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Academics . Community Works . Unruly Engagements Conference 

Unruly Engagements Conference

More than 225 scholars, curators, artists, designers and students from 11 countries and 17 states converged on Cleveland Institute of Art in early November 2014 for an international conference on socially engaged art. 

Unruly Engagements: On the Social Turn in Contemporary Art and Design, CIA's international conference on socially engaged art, drew more than 225 scholars, curators, artists, designers, and students for three days of presentations  and networking in the heart of Cleveland's cultural mecca, University Circle.

Participants came from Canada, Columbia, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Mexico, Portugal, Sweden, U.K., and U.S. and the following colleges and universities:

  • Alfred University
  • Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem
  • Bowling Green State University
  • Brooklyn College
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Columbia College Chicago
  • Cleveland Institute of Art
  • College for Creative Studies
  • College of Wooster
  • Concordia University
  • Georgia State University
  • Hartford Art School, University of Hartford
  • Harvard University
  • Kent State University
  • Malmö Art Academy, Sweden
  • McDaniel College (MD)
  • National Autonomous University of Mexico
  • Oberlin College
  • Otis College of Art and Design
  • Portland State University
  • Queens College
  • Shawnee State University
  • State University of New York College at Old Westbury
  • Teesside University
  • University of the Arts London
  • University of California, Santa Barbara
  • University of Florida
  • University of Lincoln
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • University of Michigan, Flint
  • University of West Georgia
  • Washburn University
  • Washington University (St Louis)
  • Yale University
  • York University

They came to focus on the central question: what does it mean in contemporary art and design to be socially engaged? Through 38 different presentations by 52 presenters -- and in countless spin-off conversations -- they examined various approaches to social practices in both art and design in an effort to understand the concepts, terms, and varieties of engagement of the past two decades or so. Among the primary objectives of the conference was to facilitate public discourse on the feasibility of interventionist projects in art and design in urban environments, with special attention to “rust-belt” cities like Cleveland.  

Sessions included: 

  • 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
  • Student Agency and Society: Visions for the 21st Century Art School

Lunchtime presentations included a collection of insult humor from around the world (Nov. 7), and the ideas behind a collective that is “Energizing Community with Mobile Sauna Sweat Batteries” (Nov. 8).

An exhibition of works by international artists titled Community Works: Artist as Social Agent,  opened multi-layered narratives of identity, exile, and displacement through works of photography, video, installation and other media.  A public panel discussion involving all five exhibited artists moderated by Reinberger Galleries Director Bruce Checefsky drew more than 115 people. Participating were:

  • Maj Hasager (Denmark)
  • Dor Guez (Israel)
  • Susan Jahoda (New York City)
  • José Carlos Teixeira (Portugal)
  • Caroline Woolard (New York City)

Unruly Engagements was a key component of Community Works: Artist as Social Agent, CIA's yearlong commitment to exploring social agency and the visual arts. Questions? Email us at

Conference organizers:

  • Dr. Gary D Sampson, Professor, Art and Design History, Cleveland Institute of Art
  • Jose Carlos Teixeira, Champney Family Professor, Art History and Art, Cleveland Institute of Art, Case Western Reserve University
  • Tina Cassara, Professor, Fiber Arts and Performance Art, Cleveland Institute of Art

Check this web page again in early 2015 for videos, podcasts, and photographs documenting the conference. Click here to see live reactions from the conference on Twitter.

About Keynote Speaker Shannon Jackson

Author and scholar Shannon Jackson opened the Unruly Engagements conference with a keynote address titled "Rules of Engagement." Jackson is the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Chair in the Arts and Humanities at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is Professor of Rhetoric and of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies. She is also the Director of the Arts Research Center. Professor Jackson was recently selected to receive a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation fellowship for 2014/2015.

Her most recent book is Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics (Routledge 2011), and she is working on a book about The Builders Association. Her previous books are Lines of Activity: Performance, Historiography, and Hull-House Domesticity (2000) and Professing Performance: Theatre in the Academy from Philology to Performativity (2004).

About Special Respondent Jen Delos Reyes

At the conclusion of Unruly Engagements, Jen Delos Reyes served as special respondent to the conference, offering an assessment with personal insights. Delos Reyes is an artist, author,  and assistant professor at Portland State University who teaches socially engaged art and has participated in numerous conferences and symposia on the topic. She has conducted research on the history of socially engaged art, group work, band dynamics, folk music, and artists’ social roles. She has exhibited works across North America and Europe, and has contributed writing to several catalogues and institutional publications. She has received numerous grants and awards, including a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

George Gund Foundation
Cuyahoga Arts and Culture