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What are the challenges and criticisms faced by SEA? 

Belfiore (2022, pp. 62-63) describes the associated challenges of SEA in her article titled ‘Who cares? At what price? The hidden costs of socially engaged arts labour and the moral failure of cultural policy’.  In her article, Belfiore sensitises SEA practitioners to challenges such as:

Limitations to time and the difficulties of managing timeframes in SEA projects. Such projects need time to be appropriately implemented on the terms of the communities to build rapport and engage with collaborative strategies collectively. An underlying aspect of this process is empathy building, which requires the inclusion of active phases such as discovery, immersion, connection, detachment, and planning to create continuous cycles of engagement (Miettinen, Sarantou, & Akimenko, 2016b).

Practitioners of SEA often spend many weeks, months, and even years building and developing relationships. For emerging public artists, it may be viewed as arrogant to think that any artist can enter a community and grasp all their complexities of relationships and place in a short time. Therefore, patience and flexible timeframes are needed in SEA interventions.

Due to time limitations and constraints on resources for art making, little time is left to complete projects to acceptable standards. Therefore, SEA is often viewed as inferior, or even bad art (Simoniti, 2018), as the limitations to resources can impact on their aesthetic value of the outcomes.

Time constraints impact the requirements of funding bodies that uphold strict timelines for project completion. However, SEA projects may often take much longer to initiate and complete, with their natural ends often continuing well beyond the time frames set by funding bodies. Such time restrictions leave projects vulnerable and at risk of lack of funding.


This unit provided a background for SEA. The social and activist foci of SEA have been established, followed by the different terms that are associated with SEA and the tensions that exist between public and institutionalised social and collective arts practices. Two definitions of SEA were presented, as well as the work of prominent SEA practitioner Suzanne Lacy. Finally, the criticisms and challenges associated with SEA are presented. Throughout this unit, students were encouraged to engage in reflexive activities and note-taking to create a basic understanding of SEA.


Belfiore, E. (2022). Who cares? At what price? The hidden costs of socially engaged arts labour and the moral failure of cultural policy. European Journal of Cultural Studies, Sage, 25(1), 61–78.

Miettinen, S., Sarantou, M., & Akimenko, D. (2016b). Collaborative art and storytelling as an empowering tool for service design: South Australian case study. In P. Ryhtilahti & S. Miettinen (Eds.), For profit, for good: Developing organizations through service design (pp. 74-80). Faculty of Art and Design, University of Lapland

Simoniti, V. (2018). Assessing socially engaged art. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 76: 71–82. doi:10.1111/jaac.12414