Okay, but can you give me an example?

When Helicon Collaborative compiled their research for Mapping the Landscape of Socially Engaged Art, their findings revealed there are thousands of artists working in socially engaged practices in communities across the country. Recognizing that no subset can represent the entire spectrum of practice, Helicon offered a few case studies to illustrate the varied manner in which socially engaged art can take shape. These snapshots surface some of the distinctions between this work and conventional studio-based methods, particularly in regard to the “materials,” partners, and stakeholders involved.


Activist methods are as salient as conventional aesthetics. Projects seek tangible change in social, political, or economic conditions.

Possible examples include legislative art and cultural organizing.


Projects focus on raising awareness about an issue or changing the way it’s understood. Artists may use commercial or mass culture platforms.

Pop justice is one example.


Work is motivated by affecting the conditions of a particular geography. Civic goals like health, safety, or economic growth may be central, along with cross-sector partnerships.

Creative placemaking and civic practice could be described this way.


Projects may pivot on broad participation from community members, and/or reflect the cultural expression and identities of people excluded from the mainstream.

Examples include community-based art, participatory art, and work generated in specific cultural traditions.

  • Photo Courtesy of Mondo Bizarro

Cry You One

Mondo Bizarro and ArtSpot Productions
2013 - present
South Louisiana

Cry You One is an outdoor performance and online storytelling platform from the heart of Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands. Envisioned by the New Orleans-based companies ArtSpot Productions and Mondo Bizarro, Cry You One celebrates the peoples and cultures of South Louisiana while turning clear eyes on the crisis of our vanishing coast. The project’s online platform documents and shares stories of Louisiana natives who have been affected by environmental degradation. New content for the website is documented and released as Cry You One tours to other areas that share similar environmental concerns.

Slide 1: Photo Credit Melissa Cardona, Courtesy of ArtSpot Productions. Slide 2: Photo Credit Courtesy of ArtSpot Productions. Slide 3: Photo Credit Melissa Cardona, Courtesy of ArtSpot Productions. Slide 4: Photo Credit Courtesy of John Micheal Kohler Center and ArtSpot Productions.

climate activists, coastal inhabitants and ecosystems, generations of Louisiana residents, Gulf Future Coalition, historians and keepers of the culture, the Louisiana bayou, any region vulnerable to climate change (i.e. the planet)

Partner Types
climate activists, coastal inhabitants and ecosystems, generations of Louisiana residents, Gulf Future Coalition, historians and keepers of the culture, the Louisiana bayou, any region vulnerable to climate change (i.e. the planet)

Participant Types
academics, activists, cultural organizers, general public/theater goers, historians, local actors, dancers, and performers, members of the Los Isleños Heritage and Cultural Society, residents of St. Bernard Parish, scientists

choreography and dance, creative placemaking, cultural competency, cultural organizing, deep listening, digital storytelling, ensemble theater-making, musical instruments and composition, policy briefs and recommendations, site-responsive outdoor performance, textiles/costumes, voice

Question Bridge

Chris Johnson, Hank Willis Thomas, Kamal Sinclair and Bayeté Ross Smith
2012 - present

Question Bridge is an innovative transmedia project that facilitates a dialogue between a critical mass of Black men from diverse and contending backgrounds and creates a platform for them to represent and redefine black male identity in America. The project uses digital media (mobile and web-based) to create a “living archive of Black male voices that can be searched by location and timeframe.” Its online platform is complemented by installations and presentations at major museums, film festivals, and conferences—providing a space in real time to ask and answer questions about Black male identity. Question Bridge also includes a curriculum designed for high school students.

Slide 1: Photo Credit Cary Horton, Courtesy of Missouri History Museum. Slides 2 and 3: Photo Credit Courtesy of Question Bridge.

Stakeholders: academics and scholars, activists, African-Amerricans, American media, Black men (current and future generations), incarcerated Black men, general public (national and international)

Partner(s): art centers, conference organizers, film festivals, film producers and filmmakers, high schools, incarcerated men, local and national foundations focused on art and media, museums and galleries, universities

Participants: Black men across generations from 24 cities in the U.S. (to date), conference participants, film festival audiences, foundation executives, high school and college students, museum-goers, racial justice activists and scholars, general public (national and international)

Skills and Materials: archives, art installation, Black male identity, community organizing, cultural competency, curriculum design, deep listening, definitions of masculinity, digital media (mobile and web), documentary film, facilitation (discussions, roundtables, and workshops)

Percent for Green

Alicia Grullón
2014 - present
Bronx, NY

Percent for Green is a project described by its artist as social sculpture designed to culminate in a proposal to New York City Council for a bill that would earmark 1% of City-funded construction costs to support green initiatives in under-served neighborhoods like the South Bronx, where Grullón was born and raised.

