Frances Whitehead is a civic practice artist bringing the methods, mindsets, and strategies of contemporary art practice to the process of shaping the future. Connecting emerging art practices and the discourses of climate change, post-humanism, counter-extinction, and culturally informed sustainability, she develops strategies to deploy the knowledge of artists as change agents, asking, What do Artists Know?
Questions of participation, sustainability, and culture change animate her work as she considers the surrounding community, the landscape, and the interdependency of multiple ecologies. Whitehead’s cutting-edge work integrates art and sustainability, as she traverses disciplines to engage citizens, municipalities, and other communities of practice, in order to hybridize art, design,science, conservation, and civic engagement, for public and planet.
Whitehead has worked professionally as an artist since the mid 1980’s and has worked collaboratively as ARTetal Studio since 2001. She is Professor Emerita at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she founded the SAIC Knowledge Lab. She also publishes essays and interviews exploring place-thought, vegetal consciousness, experimental geography, and other trans-disciplinary topics that engage the aesthetic, technological, and geo-political dimensions of contemporary practice.
A long-term resident of the Great Lakes region, she has recently relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to focus on xeric landscapes for the future. Undertaking the Casa de Agua a home/studio demonstrating water conservation strategies, she is establishing a xeric laboratory garden. Current projects extend Whitehead’s plant-based, experimental strategies which deploy curiosity, belonging, duration, and beauty, alongside community science and awareness.