by Marilyn Anthony
A disenfranchised immigrant community, a blighted neighborhood or a pattern of social injustice may not be inspiration for every artist, but Daniel Tucker hopes to guide graduate students at Moore College of Art & Design to engage with such real life issues when they’re making art. He’s been charged with leading Moore’s new Social & Studio Practice program, a decade in the making.
When Moore Academic Dean Dona Lantz moved to the city in 2001, she discovered an arts scene rich in artists and organizations, but lacking academic programs focusing on the intersection of art, community practice and social engagement. Lantz saw the opportunity for Moore to become an “academic partner,” collaborating with nonprofits, public entities, studio artists, museum professionals and civic leaders who all desired to improve their efforts at community outreach and engagement.
In September 2014, she hired Tucker as an assistant professor, who “began reaching out to his national network, making connections even before the semester began,” says Lantz. Tucker, a Kentucky native, holds art degrees from the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Illinois. He self-identifies as “an artist, in that I sometimes make things, but I’m also an organizer, a teacher and a writer whose work is mostly about facilitating other people’s voices.”
One of the voices Tucker recruited to help with the new program is Philly-based painter Shira Walinsky, a passionate practitioner of socially committed art. Tucker tapped Walinsky to co-teach a class at Moore with Jane Golden, founder of Mural Arts, the nation’s largest publicly funded art program. Walinsky, a Mural Arts staff member for 15 years, describes a project of hers that perfectly embodies the philosophy of the program. Southeast by Southeast, located in a storefront at 1927 South 7 Street, started as an arts space, but now provides a dynamic array of social services to the Nepalese, Bhutanese and Burmese refugee communities. Walinsky compares making art in the community to the studio practice of “drawing from life and getting constant feedback from the world around you.” At places like Southeast by Southeast, socially engaged art “creates moments, what would have been “happenings” in the ’60s, and makes spaces where people get together for a change of consciousness rather than creating an object.”
Tucker also recruited Sarah Schwartz, curator for public practice at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, to share from her successes there, which began with “Open Field.” She describes it as a “creative commons” that gave voice to and made visible the work and interests of artists and non-artists in the same space. For Schwartz, “Social practice does what art does—it spurs our imagination, puts a different lens on an issue, sometimes it brings people together, and creates a space of possibility.” She views the new program at Moore as an amazing opportunity, encouraging artists and activists to “practice the practice.” What the Moore program represents, she says, “is not just collaboration, but cooperation to make us work better, to make the world better. It is a little utopic. But I’m unapologetic about that.”
And so is Daniel Tucker. He senses in younger artists, “a yearning to change the image and practice of the isolated studio artist, dissatisfaction with art as usual and an almost utopian hopefulness about the things art can do.”
Moore College of Art & Design and the Mural Arts Program present In/Out: Time, Pacing and Perspective in Socially-Engaged Art, July 31 to August 1, moore.edu/calendar/summer-symposium