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The book reveals how the ‘social value of art’ may have one meaning for a policy maker, another for a museum and still yet another for an artist – and it is therefore in the interaction between these agents that we learn the most about the importance of rhetoric and interpretation. As a trajectory in art history, socially engaged art has a long and established history. However, in recent years—or since ‘the social turn’ that occurred in the 1990s—the rhetoric surrounding the social value of art has been assimilated by cultural policy makers and museums. Interdisciplinary in its approach, and bringing together contributions from artists, curators and academics, the volume explores rhetoric, social value and the arts within different social, political and cultural contexts.



1. Introduction

The Introduction explains the rationale for a volume, highlighting the need for an interdisciplinary approach to social value and the arts. It describes the benefit of acknowledging the social, political, economic and artistic agendas that charge the cultural sector today. The editors explain the four constituent subsections that make up the volume: Part I Policy, Part II Theory, Part III Practice and Artistic Responses, and Part IV Museum and Institutional Responses. Parts I and II serve to map out the contextual foundations underpinning social value and the arts – both in terms of theory-based reflections and research on recent cultural policy – while Parts III and IV concern the lived experience of artists and arts institutions. Brief summaries of each chapter conclude the Introduction.
Nicola Mann



2. Who Sets the Agenda? Changing Attitudes Towards the Relevance of Small-Scale Visual Arts Organisations in the UK

This text traces the changing attitudes and arguments to social relevance at stake in and used by small-scale visual arts organisations. It seeks to identify who first presented ‘relevance’, as a means of legitimisation, and to establish at what point this occurred, with what intentions, and through what structures was it monitored. It becomes apparent that relevance describes an extremely varied and complex constellation of values and that demonstrating this multi-layered notion of value is central for the continued existence of the institutions that are the subject of evaluations.The contrast in the knowledge economy between the bustling research activity of the Arts Council and the as yet largely lacking exploration of the complexity and achievements of small-scale visual arts organisations prove to be especially problematic.
Rachel Mader

3. From Social Inclusion to Audience Numbers: Art Museums in the New Public Management

In the administrative climate cultivated by the New Public Management (NPM), New Labour tasked museums in the UK with demonstrating hard evidence of social inclusion. However, the administration mostly failed to offer a clear explanation of the concept of social inclusion, and its relevance to art museums. This chapter argues that the ambiguity of the New Labour social inclusion agenda, coupled with the administration’s demand for evidence, meant that audience numbers – one of the only data sets that could be gathered quickly and cheaply – became a proxy indicator of social inclusion. The chapter concludes that the political and administrative climate fostered by NPM is a useful framework for understanding how the collection of audience numbers became a key data set for museums in the late twentieth century.
Charlotte Bonham-Carter



4. Rethinking the Social Turn: The Social Function of Art as Functionless and Anti-Social

The present chapter discusses the notion of “Political Art,” one of the main concepts that emerged from theoretical reflection on the so-called social turn in art during the 1990s. One of the problems identified as stemming from such reflection is that the concept places excessively narrow normative constraints on notions of artistic practice, often to the detriment of less explicitly utilitarian works. The intention is to bring to light the presuppositions and clarify the rhetorical indeterminacy underlying contemporary conceptions of “Political Art” by contrasting it to the concept of “Politics of Aesthetics” as theorised by Jacques Rancière.
Ana Bilbao Yarto

5. The Paradoxical Engagement of Contemporary Art with Activism and Protest

As the contemporary art scene expands outwards with the financial intervention of the corporate sector, the underground cultural activities, experimental communities, and anti-establishment art spaces resist the systematization of the corporate logic. With what has been described as a “social turn of art,” we witness a shift in art’s engagement with politics, from igniting critical awakening in society to creating communal and egalitarian relations in the public spaces. Hence, the social, political, as well as aesthetic viability of these practices are often questioned. The tension between political activism and artistic representation still persists in the century-old paradox: aestheticization of politics that leads to spectacularization of art to make political ideologies attractive, and politicization of aesthetics that strips art of its autonomy, thus its power to operate as a creative process. Both views place art and politics in two different spheres that intersect and interact in desirable but dysfunctional ways. This article discusses that art is not trapped in the paradox between the aestheticization of politics and politicization of aesthetics; it finds its radical meaning and function in this position.
Tijen Tunalı

