Art For? Framing the Conversation on Art and
Social Change “with” Steven Hill
Patti Fraser1
Simon Fraser University
Flick Harrison
Simon Fraser University
The research represented within this text and media art piece is based on a formal interview with
director Steven Hill for the Art for Social Change Research Project. By disrupting the interview
through visual inserts and pithy philosophical responses into the visual frame we are seeking to
reconsider the expectations associated with research and research interviews. This visual play
also furthers Steven Hill’s theorizing on the idea of frames and what predetermines the frames we
bring to the project of art “for” social change.
Keywords: arts-based research, socially engaged art, popular theatre, media art, drama
education, Canadian theatre studies.
1 Biographical statement: Patti Fraser, PhD is currently a Research Associate with the Art for Social
Change Research Project at Simon Fraser University, the co-artistic Director of the Housing Matters Media
Project, and the 2013 recipient of the Vancouver Mayor’s Art Award for Community Engagement.
Flick Harrison (B. Journ [Hons], Carleton 1994; MFA UBC 1998) is a writer, media artist, filmmaker, hacker,
educator and drone pilot in Vancouver. Starting out on CBC’s Road Movies as one of Canada’s first
professional videographers, he’s since worked in Pakistan, the US, Mexico and China. With Something
Collective, he helped pilot the City of Vancouver’s Fieldhouse community-artist residencies.
Art for? Framing the Conversation on Art and Social Change “with” Steven Hill
Research Statement
In my (Fraser’s) role as researcher with Simon Fraser University’s Art for
Social Change Research Project,2 funded by the Social Science and Humanities
Research Council of Canada, I was charged with the task of framing a historical
context on the work of artists who have been recognized for their contribution to
the field of socially engaged art in Canada. As a part of this larger project, media
artist Flick Harrison and I recorded a series of conversations with thirteen artists,3
many of whom I shared a history of practice4 as socially engaged artists. For the
purposes of this paper, I considered practice as meaning to take the experience
one has gained, one’s experience from the making or doing of creative practice,
in order to actualize a condition or event that did not exist before.
There is currently a great deal of interest in this form of art practice within
institutions and academies. The institutional gaze has brought with it tensions
and questions that are not easily resolved. Who is best qualified to do this work?
How are the processes and techniques, and the “way” many of these forms have
evolved, used to serve agendas that are counter to the original impulses behind
the work? Currently the term community engagement is even viewed with
suspicion by many, as the arts-based practices born out of critical and activist
sentiments are being instrumentalized and co-opted by institutions and
organizations to further serve neo-liberal and progressive agendas (see for
example, Balfron Social Club, 2015).
In counter-point to this argument, the art practices defined within the field
and those being explored within the Art for Social Change Research Project are
being seen as interactive, multidisciplinary opportunities for practice and
pedagogy. These practices have the capacity to open up new spaces to
encounter relationships and new ways to create ethical responses to emergent
local and/or global concerns. In conversation with Dr. Lynn Fels,5 the underlying
question we chose that formed the basis of the interviews I conducted with the
artists, is based on Hannah Arendt’s theory of past and future as it relates to the
2 For the project website see:
3 These interviews were conducted following the protocols laid out by the Office of Research Ethics at
Simon Fraser University. The final version of the video, included as part of this paper, has been reviewed
by and consent given by Steven Hill for it to being published.
4 The set of artistic practices that form the basis of inquiry within The Art for Social Change Research
Project has been described as a spectrum of work. This spectrum contains arts practices that have been
defined as participatory, socially engaged, community-engaged, collaborative, activist based and relational
(Finkelpearle, 2013).
Lynn Fels is one of six co-investigators with Simon Fraser University’s Art for Social Change Research
Art/Research International: A Transdisciplinary Journal/Volume 1, Issue 1
education of the young. Arendt (1954) asserts that education is inspired by a
desire to renew the common world “and by the same token save it from ruin,
which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be
inevitable” (p. 196). The question I asked the artists was what in their experience
as socially engaged artists needed to be preserved or held as a responsibility as
this form of work is re-imagined in the future.
Artist Statement
The research outcome represented in the digital video, the centre-piece of
this contribution, is based on one of the interviews taken from the entire
collection of interviews conducted for the Art for Social Change Research
Project. The “thought experiment” created by co-author Harrison and I, features
an interview with director, actor, and creator Steven Hill.6 Steven Hill and I share
a history of collaboration that dates back to the AIDS activist movement in
Vancouver in the late 1980s. We collaborated together for a number of years with
activist groups such as the World Aids Group7 in order to create interactive work
on issues relating to AIDS, particularly with youth.
One of the challenges presented within the research project was how to
represent biographical and autobiographical reflections. How can we portray a
shared past that changes over time? It was during the initial development of our
research that a puppet from a project Steve and I co-created in the 1980s called
me to attention as it sat waiting for a new life at the top of the bookcase. This
puppet became a kind of talisman of reflection and evidence of a shared past
that no longer existed except within the shared memory hidden within the minds
of the interviewer and interviewee. The appearance of this puppet and Steven
Hill’s generous willingness to unpack his notions of “art for social change” in an
interview inspired this video.
By disrupting the interview through visual archival inserts and by applying
pithy philosophical responses into the visual frame, I sought to rethink the
conventional research interview and expose the interiority of interviewer, the one
who does not speak directly to the question posed, but is fully engaged in the
We conceived of this work in order to interrupt and to re-frame the
conventional expectations that lie at the heart of the relationship between
researcher and research subject. Calling attention to expectations in standard
research interviews where the speaker speaks and the listener listens. The work
6 Steven Hill is currently Co-Artistic Director of Fight with a Stick and Associate Professor in Theatre
Performance in the School for Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British
Columbia, Canada.
7 The World Aids Group was formed in the 1980s in Vancouver, BC, to provide prevention and sexual
health education to youth.
Art for? Framing the Conversation on Art and Social Change “with” Steven Hill
hints at the larger philosophical questions of the reality of inter-subjectivity, which
is so often ignored in social science research. This work suggests through the
visual field and textual play there is significance to the space between interviewer
and interviewee. This piece not only playfully unpacks the objectivity of the
researcher, but also offers a field of visual play that formally furthers Steven Hill’s
theorizing on the idea of frames and what predetermines the frames -
theoretical, autobiographical, and otherwise, we bring to the project of art “for”
social change.
The interview video Art For . . . seeks to represent what Doug and Ted
Aoki (2003) see as the inherent hope of every interview: Which is, “to generate a
new vision of the subject in the space of its own discourse” (p. 6). In this creative
space, new meaning can be generated. In this space, a space that characterizes
artistic inquiry, the viewers/listeners are called to interpret and reconsider their
own responses; they cannot simply rely on habitual responses and are asked to
re-think or re-frame their responses. This process in and of itself becomes an
action site of research (Fels, 1998). And finally, my hope is that this digital video,
as an artistic exploration, challenges us all to consider the seriousness of
research in light of playfulness and invention.
Art For . . .
Please follow this link to view the video:
Art/Research International: A Transdisciplinary Journal/Volume 1, Issue 1
Arendt, H. (1954). Between past and future: Eight exercises in political thought.
Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books.
Aoki, T., & Aoki, D. (2003) Interview. Educational Insights, 8(2) [Online].
Retrieved from:
Balfron Social Club. (2015). Brutalism [redacted] - Social art practice and you
[Website]. Retrieved from:
Fels, L. (1998). In wind clothes dance on the line. Journal of Curriculum
Finklepearle, T. (2013). What we made: Conversations on art and social
London, UK. Duke University Press.
Art for? Framing the Conversation on Art and Social Change “with” Steven Hill


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