So the question was about whether there was a better word/s for this thing called socially engaged practice. These are some of the things that were said in the conversation by different people:

- I find it hard to describe what my work is to audiences, to arts funding bodies“

- Are the names / words / definitions only for funding bodies?

- I don't like the term ‘socially engaged’. It sounds corporate, as if it was invented by an official, and it has a kind of nag of government driven criteria that we capitulate to.

In trying to find another name, we said what we thought ‘socially engaged practice’ meant:

- working with ‘communities’

- working with people and for people

- the work doesn't fit within a ‘normal’ arts space

- often the people involved wouldn't call themselves artists

- it's a way of working, a social way

- something happens that creates a shift, and that's often through dialogue

- not a determined singular outcome - it's an investment of time and energy, there's often a proximity to others, it's physical, conversational.

- it's to do with all the many different ways that we can converse and exchange

- it's emerged from contemporary practice, out of site-specific practice too

- it's distancing itself from ‘community arts’ and the historical ways and modes that community arts has tended to work with people and the public

- it's inherently political

- it's what happens when your life has art in it, not the art over there and life here, but the two are absolutely connected

- connecting, facilitating, dialogue, process, fluidity.


We cited some examples to test out:

- Martin Creed's bell ringing project? Was that socially engaged? Some though it wasn't because Martin didn't talk with the participants, he just set the task, and thought it was participatory art. Some people thought it was socially engaged because of all the stuff that happened as a result or all around the project.

We talked about other kinds of names, like music has Punk or Heavy Metal - can we name it something like that so it's energising and active?!

What do we need this word, this term for?

- it's not for audiences, not for the people who are involved is it

- it's for the artists, it's for the funders.

”I want to know what I'm doing sometimes, I want to talk with others who may also be doing that."

We asked ourselves:

- Jeremy Deller does it

- what does he call it?

- Martin Creed does it and he calls each of his works a number regardless of what it ‘is’ or who engages it, or what form it takes. So he doesn't distinguish this kind of art from another kind.

- Mierle Laderman Ukeles - she named her art practice Maintenance Art, and she wrote an accompanying manifesto - she invented it in a rage! - specifically to create a new kind of practice that could be talked about and identified and understood by herself and by others working with her, or experiencing her work.

We talked about ‘value’. It's not about buying a ticket to see something, it's about taking part. Value is part of the medium of the project, it's moveable and not customer based. The value of exchange is not in the money, it's in the time, the exchange, facilitated by the artist.

It's good that it's hard to define! It should be - it doesn't have to be easy or soundbiteable to describe this kind of work.

So here's some other words we thought of:

Socially active

Fungal Living


Fifth Wall



Open art


We didn't think they were much better. So left it at that. But it was a good conversation and we were very socially engaged.