call for proposals – Open Engagement Conference

Open Engagement (OE) is an annual, three-day, artist-led conference
dedicated to expanding the dialogue around and creating a site of care
for the field of socially engaged art. The conference highlights the
work of transdisciplinary artists, activists, students, scholars,
community members, and organizations working within the complex social
issues and struggles of our time.

Since 2007, OE has presented seven conferences in two countries and
four cities, hosting over 1,300 presenters and over 5,000 attendees.
Annual programming is selected by committees comprised of artists,
educators, professionals, and community members from a free, open call
for proposals.

Curatorial Statement

“The only standard for judging socially engaged art should be how much justice it creates in the world.”  –– Rick Lowe

Justice is the theme of the 2017 Open
Engagement Conference. 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. Chicago is a city that is under the
spotlight and in the news for horrific gun violence, devastating public
school closures, and police brutality that is carried out with impunity.
These are conditions, of course, that have been a part of black and
working class peoples’ lives in our city and across this nation for a
long time, but only most recently with the rapt attention of the media.

As the co-curators for OE 2017, we
are committed to an exhilarating and expansive exploration of this
year’s theme. We are equally committed to OE’s mission of creating a
site of critical care and
critical inquiry for the vast, complex and diverse field of individuals
and organizations working at the intersections of art and activism.

There is a fierce urgency of now
for artists and cultural workers who audaciously believe in the immense
capacity of art to help shift our sense of what is possible, to unleash
our radical imaginations, to model and experiment with new ways of
being in the world, to enact social change.

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.
Some of the questions we encourage participants to grapple with,
formally and informally, during the conference include the following:

  • What does it mean to work in
    solidarity with communities that are marginalized and the 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
  • The radical power of social practice
    has come in many respects from its inclusivity. 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
  • 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?

In solidarity with the organizers of
Open Engagement, we will relentlessly push to ensure that the diversity
of people who make up the ecology of social practice can be present at
this year’s OE. Arundhati Roy has provocatively suggested the following:
“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the
deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” We want to hear from
the widest possible range of stakeholders.

No justice, no peace,
Romi Crawford & Lisa Lee

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