94: Hope Hilton

How do you make social practice multicultural?

As an advocate for civil rights and an artist investigating my own whiteness and privilege in the context of the American South, I want to be very clear about this. I absolutely believe that the movements of affirmative action, nondiscrimination workplace law, women’s voting rights, etc., have all had and continue to have incredible impact on the US as a whole. Sometimes we need interventions to set things straight. I just think make, in this context, is a very bad word. Making someone do something implies privilege. Let’s focus instead on the word encourage. How do we encourage multicultural social practice? How do we design projects that actively invite diversity? How do we enter communities genuinely? How might we work with a multitude of ages, economies, religions, and races? First, we listen. I’m more interested in being a part of my community as an artist, not a proselytizer. Less missionary, more participant.

The nature of social practice, to me, is about filling a void. What can we do better? What is missing? What is important? Most interesting are the ideas born of radical necessity, especially projects that cultivate knowledge, collaboration, understanding, and have further possibility. Something I’ve noticed having lived in Brooklyn, San Francisco, and now the tiny Georgia town of Winterville, the root of social practice exists in many forms and all places, towns and tiny community rooms and neighborhoods all across the world. Each place is different, each has culture. The real beauty of this whole movement is that it’s not limited to the art world, but is straddling many worlds.

Image of Bridget Donahue’s project of isolated and distributed Marx texts from Come on Over! co-curated by Hope Hilton and Emma Spertus at Rock Paper Scissors in Oakland, California, in 2006.

Community can now be global, thanks to this incredible tool we call the world wide web. Like visionary artists, there are people everywhere making social practice that we don’t know about. They don’t even know it has a name. It’s happening when I meet a teacher at the local middle school that incorporates active learning against all odds in a test-score-based curriculum, it’s happening when my dad sponsors a Sudanese refugee as support and a friendship develops, it’s happening in my group therapy sessions with structured listening and response, it’s happening with Wikileaks and the occupy movement and Edward Snowden, and when my friend Maureen makes a tea party for the woman she cares for, who has Alzheimer’s.

These are the people to meet and work with. Your people, your community, your place. Get really good at it before branching out toward other communities. Working local or cyberlocal, inspire and support ideas and creativity; this can certainly be an instrument toward being more inclusive. Admit your vulnerability. Gosh, I’ve failed so many times. It’s about showing your neighbor that they have power, and reminding yourself of your own power, and reflecting that power back with a mirror as big as the sky and believing, just believing.

About the contributor: Hope Hilton was born in 1977 in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Hilton curates, collaborates, designs, publishes, writes, and walks. In May 2005, “You are My Salvation”, a public space for collaboration and events, opened in her MFA studio. Here she acted as host to national art collectives and exhibitions for two years. In Winter 2007 Hilton completed a 60-mile memorial walk in the Southern United States to recognize the walk a slave named Henry made to announce the birth of her great-great grandmother.

Recently completed projects include the writing of over 200 personal letters to anonymous participants for College of the Canyons, Valencia, CA, a Topophilia workshop with teens in Bonao, Dominican Republic, a project about her love of reading at The Kitchen, NYC as well as in Beit HaGefen Art Gallery, Haifa, Israel. She is a professor of Art Appreciation at Athens Technical College, also teaching at the Georgia Museum of Art and Treehouse Kid & Craft, Athens. hopehilton.com