Cleveland Institute of Art Hosts Conference and Exhibition on Socially Engaged Art and Design

This weekend, the Cleveland Institute of Art hosts a three-day conference, Unruly Engagements: on the Social Turn in Contemporary Art and Design, as well as an opening reception and panel discussion for their latest exhibition, Community Works: Artist as Social Agent. Both seek to explore socially engaged art and design, and their roles in contemporary culture.

The conference, exhibition, opening reception and panel discussion take place in CIA’s Gund Building (11141 East Blvd.). The panel features all six of the exhibition’s socially-conscious artists.

“This exhibition, and especially the panel discussion that opens it, present new perspectives on the roles that art and artists can play in affecting social change,” says CIA President Grafton Nunes. “We’re looking forward to hearing the ideas of these diverse artists as they discuss – from their very different points of view – this notion of the artist as social agent.”

The exhibition features works of photography, video, installation and other media exploring narratives of identity, displacement and exile by Dor Guez (Israel), Maj Hasager (Denmark), Susan Jahoda (USA ), Ch-Yu Liao (Taiwan), José Carlos Teixeira (Portugal) and Caroline Woolard (USA).

“It’s quite a lineup. By bringing in visiting artists who represent a huge variety of perspectives and backgrounds, we hope to present a comprehensive look at the range of expression that may be considered socially engaged art,” says Bruce Checefsky, director of CIA’s Reinberger Galleries.

Hasager explores oppressive totalitarianism through a group of Polish women, using photographs and possessions. Liao’s work will be installed in CIA’s Joseph McCullough Center for the Visual Arts (11610 Euclid Ave.). She is currently serving as a resident artist at CIA through the Cleveland Foundation’s Creative Fusion grant. During her residency, she has met with students, critiqued their work and worked with them to help create her newest work for this exhibition. Her work explores memory, relationships, imagination, body image, gender roles and food culture through video and still-image installations.

Similarly, Guez uses photography and video installations to present personal histories of the Christian-Palestinian minority living in the Middle East. Teixeira uses a variety of media – including photography, video essays, installation, text-based work and live performances in his exploration of identity, language, otherness, boundaries and displacement. New York-based Jahoda and Woolard’s BFAMFAPhD presents statistics about students graduating with creative degrees, discusses their collective, potential power and draws, from the engaged viewer, proposals for organizing efforts for positive change.

“Socially engaged art presents some of the most challenging concepts in contemporary art,” adds Checefsky. “Artists engaged in social practice, including the lineup at CIA for our exhibition, challenge the conventional paradigm of art as a commodity by putting ideas into action and engaging the community in a meaningful conversation.”

Community Works is presented in conjunction with CIA’s Unruly Engagements: on the Social Turn in Contemporary Art and Design – a three-day conference exploring the definition and role of socially engaged art and design in contemporary culture.

“Presenters and participants are coming from more than 15 different countries to discuss and debate the meaning and value of social practice in art and design,” says Nunes. “This is exactly the kind of contribution we should be making to thought leadership in the visual arts.”

Author and University of California, Berkeley professor Shannon Jackson will deliver the keynote address on Thursday, Nov. 6. At the conclusion of the conference, on Saturday, Nov. 8, author, artist and Portland State University Assistant Professor Jen Delos Reyes will serve as special respondent.

During the conference, more than 30 participants from the US and around the world will discuss themes including Socially Engaged Art and the Public Sphere, Artists as Activists: Voices from the Great Lakes Region, Historical Precedents and Present Strategies of Social Practice, Urban Design and Design in the City as a Force for Change, Aesthetics, Ethics, and Politics and Student Agency and Society: Visions for the 21st Century Art School.

Both the conference and exhibition are part of CIA’s year-long series, also titled Community Works: Artist as Social Agent. The series includes three new, field-based undergraduate courses in CIA’s curriculum and another exhibition, Women to Watch – Ohio, running March 31 through May 2.

Over the past year or so, recent events in the local art community have led to a dialogue about artists’ role in the community. From Loren Naji’s legal trouble to the Creative Workforce Fellowships debate over “Artistic Excellence vs. Community Vibrancy” and from ethical issues surround artists’ role in urban gentrification to the upcoming Republican National Convention, now is an important time for artists to examine their ability to positively affect their community and its residents. Similarly, the community and its leaders should explore how our region’s most creative residents can be better utilized as a resource to improve our quality of life.

The exhibition, panel discussion and opening reception are free and open to the public, but you’ll need to register for the conference at Tickets to the Unruly Engagements Conference are $35 general admission and $20 for students in advance. At the door, general admission tickets are $45 and students are $25. 
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