Most awareness of the arts focuses on the final product and the outcome of artistic process: objects, productions, performances, publications and presentations. Mostly, the outcomes are observation based, with audience/community invited to view the end result of creative process, not the development or actual creation of such work. When “creative outreach” programs are devised to address such issues, they are most often developed and are guided by an institution’s education department and programs. While participatory, the implemented programs are often hands-on projects for which a group of individuals visit an institution, are provided a set of instructions, and then create an object with predetermined parameters.
Many arts institutions in the United States have recently presented Social Practice projects under the guise of artistic practice, but in reality, the focus has tended more toward problem solving for the institution (e.g., way finding, filling void spaces of the institution, dealing with permanent collections, trying to engage a different and often younger audience). The programs most often occur within or upon the institution’s grounds – participation only accessible if one visits the actual institutional structure. Like the hands-on activities, these series are mostly delegated to the institutions’ public programs, education or marketing staff, not led through artist/curator vision.
How does an institution develop a new vision for Social Practice residencies focused on the belief that the key to success is complete honesty, trust and openness by the institution, curator and artist with all potential collaborators and participants. An institution that is open to flexibility and adjustment throughout a project/residency as envisioned by the artist, leaving the opportunity for new discoveries to develop – creating the possibilities for even greater, successful and mutually beneficial outcomes for artist, institution and collaborator. These rules should apply to any institution exhibition, program or project, but they are even more essential when working with community and artists through Social Practice residence. Without an honest approach, trust cannot be secured to build connections with diverse individuals through an artist’s vision.
One major factor in realizing new and innovative projects without pre-determined outcomes/exhibitions is seed money. Financial support is essential to foster and promote non-traditional approaches that are sometimes difficult to describe and quantify. While an institution should anticipates active numbers of participants with each residency, is it possible for an institution to be more interested in measuring the matrix of success, not by the numbers, but by the quality of the outcomes.
The kinds of results that often occur at the conclusion of a residency or Social Practice based project are not always easily measured, in the traditional sense. For example, attendance figures, tour numbers and budgets may not be the most appropriate measures of “success.” Unfortunately, these are the most common types of statistics that funders and agencies require in grant reports, usually due immediately upon completion of the project.
In addition to the standard matrix measurements for such a residency program, can an institution also measure, validate and share the success of each Social Practice residency through the following supplementary and alternative methods: gathering of personal stories and testimonials (artist, institution, organizations, community); presenting at national conferences (American Association of Museums, Art/City, College Art Association, Open Engagement, Creative Time Summit); creating web and print based documentation (website, blog, catalogues); writing and publishing articles in national journals (Museum and Social Issues, Art Education, Journal of Art for Life); and direct sharing with colleagues at peer institutions.