Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Visual Arts

First Advisor

Lorraine Morales Cox




engaged, practice, public, project, community, collective


Since the early 1990s, the American art world has witnessed the rise of critical social artistic practices that are largely collaborative projects driven by participatory experiences between artists and community. With its roots in the activist, protest, and public art movements beginning in the late 60s, socially engaged art steps out of traditional viewing spaces like the museum and directly confronts society’s object-based and monetary understanding of art. Driven by process and dependent on coalition building, creative problem solving, and public service rather than profit, socially engaged critical practice is complex and demands a new vocabulary through which to critique art. Examples of socially engaged art vary as artists engage with complex issues in their chosen zone of impact. Generally, projects deal with issues of global climate change, race, economic disparity, sexuality, and gender. While incredibly different in their implementation, all visualize socio-political anxieties for broader audiences. This study traces the evolution of these practices in the United States from their historical origin in the 1960s on through contemporary case studies. Looking at a range of issues, notably the alternative locations and funding of projects, my thesis proposes frameworks and new vocabularies for understanding, critiquing and assessing socially engaged art.