How We Work

What we make + what we make happen

We’re inspired by people and practices both in and outside the arts, and seek opportunities to work alongside researchers, public employees, policy-makers, community organizers, artists, designers, developers, racial and economic equity advocates, educators, environmental activists, and our own neighbors.

We prefer to work in the spaces between disciplines, generating new processes and models for public engagement, education, and organizing. We’re part of an evolving field that is not well articulated, a hybrid art-design-organizing practice rooted in collaboration, cross-disciplinary connection, and systems thinking. We do this by creating human scale projects that open space for everyday experiences to meet the ineffable.

What We Make

Because we work with others from our diverse and growing community of practice, we’re always expanding our collective capabilities. As a result, Works Progress projects span a range of art and design disciplines, always with a focus on participation, social relevance, and authentic public engagement.

We create original public artworks that invite participation throughout their design and development, from the generation of themes and possibilities, to a project’s life and memory in community. We've been commissioned by neighborhood groups, advocacy organizations, and city governments to collaboratively create projects that are rooted in place and purpose.

Many of our projects serve as platforms for artist-led organizing, or for artists to self-organize. With deep respect for both art and design practices, as well as community development strategies, our organizing projects bridge creative and cultural silos to provide opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, development of new skills and process, and connections across power.

We work with a range of organizations and community groups to design platforms for public engagement, leveraging the networks and expertise of our partners in creative ways to build new relationships and audiences. These engagement projects include public event series and media projects, which we curate and produce with our collaborators. Our emphasis is on platforms that are non-hierarchical, and which honor the inherent knowledge and creativity of people.

We work with our collaborators to develop, design, and publish original content online and in print, with a focus on tapping community voices and experience to provide new perspectives and inspire civic imagination. These projects often serve as catalysts for broader community conversations, documenting existing work as well as provoking questions about what is next.

We create documentary film projects with and about a range of subjects and communities, shooting, editing and producing all of our content. We see filmmaking as a deeply collaborative process, one which requires a developed artistic voice and vision. Recent projects include a series of videos about community organizers working for racial and economic equity in transportation planning, a series about people and the Mississippi River, and a series about artists and their process of creation.

We work with educators of all kinds to design and develop artist-led opportunities for project-based learning in and about place, serving as a conduit between classroom and community. We have worked with high school students in rural Minnesota on projects that engage local histories, and college students in Minneapolis-St.Paul on projects that explore art and social justice.

What We Make Happen

We evaluate the impact of Works Progress projects in several ways, one of the most important being feedback from our collaborators and community. Over the years we’ve developed the following barometers for the success of our work:

Communities are more than the sum of their institutions and infrastructures— they’re the sum of their relationships. Our projects succeed when they enable new relationships to form and flourish, providing opportunities for spontaneous connection as well as sustained conversation; and when they deepen existing relationships, encouraging shared experiences and new understanding.

Art and other forms of creativity are critical to the resilience of our communities and should be equitably and transparently supported. Our projects succeed when they encourage a holistic approach to public art and design, one that values the unique contributions and experiences of a diverse range of people. We uphold that value by insisting on equitable compensation and exchange for our work, and honoring the contributions others make to our collaborative projects by paying them for their time and talent.

We take an inquiry-based approach to our work. Many of our projects begin with a question. We’ve come to recognize that our best work happens when we leverage our own curiosity as well as the curiosity of others to explore new ideas and forms together. Our projects are successful when they lead to new knowledge, understanding, and insight on the part of ourselves, our collaborators, and public participants.

We place equal emphasis on our creative process and the products of our work. Our projects are successful when our creative process is transparent, equitable, and sustaining; and when that process yields outcomes that engender a sense of ownership and pride on the part of all involved.