Categories:  Campus, Faculty

‘Open Engagement’ conference highlights art, social justice

Artist J. Morgan Puett

Artist J. Morgan Puett speaks at Open Engagement 2014.

The School of Art and Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago will be hosting “Open Engagement 2017 – Justice,” a three-day conference April 21-23 at sites throughout the city that will focus on art and social justice issues.

“Open Engagement” is in its ninth year and brings hundreds of artists, activists, educators and institutional representatives together to focus on the field of socially engaged art, according to curators Lisa Yun Lee, associate professor and director of UIC’s School of Art and Art History, and Romi Crawford, associate professor in visual and critical studies and liberal arts at the School of the Art Institute.

Chicago is the perfect city to host the event this year with its theme of justice because it is under the national spotlight for gun violence, school closings and police brutality issues, say the curators.

“The weight of historical injustice interrupts daily life nationally and internationally. There is no better time than now, and no better city than Chicago, for examining pathways to create justice and exploring the manifold artistic strategies that demand and enact fairness, and equality,” Lee and Crawford write in the curatorial statement for the event.

Lisa Lee stands next to a tower of books

Lisa Yun Lee

The program will feature local, national and international presenters with more than 100 workshops, panel discussions and projects. The aim is to provide training for attendees to address creative work at the intersection of art and social justice. Evening events will include “queer-inclusive” nightlife celebrations.

Some of the partners for the event include: the Art Institute of Chicago; the Gallery 400/Threewalls/Propeller Fund; the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum; the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; and the National Museum of Mexican Art.

In addition, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Art Institute of Chicago will co-host a pre-conference program on April 20, which will include additional panels, breakout sessions and a performance.

“We believe socially engaged art and artists challenge us and one another to ask trenchant questions, to reflect, to seek creative solutions, to hold nations and institutions and each other accountable,” according to the curators.

Among the questions to be discussed:

  • What does it mean to work in solidarity with communities that are marginalized and most challenged by racial, economic, and gender injustice around issues that impact them?
  • As artists, curators, and cultural producers, how are we implicated in the particular conditions we are working in, all the while engaged in challenging and changing these conditions?
  • The radical power of social practice has come in many respects from its inclusiveness. But this promise has not yet been experienced in the lived realities of most people who make up the field. How do we push for more fair and equitable distribution of resources?
  • Is it possible to advance solutions and encourage actions in a social movement for justice while preserving one’s individual artistic practice?
  • What is the unique contribution that art and artists can make to the efforts to create a more just society? In what ways do we want to continue to insist on the differences between artistic practices committed to social justice and the organizing that is taking place in grassroots communities?

The conference will offer a sliding-scale registration fee beginning at $40. No one will be turned away for lack of funds, according to the organizers. For the schedule, full partner list, locations and fees go online or email info@openengagement.info.