Open Engagement 2007-Present

Directed and founded by Jen Delos Reyes

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 nine conferences in two countries and six cities, hosting over 1,800 presenters and over 7,000 attendees. Annual programming is selected by committees comprised of artists, educators, professionals, and community members from a free, open call for proposals.

Open Engagement has convened a national consortium of institutions and organizations dedicated to supporting socially engaged art. Representatives from A Blade of Grass, California College of the Arts, Oakland Museum of California, Queens Museum, and University of Illinois at Chicago School of Art & Art History will work closely with the Open Engagement core team to shape and situate the itinerant conference.



Each year will focus on a singular theme, exploring major issues at play and at stake in socially engaged art. The themes and sites for the next three conferences are: POWER in Oakland in 2016, JUSTICE in Chicago in 2017, and SUSTAINABILITY in New York in 2018. Annual programming will be chosen from an open call for proposals, under the direction of an appointed curator from the region and selection committee comprised of national consortium members alongside local partners, artists, educators, students, and other invested community members and organizations.

Since its founding in 2007, Open Engagement has grown significantly each year, widening its scope and reach, as well as serving as an important site of professional development and education around socially engaged art. With the formation of this consortium and next three conference locations confirmed, OE aims to create a site of care and dialogue for practitioners, institutions, and communities.

Art & Social Practice Workbook Exhibition, 2013

An exhibition featuring the Art and Social Practice Workbook edited by Erin Charpentier and Travis Neel; a volume of assignments from students, faculty, visiting artists, and alumni of Portland State University’s Art and Social Practice MFA Program.

This exhibition was part of the Art and Social Practice Reference Points book series edited by Jen Delos Reyes and published by Publication studio.

Participating Artists:
Erin Charpentier
Jen Delos Reyes
Heather Donahue
Fallen Fruit
Farm School
Harrell Fletcher
Zachary Gough
Alexi Hudon
Grace Hwang
Betty Marin
Mario Mesquita

Adam Moser
Travis Neel
Carmen Papalia
Douglas Paulson
Paul Ramirez Jonas
Sean Schumacher
Alysha Shaw
Molly Sherman
Temporary Services
Lexa Walsh
Caroline Woolard

Block Party, 2009

A collaborative exhibition with Lori Gordon and Jessica James Lansdon

My work explores connections, relationships and interactions through situating participation, sharing, group work and collaborations within an artistic discourse.*

Block Party is a playful experiment in community formation through the socially-engaged art practices of three artists. Jen Delos Reyes has invited collaborators Lori Gordon and Jessica James Lansdon to take part in an exhibition that develops out of encounters between the artists, the Sherwood Village Branch Library, and its neighborhood. The themes of Block Party: musical preference, intentionally overheard conversations, and partying are all reminiscent of high school, a time and place when one's relationships, especially with friends, most vividly impact our forming identities, and when the importance of our relationships is most dramatically expressed.

As a teenager, music was central to the way my friends and I defined who we were. Musical preference was the window through which everything else was organized. Politics, fashion, behavior, and friendships all depended on the music that one was listening to. My time in high school was expressed in a series of mix tapes created for friends that were shared while we cruised Regina's streets in the cars we borrowed from our parents. Asking, “What kind of music do you like?” was often a way of beginning a conversation with someone who was unfamiliar. Along similar lines, Jen Delos Reyes polled people who live in the Sherwood Village neighborhood to get a sense of their musical tastes.

Questions were asked to a cross section of the residents about the value of music in their lives, what kinds of music they listened to, whether listening to music made them feel like they were part of a community, and most importantly, what their favourite songs were.

Once the information was gathered, Delos Reyes assembled a volunteer choir for the performance and recording of her piece, Neighborhood Chorus. The chorus travelled through the neighborhood, stopping on the survey respondents' doorsteps to sing the residents' favourite songs.

By creating moments that cross between the dualities of art and everyday encounters, Jen Delos Reyes' socially-engaged project reconfigures the neighborhood from a collection of private domiciles into a nexus of musical tastes. Connections, relationships and group dynamics are used by Delos Reyes in projects like Neighborhood Chorus to explore aspects of artists' social roles and the value of art and community. Neighborhood Chorus brings into view the invisible connections that could possibly be forged among neighbors through expressions of musical preference.

The textual declarations that appear as Lori Gordon's Snippets are derived from things Gordon has heard or that have been said to her. By sharing these messages and ambiguous moments for local residents to consider and appreciate, Lori opens snippets of private conversations up to reinterpretation as advertising, poetry, song lyrics, or an insider's joke. For the Block Party exhibition, one large snippet is painted on the gallery wall, and this newspaper of Snippets

is being distributed throughout the Sherwood Village neighborhood. Local residents are invited to put these up in their windows as signs and to send documentation to the artist for addition to her online archive. It is a project that lays out the intersections of public spaces and private lives with a playfully interrogative gesture.

For the third piece in Block Party, Jessica James Lansdon is constructing an elaborate party space by creating and installing party decorations in the gallery. 

