The Citizen Artist

The Citizen Artist: 20 Years of Art in the Public Arena

An Anthology from High Performance Magazine 1978-1998

Edited by API codirectors Linda Frye Burnham and Steven Durland

Published in May 1998 by Critical Press, New York, for its series: Thinking Publically: The New Era of Public Art


Art FOR the public? Art OF the public? Art BY the public? Single words that signify a world of historical and critical issues facing the public artist. Over the last two decades of the 20th Century art workers hotly debated the concepts of “the public,” the “responsibility of the artist” and the “purpose” and “meaning” of art–especially when art is moved out of the museum/gallery and into the spaces of daily life. The Citizen Artist, a compendium of articles from the magazine High Performance, brings forth the voices of the artists that formed the backbone of these debates. From the Conceptual Art experiments of the ’70s to the community-based art of the ’90s, from political theories to humanist concerns, the historical elements that have been integral to the development of public art make this one of the most engaging topics relating to art production today.

While this work has been covered peripherally in books over the years by writers/editors addressing other arts themes such as feminist art, public art, performance art, community-based art, etc., no book has brought this work to the forefront and recognized the through-line that exists from Happenings and other often inscrutable public performative events to the plethora of community-based art we’re witnessing today. The Citizen Artist is a crucial sourcebook and teaching tool for all issues pertaining to public art (see Table of Contents below).



The Citizen Artist chronicles a seminal period in the evolution of public art as it has moved to the forefront of cultural discourse. It begins in the late ’70s, during a time when art was highly experimental and often manifested itself in public actions. Formal influences were coming out of Conceptual Art, Fluxus and a populist/Marxist attitude that viewed traditional art venues as elitist. Cultural influences were coming out of Civil Rights, Equal Rights, anti-war protests and a ’60s sensibility that proposed “taking it to the streets” to inspire a change in human perception and consciousness. It was art for the public, even if the public hadn’t requested it.

By the mid-’80s much of this work had retreated from experiments with formal boundaries, but had heightened and refined its interest in social issues. A more focused art practice addressed personal responsibility for such issues as the environmental degradation, equal rights and a litany of other causes. Artists probed the rights of the individual to free speech and self-expression. It was art of the public, even if the public didn’t always see itself the same way.

The third and final development covered in the book begins in the early ’90s when artists started to recognize that in spite of their expressed concerns for social good, they remained a subculture both separate and alien from the public they purported to serve. As a result, many chose to invest themselves directly in communities and situations where the public was no longer just the audience, but a collaborator in the art-making process. It is art by the public and the artist, and might well be laying the groundwork for a paradigm shift in how we view art and artists in our culture.



High Performance magazine was founded in 1977 by Linda Frye Burnham as a quarterly journal for documentation and commentary on experimental art and performance art in particular. The magazine was committed to art and artists that investigated the “art/life” interface, and gave direct voice to the artists who did this work.

The early issues of High Performance now serve as primary research material for art historians and others interested in the development of experimental performance and its later issues constitute the only ongoing source of documentation and analysis of contemporary trends in culturally engaged art of the time. In 1994 High Performance was awarded the Alternative Press Award for its coverage of cultural issues and has been nominated for the award three other times. Because of its grassroots approach to artistic journalism many of today’s more prominent artists received their first or early exposure in the magazine.



Linda Frye Burnham graduated from the University of California Irvine with an MFA in creative writing. She founded High Performance in 1977 and remained with the magazine in various capacities till it ceased publication in 1997. Her writing appears frequently in High Performance as well as other arts and non-arts periodicals.

Steven Durland graduated from the University of Massachusetts with an MFA in visual art. He joined the magazine in 1982 and in 1986 became its second editor. He has been a voice at universities and conferences on contemporary trends in art and his writings have appeared in numerous books and journals.



Introduction, Steven Durland

Of the People, By the People and For the People: The Field of Community Performance, Richard Owen Geer


The Art/Life Experiment, Linda Frye Burnham

She Who Would Fly: An Interview with Suzanne Lacy, Richard Newton

Acting Like Women: Performance Art of the Woman’s Building, Cheri Gaulke

Between the Diaspora and the Crinoline: An Interview with Bonnie Sherk, Linda Frye Burnham

The Year of the Rope: An Interview with Linda Montano & Tehching Hsieh, Alex & Allyson Grey

D.B.D.–the Mind/Body Spa: An Interview with Rachel Rosenthal, Linda Frye Burnham

Art and Ceremony, Barbara T. Smith

Ritual Keeper: An Interview with Anna Halprin, Janice Steinberg

Touch Sanitation: Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Robert C. Morgan

Two Lines of Sight and an Unexpected Connection: The Art of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, Arlene Raven

The Streets: Where Do They Reach?, Guillermo Gomez Pena


The Artist as Activist, Linda Frye Burnham

Ideology, Confrontation and Political Self-Awareness, Adrian Piper

The Artist as Citizen: Guillermo Gomez Pena, Judith Baca, Felipe Ehrenberg, David Avalos, Emily Hicks

El Teatro Campesino: An Interview with Luis Valdez, Carl Heyward

It’s All I Can Think About: An Interview with Nancy Buchanan, Linda Frye Burnham and Steven Durland

Taking Back the Power: An Interview with Robbie Conal, Claire Peeps

Art in the AIDies: An Act of Faith, Max Navarre

Silence Still =3D Death, Lucy Lippard

On the Side of the Deepest Soul on Earth: An Interview with Ja Kyung Rhee and Hye Sook of Theatre 1981, Steven Durland

No Time for the Blues (Aesthetic), Pearl Cleage

Call Me in ’93: An Interview with James Luna, Steven Durland

Shooting the Klan: An Interview with Andres Serrano, Coco Fusco

The Shock of the Real: An Interview with Karen Finley, Margot Mifflin


The Artist as Citizen, Linda Frye Burnham

Town Artist: An Interview with David Harding, Moira Roth

LAPD, Skid Row and the Real Deal: A Conversation, John Malpede and Elia Arce

Appalachia’s Roadside Theater: Celebration of a Community’s Culture, Donna Porterfield

The Cutting Edge Is Enormous: Liz Lerman and Richard Owen Geer, Linda Frye Burnham

Between Me and the Giant: Imagination Workshop, William Cleveland

Living with the Doors Open: An Interview with Blondell Cummings, Veta Goler

We Are All Connected: Elders Share the Arts, Susan Perlstein

Miles from Nowhere: Teaching Dance in Prison, Leslie Neal

Maintaining Humanity: An Interview with Grady Hillman about Arts-in-Corrections, Steven Durland

The Selma Project: Understanding, the Struggle for Community, Bob Leonard

Drawing the Line At Place: The Environmental Justice Project, Mat Schwarzman

We All Are Theater: An Interview with Augusto Boal, Douglas L. Paterson and Mark Weinberg

Resolving Conflicts: A Poet’s Residency in Tulsa, Alice Lovelace

Professional Jaywalker: Richard Posner on Crossing from the Studio to Public Art, Douglas Eby

Toward a New Folk Dance: Caregivers and Other Partners, Stuart Pimsler

CWT#3: Making City Water Tunnel #3, Marty Pottenger

The Citizen Artist, Aida Mancillas



The Citizen Artist: 20 Years of Art in the Public Arena.
An Anthology from High Performance Magazine 1978-1998
Edited by API codirectors Linda Frye Burnham and Steven Durland

Published in May 1998 by Critical Press for their series: Thinking Publically: The New Era of Public Art

ISBN: 1-883831-10-5
6 X 9 in., 368 Pgs.
43 Essays & Interviews

No longer available
The Citizen Artist is archived online here.

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