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What is—what should be—the place of art in society? Is it merely decorative? Is it only to affirm a given set of cultural preferences? Or should it examine, challenge, even upend these norms to bring open new perspectives for those who experience what artists create?

Social practice artists offer a clear and unflinching answer to this question, setting before us works intended not merely to ask questions but to propose pathways toward larger societal change.

In this volume, the work of two social practice artists of different generations and different social locations—Suzanne Lacy and Pablo Helguera—are brought into creative tension by two visionary curators: Elyse A. Gonzales of the Art, Design & Architecture Museum of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Sara Reisman of the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation of New York. Working together, Gonzales and Reisman bring the work of these two engaged and activist artists into dialogue, showing how art can be not merely the mirror of society but the means of making it more just, more inclusive, and more humane.

Elyse A. Gonzales is Assistant Director and Curator of Exhibitions at the Art, Design & Architecture Museum, UC Santa Barbara. While at the Museum she has curated numerous collection exhibitions and organized several group shows focused on relevant contemporary topics and the University’s distinguished alumni. She also initiated an Artist-in-Residence exhibition program, commissioning emerging artists to create new works in the Museum’s galleries. Prior to working at the AD&A Museum, Gonzales was Assistant Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania.

Sara Reisman is Executive and Artistic Director of the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation. An accomplished curator with a deep interest in art’s potential to enact social and political change, she heads the Foundation which has most recently emphasized programming centered on art and social justice. Through grantmaking, exhibitions, and special projects, the art and social justice initiative aims to broaden artistic and cultural access in New York City toward the development of more cohesive and resilient communities and greater participation in civic life. Prior to her appointment at the Rubin Foundation, she served from 2008 to 2014 as director of the Percent for Art Program of the Department of Cultural Affairs in New York City. She has curated shows for the Queens Museum of Art, Socrates Sculpture Park, the Cooper Union School of Art, and the Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art, among other venues.