SeenHeard Community Art Project

This site announces the launch of SeenHeard  a socially engaged art seenheard2-crop-webpractice and project that will exist in VIRTUAL  space even as it establishes itself as a RESIDENTIAL  art practice and project for sponsored participation in local communities.

Whether you consider yourself an artist or not, you are invited to participate in whatever ways you wish.  Its the hope of the growing group of collaborators planning and implementing this project that you will,  at the very least, provide answers to the questions which serve as the entry point for the project.

As you continue reading, if at any point you experience the “I’m IN” sensation, write to us at

What questions,” you ask?  (for those of you wishing to dive in right now, click on the link here)

What is this SeenHeard project about?” is probably your other question.

Good questions, but there needs to be some context. Because socially engaged art is relatively unknown to most people,  this  page offers to you an overview with headings outlined below to allow you to skim or dig in deeper as you need.

The topics we’ll deal with on this page:

  • What is socially engaged art?
  • How did this SeenHeard project come about? 
  • What IS the SeenHeard PROJECT?
  • How might you be involved, where, and in what formats?

What is socially engaged art?  Socially engaged art has been  recognizable and discussed  in its many forms for several decades now.   At its essence, this artistic practice takes art-making out of the studio where it has most often been a solitary activity,  and into the community, engaging with people in conversation and creative processes intended to explore, respond, give time, space, and creative attention to matters of significance in the community.  Members of the community are often co-creators with a facilitating artist or artistic collective, in creating new works of art, in an infinite array of forms with an endless array of intentions and points of view.  The form is endlessly malleable, responsive to the charisms and talents of those who work together on the project.

This type of art has many names, including relational aesthetics,  social practice, social justice art and community art.   This kind of work is part of a growing artistic movement that holds that artists matter in society and that art can make a positive difference in the world.

If you are interested in learning more about what’s been happening in this sphere, you’ll find at the bottom of the page a list of websites which will serve as helpful starting points

This project was proposed by Julie Volkmann, Interdisciplinary Artist,  whose work has spanned the realms of theatre, writing, photography, music (including jazz, folk, sacred, cabaret, & experimental) sonic composition, and most recently socially engaged art practice.  In the final stretch toward attaining her MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts at Goddard College,  in Plainfield, Vermont,

Volkmann will tell us more now:

“I’ve been  intrigued by the ways that art and research are synergistic partners in socially engaged art and why that art is so important today.  I’ve witnessed first hand  the creative power that socially engaged artists can leverage in engaging and raising a community’s consciousness around matters of significance.  People and art can effect meaningful transformations in the world – from the simplest level of relationship between two individuals to a transformation of a community.

“Further, I’ve come to appreciate the process-based experience of making and sharing art that is not commodified and collectible.  When art is confined to a gallery and has a price tag connected to it, it immediately makes art something accessible only to the elite, only to those “professionals” who have sold their work and those collectors who have the money to purchase it.  I believe that art is not an elite practice, nor is the work that can be called art only that which is hung on walls, or displayed on shelves.  I believe that the creative essence of humanity, at least since the time when we began walking erect on two legs (and possibly before that), makes all of us artists.  It has only been since the time that art became collectible, sale-able and purchased has the unnatural construct occurred in our thinking about who qualifies to be called an artist and who does not.

An important influence which ultimately brought me to this project was studying with visiting environmental artist and designer Jackie Brookner at the 2011 Goddard college residency. Jackie opened my eyes (and my body) to the concept that as a human, I am not a discrete, separate entity in this universe, but rather, as Brookner herself writes, that “We (human beings) are actually more verbs than nouns—more interrelated processes than separate individuals. This is what I call “the being of human.” It is about recognizing and experiencing how we are but dependent parts of much larger natural patterns and forces, and living accordingly.”   In her workshops, Brookner conducted guided meditations in which I was able to experience my skin not as a barrier to the external environment but as something permeable, breathing, and interactive;  energetically and chemically in ongoing relational synthesis with light, sound, air, moisture, temperature, etc.

I was no longer a passive entity being acted upon by the external forces of nature and the activities of other humans, I experienced myself as an organic element in much larger organism; much like a cell alongside other cells, exchanging information, energy, material and together making up a larger, living organism.

