City Farm, Chicago, founded by Ken Dunn. Photo: Greg Lindsey
City Farm, Chicago, founded by Ken Dunn. Photo: Greg Lindsey

Art and Social Change

There are many ways to think about social practice, but I especially like the definition offered by Dean of Faculty Lisa Wainwright at last year's SAIC Commencement, where she introduced our speaker, Theaster Gates. In his practice, Lisa explained, Theaster "brings together art, life, and communities through actions and events that effect change." You see this in Theaster's work on the South Side, such as in his Dorchester Projects Initiative. In fact, students in our GFRY Studio will have the opportunity to participate in the full design-through-build of a component of this project when Theaster joins SAIC as our William and Stephanie Sick Distinguished Visiting Artist for the 2014–15 academic year.

Lisa's description of Theaster's work applies equally to what we do at SAIC, and I am very pleased to announce that, beginning in September, we will be hosting a program devoted to "Chicago Social Practice." Organized by Professor of Sculpture and Executive Director of Exhibitions and Events Mary Jane Jacob through a grant from the Warhol Foundation, this program will run throughout fall 2014. It will include: an exhibition at our Sullivan Galleries called A Proximity of Consciousness: Art and Social Action featuring 10 newly commissioned projects; an exhibition of artwork by Joseph Beuys, a longtime proponent of "social sculpture," at the Modern Wing; a dialogue between art historian Claire Bishop and curator Claire Doherty at Rubloff Auditorium; a weekend-long symposium called A Lived Practice featuring lectures and workshops by an impressive group of artists and thinkers; and a four-volume Chicago Social Practice History Series that SAIC is publishing in partnership with University of Chicago Press.

We highlight several projects through which members of our community are taking action on important issues and inspiring others to do the same. One of these is Array of Things, in which faculty and students from our Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Designed Objects are collaborating with the University of Chicago and the Urban Center for Computation and Data to collect and disseminate environmental data around the city. A profile of SAIC alumnus and former faculty member, Wafaa Bilal, explores how he uses participatory art and performance to address issues around war and immigration based on his own experience as an Iraqi refugee. Finally, we also profile Temporary Services, an artist collective composed of former SAIC faculty members who are now major figures in the social practice scene here in Chicago. Temporary Services will be showing new work in the A Proximity of Consciousness exhibition described above.

As you can see, social practice is a key part of who SAIC is as an institution, and members of our community are involved in a wide variety of issues, from education and sustainability to prison reform and art therapy. I encourage you to seek these out and to understand how our school continues to contribute to this growing, and important, field.

Walter E. Massey
President, School of the Art Institute of Chicago