Social Practice in regards to art can be looked at as anything that isn't studio practice. By studio practice I mean the dominate way of making art-spending time in a studio working out personal interests into the form of paintings, or objects, or photos, or videos, or some other pretty easily commodifiable form.
The often unspoken intention for this studio work is that it will go off to a desirable commercial gallery, be reproduced in art magazines, and eventually wind up in museum collections, while making the artist into a celebrity of sorts, and paying all of the bills. That is the carrot on the stick that keeps this dominate approach alive and kicking, even though very few of these studio practice artists ever get their work shown at all, and most just give up and find some other way to pay off their student loans.
I've just started up a Social Practice MFA program at Portland State University. There are currently eight students enrolled. They don't get studios like the other MFA students and instead have a shared office and a shared classroom space. Currently we are looking for a more public version of these spaces possibly in the form of an off-grid alternative energy portable building that might locate itself in different parts of the city in vacant lots and at grade schools, etc.
The students take some classes with the other studio MFA students but they also spend time on projects in various collaborative groups working with the city of Portland, various non-profits, and applying for public art projects in other places, as well as doing their own individual social practice work. I'm trying to show that artists can actually have sustained and supported careers within the public in ways that aren't possible when the commercial gallery is the primary system that artists are trying to respond to. So far it is going very well.
Image: "Some People From Around Here"
See also: Some People
The Artist's Way