, and have further possibility. Something I’ve noticed having lived in Brooklyn, San Francisco, and now the tiny Georgia town of Winterville, the root of social practice exists in many forms and all places, towns and tiny community rooms and neighborhoods all across the world. Each place is different, each has culture. The real beauty of this whole movement is that it’s not limited to the art world, but is straddling many worlds.

Community can now be global, thanks to this incredible tool we call the world wide web. Like visionary artists, there are people everywhere making social practice that we don’t know about. They don’t even know it has a name. It’s happening when I meet a teacher at the local middle school that incorporates active learning against all odds in a test-score-based curriculum, it’s happening when my dad sponsors a Sudanese refugee as support and a friendship develops, it’s happening in my group therapy sessions with structured listening and response, it’s happening with Wikileaks and the occupy movement and Edward Snowden, and when my friend Maureen makes a tea party for the woman she cares for, who has Alzheimer’s.

These are the people to meet and work with. Your people, your community, your place. Get really good at it before branching out toward other communities. Working local or cyberlocal, inspire and support ideas and creativity; this can certainly be an instrument toward being more inclusive. Admit your vulnerability. Gosh, I’ve failed so many times. It’s about showing your neighbor that they have power, and reminding yourself of your own power, and reflecting that power back with a mirror as big as the sky and believing, just believing.
PURCHASE HERE: www.blurb.com/b/6908200-the-questions-we-ask-together

For the closing event of OPEN ENGAGEMENT 2013, we collected questions generated by the assembled group of conference attendees to further get a sense of what is emerging, what people are thinking, and where this conversation is going in socially engaged art. This was inspired by Sister Corita’s quantity assignments, to generate 100 questions before embarking on intensive work and research. In the days leading up to OE 2014 we released blog posts by over 100 contributors from the field reflecting on these collectively generated questions.

The Questions We Ask Together brings together these posts, featuring writing by Allison Agsten, Tania Bruguera, Joshua Decter, Pablo Helguera, Grant Kester, and Stephen Wright amongst others.