Public Relations 3/Making it Happen: Strategies of Social Activism

“I have always been fascinated by the strangeness and beauty of the manicured yards, lawns and hedges of the homes in the neighborhood where I grew up. I put flyers in each mailbox on Lansford Ave. in San Jose, California to announce my artist-in-residency there. As their artist-in-residence, I let neighbors know that I might change some things in their front yards and that I would use only what was already there and would not be destructive. For the most part, my self-appointed status as welcomed- while re-arranging yards, passerbys asked if I was the artist-in-residence and residents sent kind notes and emails. One neighbor responded by making a pattern with leaves on his lawn. I wanted the surprise of the changes to generate an opportunity for neighbors to look closer at their environments.” (San Jose Artist in Residency,


Artist: Susan O’ Malley, Inspirational Signs,


We believe that artists are charismatic agents of change.

Situation = a set of conditions, locations, people, moments in time and circumstances


“[T]he term ‘public’ signifies the world itself, in so far as it is common to all of us and distinguished from our privately owed place in it. This world, however, is not identical with the earth or with nature…[i]t is related, rather, to the human artefact, the fabrication of human hands..To live together in the world means essentially that a world of things is between those who have it in common, as a table is located between those who sit around it; the world, like every in-between, relates and separates…” (Hannah Arendt, The Public Realm, 1958, Extract included in Situation by Claire Doherty)


Photo: The Free Store at Gallery 400 University of Illinois at Chicago

“The Free Store exhibition at Gallery 400 is an installation of a nomadic, temporary free store run by Melinda Fries, Salem Collo-Julin, Zena Sakowski & Rob Kelly that irregularly visits a variety of Chicagoland neighbourhoods. The gallery audience is invited to involve themselves: they are encouraged to come to the store, bring with them anything they wanted to give away, and take anything they wanted. There is no restriction on what they could take—no trading or bartering was necessary.” The Free Store Chicago


Photo: Artist Sharon Kallis, Ephemeral Mosaic, Mineral del Monte (Real del Monte), Mexico

“The public realm can be simply defined as a place where strangers meet. The difference between public and private lies in the amount of knowledge one person or group has about others; in the private realm, as in a family, one knows others well and close up, whereas in a public realm one does not; incomplete knowledge joins to anonymity in the public realm.

The public realm is, more over, a place. Traditionally, this place could be defined in terms of physical ground, which is why discussions of the public realm have been, again traditionally, linked to cities; the public realm could be identified by the squares, major streets, theatres, cafes, lecture hall, government assemblies, or stock exchanges where strangers would be likely to meet. Today, communications technologies have radically altered the sense of place; the public realm can be found in cyber-space as much as physically on the ground.

The most important fact about the public realm is what happens in it. Gathering together strangers enables certain kinds of activities which cannot happen, or do not happen as well, in the intimate private realm. In public, people can access unfamiliar knowledge, expanding the horizons of their information…In public, people can discuss and debate with people who may not share the same assumptions…The public realm offers people a chance to lighten the pressures for conformity, of fitting into a fixed role in the social order; anonymity and impersonality provide a milieu for more individual development” (Quant, The Public Realm by Richard Sennett )


“…[A]n art practice that privileges dialogue and communication cannot be based on the serial imposition of a fixed formal or spatial motif…Rather it must begin with an attempt to understand as thoroughly as possible the specific conditions and nuance of a given site. Only then can one devise the most effective and responsive formal manifestation, gesture, or event. ..Well before the enunciative act of art making, the manipulation and occupation of space and material, there must b a period of openness, of non-action, of learning and of listening.” (Quote from Dialogical Aesthetics Chapter, Conversation Pieces: Community+Communication in Modern Art, 2004, by Grant Kester p. 107)


Conflict Kitchenis a restaurant located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Each Conflict Kitchen iteration is augmented by events, performances, publications, and discussions that seek to expand the engagement the public has with the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus region. The restaurant rotates identities in relation to current geopolitical events.”


Art and Participation Strategies 

Get Acquainted with Your Surroundings – The People and Places

Observe What’s Going On

Get in the Know

Be Part of it All

Do Something Useful

Use Common Sense

Be Relevant

Don’t Have Fixed Ideas

Set the Stage but Don’t Take Centre Stage

Dialogical Aesthetics = Conversations



“Rather than enter into communicative exchange with the goal of representing ‘self’ through the advancement of already formed opinions and judgments, a connected knowledge is grounded in our capacity to identify with other people…[t]he concept of listening is central… (Conversation Pieces: Community+Communication in Modern Art, 2004, by Grant Kester p. 114)

Dialogical works can challenge dominant representations of a given community and create a more complex understanding of, and empathy for, that community among a broader public” (Conversation Pieces: Community+Communication in Modern Art, 2004 by Grant Kester, p. 115)



A Fair Land, Lunch and Cooking, A Collaboration by Grizedale Arts and the Irish Museum of Modern Art


“This project aims to develop a system for living derived from basic and simple resources used in a creative way. To this end a project village has been created to offer its visitors opportunities to eat, make, think or trade – and through that process to learn, copy, assimilate and teach. With a focus on creating objects that are useful, desirable and achievable, A Fair Land will present an active and tangible representation of the place of creativity in society, creating a space for families, friends and strangers to gather, get involved, and experience alternative perspectives on living.’ (A Fair Land, IMMA)

Marcus Coates: Creative Fitness, Part 1, 2016 Part of A Fair Land, Grizedale Arts and the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA)

The rationale for collaborative and participative arts practice has the potential to enable cultural democracy, equality and cultural exchange through the making of artworks. That is why the distinct intention of the process of making and the outcome of artworks should be understood by all involved with the work.

Alongside the intention, there is usually a belief system that underpins the ethics of the work. Moral tenets inform practice, often without explicit recognition. What beliefs do we hold with us when we work with people? What beliefs do those people have and are they shared? Do these beliefs affect the work and do we need to be explicit about this? These questions are significant when there is an expectation of a transformative experience as part of the project. (Katherine Atkinson, Incentives, Tenets and Time, The Visual Artists’ News Sheet, September-October, 2016)


MA Socially Engaged Art, School of Education, NCAD

The MA Socially Engaged Art (SEA) is a two year, Level 9, taught masters degree focusing on the dynamic relationship between socially engaged arts practice and pedagogy. Embedded in this programme is a further education teaching qualification, necessary for those considering a career as a teacher or facilitator of learning within an increasingly diverse further education sector. As a site for experimental learning and critical debate, the course attracts students from a range of disciplines who want to immerse themselves in a trans-disciplinary enquiry.

Certificate in Creativity and Change, Crawford College of Art and Design

Development, global/development education and the role of arts participation
Development topics such as environment, human rights and equality
Creative methodologies for the use of arts in development and development education e.g. Theatre of the Oppressed, street art and music
Group facilitation and project planning
Art as a tool for advocacy and action
MA Social Practice and the Creative Environment, Limerick Institute of Technology, Limerick School of Art and Design

The MA in Social Practice and the Creative Environment is a programme which answers contemporary needs. Social Practice as a recognised discipline is strongly situated in current critical and theoretical art and design debates and writings. The contents and outlook of the MA respond both to current art practices in Ireland and the rest of Europe, and also constitute a viable outcome of current theoretical debates in the place where art theory and practice meet as praxis. From a historical perspective, a programme which deals with issues such as understanding of physical and social environments, social interaction, transaction and exchange, community concerns, history and culture, marks the shift from postmodern psychologism to a renewed social and collective dimension in aesthetics and art practice.