The centerpiece for her project, Party Animal, is a large wire sculptural armature of an animal. The remainder of the piece is a hybrid of a party, collaboration, performance art, installation and sculpture. All residents of the Sherwood Village neighborhood and beyond are invited to the gallery on September 12th to tear down the elaborate, plentiful and colourful decorations while enjoying food, drinks and each other's company. At the end of the party everyone is invited to gather the party detritus to be stuffed into the sculpture's wire armature. 

As with most parties, the preparations for Party Animal are elaborate: the cleaning of the space, the selection of themes, the donning of costumes, the careful placement of chairs, speakers and punch. Lansdon has written about the party as a site of anticipation that is transformed into a site of excess of music, drinks, decorations, energy, and emotions, where preparation makes way for participation.

Often there is a still static moment after the rush to get ready just before the guests arrive; a potent quiet in which both hosts and party goers gather their energies. Everything hangs in anticipation of being pulled down. At each stage of the party are transformations of material and energy; and afterwards the residue of the party retains some of what was spent in its production.**

During Block Party, the artists and audiences will contribute, participate, and experience what can happen when art and life get close. The projects in this exhibition reinvent the ways that we organize ourselves into communities and how we maneuver around within them. They remind us that communities are porous and shifting, and depend as much on geographical nearness as they do on the consumption and re-expression of popular culture within our day-to-day encounters.

Jeff Nye
Assistant Curator, Dunlop Art Gallery

* Jen Delos Reyes, artist statement, 2008
** Jessica James Lansdon, artist statement, 2009

PDF: Public Document Files


30 artists/artist groups were invited to produce a PDF file on their own work as well as 10 files on artists or subjects they think are related to ideas surrounding public and social art work. Each file indicates both the subject and the artist/group that selected it. Public Document Files is a permanent public resource that is to be housed in the Public Space One office after the duration of the exhibition.

The artists and groups that I invited to contribute to this archive of research on social and public art I feel are best able to contribute their knowledge and interests to this resource, these include he Social Evolution Research Gang (S.E.R.G), Hideous Beast, and many contributors who have involvement in the various MFA Art and Social Practice/Public Practice programs on the West Coast including the California College of the Arts, Otis and Portland State University. What these files constitute is a public resource that reflects what these artists find significant, creating what contributor Matthew Rana from the Social Practice concentration at CCA describes as a canon of social practice:

As a permanent public resource and research tool, the Public Document Files project in many ways works to construct a kind of canon of what social practice within the art context might mean. The project was invitational and as such represents a very specific set of interests from a specific set of artists working within a specific set of practices. And so, it seems to me that being asked to produce files on artists or subjects that I think are related to ideas surrounding socially engaged art work, while basically asking “what is interesting to you?” is also asking “what is valuable and worth researching within this field?” While I’m generally hesitant to delimit social practice in this way, I also recognize that it’s already happening; why not jump in?

Nearly 20 artists jumped in and over 170 files were produced. The subjects covered include hugs, Jacques Rancière, and gift economy. The artists involved took various approaches in creating their files: Cyrus Smith asked ten different artists to share with him what they do to clear their mind, Zach Springer, Avalon Kalin and David Horvitz submitted examples of their previous projects that manifested as PDF’s. Many of the artists shared their libraries by scanning books and articles. Blair Fornwald created files on subjects like “Not Working” that include information on a variety of different things ranging from the Copenhagen Free University to Michel de Certeau. Public Document Files is as much a portrait of the artists who contributed to this project as it is a gauge of the current state of social practice as this way of working continues to be institutionalized and historicized.

PDF is in itself a socially engaged art project that is concerned with it’s own definition and it’s continued development. As a project that is a public resource focused on what is significant to artists who work with the social as a medium, I hope that it is able to address not only what is of interest to the artists, but also to the public they seek to engage through their work. The motivations behind social and public art practices are made as visible through this project as the art addressed in the files might be. The files also make evident things significant to this way of working that, while seemingly accessible in a day to day context, when framed as art can seem foreign: walking, hugs, green tea, potlucks, community gardens. Not only does this project highlight research and concerns, but also turns the offices and staff of Public Space One into a resource that is accessible to the public, opening up a new space as well as the potential to have their institution‚ which is primarily concerned with the interest of public and social art‚ become in itself the work they seek to promote.

Thank you PDF contributors:
Berit Noergaard, Hideous Beast, Brin Webster, Laurel KurtzBroken City LabBlair FornwaldDavid HorvitzBoseul KimMatthew David RanaS.E.R.GRobin LambertAshley NeeseLori GordonPiero PassacantandoHarrell FletcherCyrus SmithAvalon KalinZach SpringerAndy ManoushagianThe M.O.S.TDAMPKaty Asher and Lisa Radford.

Selling It

From September 19-23, 2012 the Hyde Park Art Center hosted “Selling It” at EXPO CHGO.  “Selling It” provided representation for artists who have created socially engaged work from across the country at the fair exploring of the place and role of socially engaged art in a market system.

Who and what is represented and how if the work is not primarily by nature object based? How can these practices be financially viable? Are there alternate funding sources to support this kind of work that can come from the market system? How are artists, participants and collaborators compensated, or not?

Represented artists and projects included at Expo:

Harrell Fletcher

Lee Walton

Lori Gordon

Ariana Jacob

Crystal Baxley

Songs on Conceptual Art