What is Art for Social Change?

Across Canada and around the world, artists are working with diverse communities to create positive change through processes of participatory art making. A variety of terms are used to describe this diverse field, each with its own nuanced goals and practices. These include: art for social change (ASC), socially-engaged art, community-engaged arts, animation culturelle, community cultural development, cultural mediation, social (practice) arts, and participatory arts. In addition, arts education, recreational arts, creative arts therapies, popular education and creative leadership processes can be closely related to these forms.

In an attempt to clarify an increasingly diverse set of practices, we identify three forms of ASC:

  • artist-driven practices, wherein social change commentary/content is in the work of a single artist or group of artists;
  • practices in which the artist acts as a facilitator or catalyst for artmaking with groups using specialized forms of art creation;
  • dialogic practices in which the artist acts as a facilitator in group problem-solving contexts (such as strategic planning) using arts-based processes but not necessarily with the goal of group art presentation.

In the context of the ASC! Project, our five-year research study of ASC in Canada, our focus is on art that is created collectively by groups of people (who may not self-identify as artists) about what matters to them, with this process facilitated and nurtured by an artist or group of artists. Designed to engage heads, hearts, and hands to create dialogue and positive change, ASC is rooted in furthering social, environmental, and political justice and is a form of cultural democracy.