Practice and Artistic Responses


6. Arte de Conducta: On Tania Bruguera’s Tatlin’s Whisper Series

This chapter explores Tania Bruguera’s Tatlin’s Whisper series (2006–present) as enactments of an artistic practice that wants to be directly inserted in reality. First, I trace the genealogy of Arte de Conducta as a reaction against the Anglo-European category of “Performance” art, which anchors her work to a cultural tradition outside of the English-speaking context. Then, I discuss how Bruguera’s practice is informed by her engagement with the Escuela de Conducta Eduardo Marante, a short-lived correctional project that sought to re-educate and reintegrate Cuban youths into society. It concludes with an analysis of the Tatlin’s Whisper series and how they activate images from the past to catalyse a critical awareness of the now, and by extension of the future.
Andrés David Montenegro Rosero

7. PERCENT FOR GREEN: Creating Space as Consciousness

PERCENT FOR GREEN deals with looking at climate change in the Bronx and how art can serve community. It is a social practice art project that has consisted of roundtables, workshops, and planning with Bronx-based grassroots organizations for the People’s Climate March in 2014. It entails the creation of a functioning green bill created by participants through art. The goal is to pass a bill allotting funds from city-funded construction projects to sustainable green initiatives overseen by small grassroots organizations in Environmental Justice (EJ) communities in New York City. This chapter considers education as a possible medium in social practice projects and takes a close look on the idea of learning, collective consciousness, US educational trends, and how social practice art appears within this backdrop.
Alicia Grullón

Museums and Institutional Responses


8. Artists on the Gallery Payroll: A Case Study and a Corporate Turn

Many arts organisations rely on freelance artists to act as their public face: to deliver their education programme, to devise and manage community projects and to demonstrate to people how art can be relevant to their lives. While this type of involvement in the arts might be beneficial for the participants, what does it do for the artists involved?
This chapter uses a conversational format to compare lessons learnt by the authors whilst working for different UK galleries. The authors’ experience of Firstsite is particularly relevant. At Firstsite, Stewart developed strategies to support artists’ critical practice, whilst Bradby helped non-artists to stage projects inside and outside the gallery. Employed as an ‘Associate Artist’, Bradby’s stable long-term position within the organisation offers a comparison with the other more ephemeral roles that artists take up on behalf of galleries.
Lawrence Bradby, Judith Stewart

9. Collecting Social Things

How might collections preserve and reflect what is on offer by way of social practice, which includes, among other things, interactive installations, architectural propositions, public actions, community organising, the preparation and serving of food, and even policy reform? Do we collect documentation meant to evoke a past instance of socially created meaning, or something symbolic meant to communicate a poetics of a former work around a particular issue? What is the “object,” so to speak, of social engagement? What is the thing that is being collected, presented, or interpreted exactly? Things associated with social practice are entering major museum collections, at any rate, so how might these collection practices reflect this unwieldy field?
Joey Orr

10. Conclusions

This conclusion outlines the aims and intentions of the volume, and identifies common themes amongst the chapters. The volume draws together reflections on a variety of practices, policies and lived experiences, which all touch upon the social value of art. It includes analyses of instrumental cultural policies, explorations of the rhetorical tensions between social and political art in the context of neoliberal politics, experiences of artists engaged in social practices and museum responses to the social turn. The conclusion affirms that the volume intends to contextualise the rhetoric surrounding social value and the arts in a way that is useful for understanding its application to practice, policy and museums.
Charlotte Bonham-Carter


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