2013 Essay | CASE: Community Art/Social Enterprise

2013 Essay | CASE: Community Art/Social Enterprise

CASE (Community Art/Social Enterprise): Cultural Contributors/Unexpected Sources

By Caroline Kerrigan and Margaret Bodell

The CASE special exhibit at SOFA CHICAGO 2013 brings together art endeavors that are either community-based or focused on enriching their communities with the goals of the social enterprise/social entrepreneur movement. Our approach is unique, in that these two altruistic approaches to art making and community involvement have been considered as separate ideas in the past. We believe that they are not only similar, but are intrinsically linked–especially as community-based efforts (such as studios and workshops for the neurologically diverse) increase in importance and popularity and become thriving businesses in their own right.

CASE showcases the country’s most dynamic programs, artists, community activists, social entrepreneurs, designers and thinkers whose work tackles existing social problems–either through entrepreneurial concepts/ventures or through artwork that sheds light on our society’s issues and finds ways to improve problems in our human and environmental conditions. Social enterprises are businesses–both non-profit and for-profit–whose primary purpose is to address issues in our society and the environment. They use business models and the power of the marketplace to advance their social, environmental and human justice agendas. An example from our roster–the studio/workshop YAYA in New Orleans empowers local youth to become successful adults by providing educational experiences in the arts and entrepreneurship, and by fostering and supporting their ambitions. Similarly, the Fabric Workshop Museum in Philadelphia provides an education center for the city’s youth who, as printing apprentices, learn technical and vocational skills along with approaches to creative expression.

Yarn Rug courtesy Envision

CASE (Community Art/Social Enterprise)

Social Entrepreneurs are people who use their creative and entrepreneurial skills to benefit their communities, encourage innovation and to tackle existing problems in our society. Most social entrepreneurs are visionaries, who find creative solutions to tackle the issues of our day. They step into the gap between government and society, often enlisting support from the community to help realize their goals. Rather than profit alone, the concept of a return to society is of central importance to them.

Some of the most interesting community-based art endeavors have been springing up in the last 10-15 years in the world of workshops and/or studios for artists with neurological diversities. Organizations like Land (Brooklyn, NY), Envision (Chicago, IL), Creative Growth Art Center (Oakland, CA), Flying Shuttles (Pawtucket, RI), Spindleworks (New Brunswick, ME), Gateway Arts (Brookline, MA), Grow Arts (Chicago, IL), and Northeast Folk (Torrington, CT) have been doing pioneering work in this area and have been able to harness the exceptional talent and unique vision of the most expressive members of this population – with often startling and impressive results.

The Museum of Everything, an independent museum which is the worlds “only travelling museum for undiscovered, unintentional and untrained artists from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries” has championed the efforts of these organizations and artists since its founding in 2009 by James Brett. Through its exhibitions organized throughout the world the museum has helped bring the work of these artists to the attention of the general public. This year the museum was included as an Official Collateral Event at the 55th Venice Biennale, where it presented the work of Carlo Zinelli in the Il Palazzo di Everything. Additionally, the museum’s Workshop of Everything site offers an overview of these studios, along with descriptions and some of the products for sale.


Rubin Marroquin Flag

CASE (Community Art/Social Enterprise)

Contemporary artists can become community supporters–whether by advocating for social justice in their works or by incorporating socially conscious materials and thereby encouraging improvements in society such as recycling/upcycling or a call to environmental action.

Socially conscious endeavors have existed throughout history but the terms “social entrepreneur” was first used in the 1960s and 1970s when referring to the social change of that era. In the 1980s and 1990s promotional efforts by enterprises like Ashoka Innovators for the Public and management thinker Charles Leadbeater have helped and get these ideas before the public. Today many universities and colleges offer programs that help train and educate students of social change to become social entrepreneurs.

Side Chair courtesy Chairagami

CASE (Community Art/Social Enterprise)

Some examples of historically important social entrepreneurs include: Susan B. Anthony (who fought for women’s rights in the U.S. and was a force in adoption of the 19th amendment), Vinoba Bhave (founder of the Land Give Movement in India), Dr. Maria Montessori (developed the Montessori approach to early childhood education), Florence Nightingale, John Muir (early naturalist and conservationist – who established the Sierra Club and National Park System in the U.S.), and Jean Monnet (who helped reconstruct the French economy following World War Two). One of the most well-known contemporary social entrepreneurs is the Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Professor Muhammad Yunus, who founded and manages Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Grameen Bank is a microfinance and community development bank that makes small loans (microcredit or grameencredit) to the poor without requiring collateral.

Both business entrepreneurs and a social entrepreneurs/enterprises are interested in achieving success, however it is in how that success is measured that they diverge. Business entrepreneurs are concerned first and foremost in profits, while social entrepreneurs or enterprises are primarily concerned with making a positive impact on society and place monetary return (if any) second.

Some of the innovative thinkers, change makers and artists showcased in the CASE special exhibit include:

Chicago, IL
The mission of Envision is to provide quality services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities that promote choice, independence and community integration.

New Haven, CT
Chairigami creates recyclable furniture from renewable resources. Each piece is hand-crafted in their New Haven storefront.

Ruben Marroquin
New York, NY
Ruben Marroquin is a contemporary artist who creates sculpture our of recycled yarn and other materials.

Linda St. John
New York, NY
Linda St. John is an artist designer who uses sewing room scraps to make statements about poverty, waste and ingenuity. Her public art installation the Dirt Yard has been exhibited widely and she tours throughout the States holding workshops focused around this project.

Flying Shuttles Studio
Pawtucket, RI
Flying Shuttles is a non-profit studio, gallery, and retail shop that supports the creative abilities of artists and weavers with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

New Brunswick, ME
Spindleworks is a non-profit art center for adults with disabilities and a program of the Independence Association of Brunswick Maine, whose mission is to help children and adults with disabilities achieve full and inclusive lives in their chosen community.

Shop of Everything/Workshops of Everything
A project of the ever-interesting Museum of Everything, the Shop of Everything offers products using designs from artwork by an international selection of artists with disabilities.

Gateway Arts
Brookline, MA
Gateway Arts is an arts-based vocational rehabilitation service with professional studios, a gallery and a retail store.

Grow Arts
Chicago, IL
Grow arts is a teaching studio workshop in Tinley Park Il. Artists members have become involved with public art installations and the center and its projects have initiated the growth of a cultural district in their town.

Brooklyn, NY
LAND is a studio and gallery for artists with neurological diversities.

Northeast Folk
Torrington, CT
Northeast Folk is a collective of renowned artists with autism including Chris Platt, Ricky Haegedorn and Debra Lynn. They have been working in the Northeast for 20 years, exhibiting nationally and are represented in many public and private collections

Bridgeport, CT
Uarts is a pioneering statewide artist mentorship program that connects artists and aspiring artists who may have disabilities with incubator space to explore creativity with the goal of producing a creative product utilizing recycled materials.


Published in conjunction with the SOFA CHICAGO 2013 special exhibit CASE presented by Caroline Kerrigan and Margaret Bodell.

Caroline Kerrigan co-founded the Outsider Art Fair, which helped thousands of artists gain entry into the market. Margaret Bodell has championed the cause of self-taught/outsider artists for 25 years as well as founded social enterprise workshops and galleries in NYC, Brooklyn, NJ and CT.

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