Art Term

Socially engaged practice

Socially engaged practice describes art that is collaborative, often participatory and involves people as the medium or material of the work


Assemble Group Photo 2014

© Assemble


Socially engaged practice, also referred to as social practice or socially engaged art, can include any artform which involves people and communities in debate, collaboration or social interaction. This can often be organised as the result of an outreach or education program, but many independent artists also use it within their work. The term new genre public art, coined by Suzanne Lacy, is also a form of socially engaged practice.

The participatory element of socially engaged practice, is key, with the artworks created often holding equal or less importance to the collaborative act of creating them. As Tom Finkelpearl outlines in his book What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation, social practice is ‘art that’s socially engaged, where the social interaction is at some level the art.’

Social practice and activism

Socially engaged practice can be associated with activism because it often deals with political issues. Artists who work within this field will often spend much time integrating into the specific community which they wish to help, educate or simply share with. Artist Rick Lowe explains:

You have to spend years developing relationships… It’d be an arrogant disregard of a community to come in and think you can grasp all the complexities of a place in a short time.
Interview with Carolina A. Miranda, LA Times, 2014

The artists’ aim could be to help this community work towards a common goal, raise awareness and encourage conversation around issues, or perhaps to improve their physical or psychological conditions.

2015’s winners of the Turner Prize, Assemble, are a perfect example of artists using socially engaged practice because they collaborate with residents to improve their local area.

explore this term

  • Who is Suzanne Lacy?

    Get to know one of the artists on display in the Tate Modern Switch House galleries

  • Blurred Lines

    This research paper highlights some of the core issues related to funding structures available for socially engaged practices in India, with an emphasis on their limitations and pitfalls. Questioning the roles that artists’ play while working with ideas of activism, politics and art; as well as addressing the key motivation and driving force behind art projects that engage communities at grassroots level. It is an exercise in self-reflectivity for the author/ artist’s practice at the end of a decade of working with such projects in India.

  • Tate Exchange

    Drop into Tate Exchange to hear a talk, take part in a workshop, share your ideas and explore new ways of thinking about art

selected artists in the collection

selected artworks in the collection