MFA Contextual Practice-School of Art - Carnegie Mellon University

MFA Contextual Practice

This pioneering and unique component of the MFA program supports students, faculty, and research fellows in the production of experimental works that expand the role of art in the public sphere.

The Contextual Practice (CP) area of the graduate curriculum supports students in the production of socially engaged art projects that respond to or catalyze public contexts and audiences.

Additional terms that have been used to circumscribe this practice are:

  • culture hacking
  • relational aesthetics
  • new genre public art
  • intervention
  • participatory art
  • social practice
  • tactical media
  • institutional critique
  • public interventions

Graduate Contextual Practice Seminar:

The Contextual Practice seminar runs throughout the second year of the program and challenges students to examine where their practice intersects directly with the public realm and how they can create new sites and audiences for their work. Seminar students also explore new and historical  trends in public engagement through art, architecture, design, and popular culture, as well as politics, ecology, psychology, sociology, and economics. 

Questions raised during the seminar include:

  • What economy (system of distribution, interaction, and exchange) does your work respond to or create?
  • Who is your audience? Who are your participants? How do those audiences and participants shape the meaning of your work?
  • What impact does your work have on the life of your audience/participants?
  • Where do you situate your work? How does that context change how the work is perceived?

Beyond the CP Seminar, graduate students have multiple opportunities to create work in a variety of public contexts. They may also work as graduate assistants with faculty and visiting artists who offer CP courses through our multi-disciplinary undergraduate curriculum.

The School of Art has a more than twenty-year history of supporting students, faculty and research fellows in the production of experimental contextual works that develop new venues and audiences for art and expand the role of the arts in society.

CP Faculty & Fellows

CP Visiting Lecturers & Artists

CP Alumni


collaborative MFA Contextual Practice project featuring 7 students taking over 7 rooms at the Days Inn motel Pittsburgh, Banksville Rd.

DINING INN from Isla Hansen (MFA15) on Vimeo.


by Zhiwan Cheung (MFA16), Daniel Pillis (MFA16), Leah Wulfman (BArch15) for Open Engagement 2015 Pittsburgh.

Isabella by Intergalactic Immigration Office on Sketchfab

local opportunities & support

Independent Study
SOA Interdisciplinary Grant
SOA Wrong Way Corrigan Travel Grant
AVROKO Art + Architecture Award

Studio for Creative Inquiry Grants $100-$10,000
GUSH Grant
Center for the Arts in Society

Tough Art Residency Childrens' Museum
The Sprout Fund
Awesome Foundation
Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council

more grants & resources