All Slides: Photo Credit Courtesy of Alicia Grullón

low-income neighborhoods, municipalities with strong tax bases but minimal public investment in parks and green spaces, municipalities with precedent for investing in public art through tax subsidies, neighborhoods with little to no green space, neighborhoods on the front-lines of climate change impacts

Partner Types
artists, city planners, climate change scientists, community college, curators, environmental and social justice activists, grassroots community organizations, museums, national arts funders, New York City Parks, NYC K-12 public schools

Participant Types
Bronx residents and community members

advocacy, community organizing, cultural competency, deep listening, existing legislation/legal precedents, facilitation (discussions, roundtables, and workshops), gathering signatures, one-off broadsides published in communities, public programming, publishing, social sculpture

Project Row Houses

Rick Lowe along with James Bettison, Bert Long, Jesse Lott, Floyd Newsum, Bert Samples, and George Smith
1993 - Present
Houston, Texas

Project Row Houses is a community-based arts and culture non-profit organization in Houston’s northern Third Ward, one of the city’s oldest African American neighborhoods. Founded in 1993 as a result of the vision of local African-American artists wanting a positive creative presence in their own community, Project Row Houses shifts the view of art from traditional studio practice to a more conceptual base of transforming the social environment.

Slide 1: Photo Credit Peter Molick, Courtesy of Project Row Houses. Slide 2: Photo Credit Alex Barber, Courtesy of Project Row Houses. Slide 3: Photo Credit Bridget Fernandes, Courtesy of Project Row Houses. Slide 4: Photo Credit Alex Barber, Courtesy of Project Row Houses. Slide 5: Photo Credit Alex Barber, Courtesy of Project Row Houses.

communities with a lack of space, Houston residents living on low-incomes, local and national artists, local and national sponsors, residents of communities with no affordable housing, sustainable developers, Third Ward residents

Partner Types
artisans, architects, community members, corporate sponsors, creative entrepreneurs, designers, local and national artists, local and national funders in art and community development, vendors

Participant Types
creative entrepreneurs, designers, emerging artists (local and national), local community members and volunteers, Third Ward residents, vendors, young mothers in Houston

affordable housing, advocacy, architecture, artist residencies, community markets, community organizing, education, installation space, land banking, local history, pre-fabricated “residential cores,” public art, shotgun houses built in the 1930s, support for developing artists, tax credits

Do You Want the Cosmetic Version?

Los Angeles Poverty Department, Queens Museum
January - May 2014
Queens, New York

In 2014, the Queens Museum presented the retrospective Do You Want the Cosmetic Version or the Real Deal?: Los Angeles Poverty Department 1985-2014. Founded on LA’s Skid Row in 1985, Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD) creates performances that connect the experience of people living in poverty to the social forces that shape their lives. As part of the retrospective, LAPD participated in a five-week residency organized by the Queens Musem. As part of the residency LAPD partnered with Drogadictos Anonimos (DA), a local recovery group based in Queens. Among other activities, members of DA performed in a reprisal of Agentes & Activos, a Spanish-language version of LAPD’s best-known work, Agents & Assets. The performance included members of both LAPD and DA re-enacting a 1998 House of Representatives hearing on allegations that the CIA was complicit in crack cocaine trafficking into the Los Angeles area.

Slide 1: Photo Credit Henriëtte Brouwers, Courtesy of LAPD. Slide 2: Photo Credit Courtesy of Queens Museum. Slide 3: Photo Credit Courtesy of LAPD.

advocates and activists, neighborhoods under threat of gentrification, people experiencing homelessness, people in recovery from addiction, people living on low incomes, people who are incarcerated, residents of Corona and Flushing, Queens as well as Skid Row, social service professionals

Partner Types
Drogadictos Anonimos, Los Angeles Poverty Department, local and national art funders, Queens Museum

Participant Types
Corona and Flushing residents, general public, Queens Museum attendees, Skid Row residents

advocacy, community organizing, generative listening, installation and exhibition design, resource networking, responsive theater and multi-platformed storytelling