Learning is odd. Some lessons you learn only after years of obstinacy, denial, and making mistakes. In the case of socially-engaged cultural practice, I am still learning, and a lot of that learning is about how to be a good person in relationship to others. You don’t learn that kind of thing overnight, or even in a semester.
How then do you teach social practice? And how do you teach it in a semester? This is my task for Fall 2016 when I am still very much, a learner. Moreover, how do you teach a field that is living, breathing, and changing before one’s very eyes? In reading through Nato Thompson’s Living as Form, published in 2012, for syllabus material, I am struck by how much the landscape of socially-engaged art has changed in just 4 short years. And of course, this choice to construct a particular narrative history of socially-engaged art is a political choice, one fraught with the hierarchies of the formal art world that often exclude “community arts” and activist practices.
I don’t always refer to formal art history—my practice is much more shaped by the intellectual legacies of post-colonialism and black feminism—and my choices in crafting this course reflect that tension between an aestheticized practice and a more straightforward social justice approach. When it comes to the broad range of socially-engaged practice and topics, the course that has taken shape is not by any means comprehensive. It is a specific response to the knowledge and context needed to develop a site-based artist proposal for Trans.lation Vickery Meadow, an arts and cultural platform focused on issues of neighborhood identity and equity.
In a larger schema, this course is a political intervention within the Texas pedagogical landscape. Texas ranks 49th in the United States in per pupil spending, and its public education textbooks are riddled with inaccuracies. No wonder then, that students are systemically disenfranchised from developing the knowledge, analysis, and voice needed to address the structural inequalities manifest in their daily reality.
Teaching is how we can interrogate the status quo and create space for possibility, and because of that, in Texas, our most important task is to teach. One such space of possibility that I’d like to open up is that learning is always amplified when it is shared. And moreover, that learning is produced through dialogue and critique. So please take, read, add, suggest, critique: