Re-framed: Social Practice Brings the Public into the Picture

Social practice projects can take many forms — journalism, community organizing, even a shop. The goal is usually to stage actions that engage people and make them think — and talk. But they might not look, on the surface, much like art.

"For me," artist Stephanie Syjuco explains here, "the best social practice projects actually try to attract people to join a conversation."

Artists Chris Johnson and Chris Treggiari discuss their works for Who Is Oakland? at the Oakland Museum of California, in which both took to the streets to make art by recording conversations and documenting the stories of people they encountered.

Today's social practice art often has roots in participatory works of the past. In 2002 Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July launched
Learning to Love You More
, an early, pre-social-media website where participants could find assignments to complete — such as "Draw a scene from a movie that made you cry" — and view others' submissions. Syjuco's Shadowshop, commissioned by SFMOMA in 2010-11, turned a museum gallery into a store in which locarl artists and visitors were invited to explore themes of capitalism, commodity, and counterfeit.

Many social practice artists hope their work can not only capture participants' responses but also transform their perspectives — and perhaps even lead to social change. "The challenge," says Johnson, "is how do you get people to care about social issues?"