What do (social practice) artists do?

I recently asked my networks of artists the question, ‘what do (social practice) artists do? The question took inspiration from Frances Whitehead's What Artists Know, spurred also by the confusion I sometimes meet in others around what the art is in this type of practice, and having to explain how play or talk is art - I feel now is a time to really call out for what this practice is and how it does it.

Below is a (very) first level complication of the many comments and views I received in response to this question. The initial call can be found here on FB.


We do things

Play, talk, listen, build, design, make, knit, cook, garden, storytell, film, draw, mould...

Disrupt, provoke, draw attention to, question, protest, experiment, inspire, raise awareness, trust, observe, connect, dream, fail, succeed...

Outside of institutions and institutional thinking


We work with

The community, community of place, of interest, of the marginalised, the silent

Self and other, individual and collective, everyone as equal participant, collaborate, co-produce

As an expert in our own right, with other experts in theirs - which has paramount the community as expert in their own lives

Not knowing what will happen


We make things...

Street furniture, meals, murals, films, stories, gardens, sculpture, song, images...

Prototypes, pilots, tests, debates, progress, encounters, fun, mess

Join together, people together, people and their place, autonomous and in solidarity


We help things happen...

People to see, people to speak, people to listen, people to reflect, people to change things, people to act again, relationships to form, networks to be made

Break resistance, encourage resistance, right wrongs, question the status quo and the ‘always-done’

Places to look nicer, places to feel better to be in, places to work for the people that use them, shape the future space and place as agents of change


We work in...

Streets, squares, houses, shops, parks, canals, car parks, schools

Physical spaces, material form, emotional places, contradictions, harmonies

Contested spaces, left-over spaces, forgotten spaces, hidden spaces, derelict spaces, potential places, the grassroots

Communities, businesses, offices, city hall’s, governments


Social practice art is active in the realm of creative and social interactions, embedded in its community location and equally concerned with the art process as much as the art object created through it, and the relation between its knowledge and that of others.

Social practice art is ever-evolving, all-encompassing and unbounded; no-one exhaustive or definitive list can exist for such a pursuit, but with social practice artists being called on by many – from the bottom up and the community, to top-down and the government – to help create material, social, cultural, political and economic betterment, there is cause now for a moment of reflection, articulation and further dialogue on what social practice artists do, where, how and why.


Cara Courage, work-in-(endless)-progress, 2015

Created in collaboration with: Jason Bowman, Donna Close, John Collins McCormick, Lloyd Davis, Terry Hardy, Sam Hewitt, Dimitri Launder, Shauta Marsh, Anita McKeown, Carol Parker, Rachel Preston Prinz, Stephen Pritchard, Matt Rudkin, Simone Sheridan, Lindsey Smith,  Charles Stanton, Peta Taylor, Dan Thompson, Chris Thorpe-Tracey, Daniella Vg, Jim Walker, Simon Wilkinson, Ed Woodham.