It was humbling.

It was amazing.

How did this particular SeenHeard project come about?   As I already mentioned, Jackie Brookner made a lasting and transformative impression on me during the 2011 residency at Goddard College.  But it took until the fall 2014 residency at Goddard College for the “SEENHEARD” project to birth itself in my creative consciousness.  Visiting Artist Beau Beausoleil, poet and bookseller, who created the Al Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project, was sharing the story of the powerful impact of his project in engaging artists and citizens in a variety of responses to the  2007 bombings on Al Mutanabbi Street, a book seller’s row in Bagdad.   You can read more about his project by following the link (above).  It was Beau’s recounting of what transpired between himself and an Iraqi woman in a US exhibit of the collected works of the project that called me to attention and provided valuable  insight.  A permanent resident in the US, she still had many family members and friends in Baghdad.  As she took in the powerful visual works and poetry, she was moved to tears and approached Beau, thanking him for bringing attention to her people and the terrible things that had happened.  She said “thank you for allowing us to be seen, and for our story to be heard.”  Having been in the United States for several years, she was painfully aware of the invisible status of immigrants, or worse, the stigmatization attached to those from foreign countries and the total disregard so many US citizens have for the people living in other worlds and the conditions they are forced to live in.  Sad to say, those horrible conditions are too often aided and abetted by US policy and/or inappropriate intervention.

Beau’s story of this woman’s words and the impact it had on him caused me to ponder how often we look at but don’t really see one another, or how we hear but don’t really listen, or how our perception can skewed by preconceived notions.  I also thought about how powerful or liberating it is for someone to feel truly “seen” and/or “heard”  and how the sensory dynamics can be so transformative in so many ways.  These simplest of senses, taken so for granted, have such power to open us up to deeper understandings and richer connections to the world in which we live.   Conversely, there is an important understanding to be gained in contemplating the damage done when someone feels unseen or unheard.   These are just a few of the possible new understandings that might arise in this project.  Its my hope that with understanding comes, compassion, a modicum of wisdom, richer connections, stronger communities and hopefully, healthier and more peaceful lives.  

The very next day I determined I would poll my fellow artists in  the fall residency to see if my hunch was right and I did so by creating a total of eight questions for people to respond to anonymously.  Using their answers I created a sonic tapestry with my voice speaking all of their responses and introduced that sonic piece in a workshop later that week.  The results were eye-opening (excuse the pun), electrifying and filled with such promise as a meaningful work for anyone engaged in it, that I knew that this project had to be implemented at home in my own community – the greater Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana region.

Now, I  am happy to hear that I may have community partners in this spring’s  hatchling  of the “SeenHeard” socially engaged practice.   I  hope that this community-based exploration of the power and wisdom inherent in the body’s senses of sight and hearing can contribute in some small way to a deeper knowledge of self and other.  From the sharing of these deceptively simple stories can grow meaningful insights and relationships.  These are just a few of the possible new understandings that might arise in this project.  Its my hope that with understanding comes, compassion, a modicum of wisdom, richer connections, stronger communities and hopefully, healthier and more peaceful lives.

I welcome you, my fellow “being of human,” in this communal art practice.



The Queens Museum hosted its first conference on Socially Engaged Art in 2014 entitled Open Engagement.”  The conference site contains some very helpful context and history and includes a thoughtful consideration of the many elements of this hard to define or confine thing called socially engaged art. The  2015 conference is scheduled for Pittsburgh in April.

CREATIVE TIME, an impressive non-profit organization based in New York is interested in, supports, encourages and funds the exhibits and practices of a vast array of public art that includes installation work, which definitely has a social engagement component, installations by artist collectives, and much more.   Another rich resource for understanding the history, current activities and developing theories and practices.

Here is CREATIVE TIME’s impressive archive of past works dating back almost 20 years  to the present.

Dedicated to creating and supporting community based art, CREATIVITY WORKS is based in England and  provides a very thorough examination of what, why, how and more of socially engaged art as it has developed and exists in England and the world. There is a very thoughtful contextualization with artist writer/researcher/practitioners in this field.

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