Date of Award

Summer 8-19-2022

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)




Susan Smith

Second Committee Member

Sheridan Kelly Adams

Third Committee Member

Liliana Herakova


By the time I left home at 18, I had lived in 23 dwellings. My upbringing was unconventional and ungrounded. I grew up without many family traditions and as a result I craved knowing about other people’s experiences. I loved to hear people share stories about their heritage and continue to love hearing people talk about where they are from and where they have been. This is my most natural way of relating to others. I also find great meaning in relating to people through art. Creating, whether painting in a school building or making sand castles on a beach, is my way of rooting in. Making things is how I ground myself. The author Rudolfo Anaya wrote, “When people ask me where my roots are, I look down at my feet, and I see the roots of my soul grasping the earth” (Cheuse). Anaya was born, lived and schooled in New Mexico, he wrote stories based in New Mexico. His statement has weight. When I think of my roots, they are not attached to any land, that land is in the jars and envelopes of the places I have lived, but my roots are in my art. I don’t view art as just something I make, I view art as the way I live, communicate, root in and make home. For me, art is the tool that I use to engage in work that involves me and other people. This thesis examines the relationship between art making and connection with community which resolves itself in a socially engaged practice that aims to bring people together through engagement. By realizing that art is an opening for creating meaning beyond making objects, art can create a space where ideas can be explored, stories can be told, conversations can be had, and moments can be shared. Art becomes both function and form, and becomes a crucible whereby others can participate and impact both outcome and process, for themselves and others. There are a number of ways to describe this collaborative process where art is used as a medium for interaction with others; socially engaged art, socially engaged practice, social practice art, or relational aesthetics. These theories have slightly different ideologies but share the collaborative spirit of moving art out of a studio/gallery/museum to a space of interaction with others; in essence combining life and art. Social practice can be a beneficial tool in education, as it can reach across disciplines. When art is used as a tool for communication or community building, people can become aware of the historical nature of art and see the ways that art has been used in the past. Socially engaged art creates space for art to move into new places. This thesis work began just months before the onset of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic and consequent shut down. The work was heavily influenced and informed by the pandemic.

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