Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change, and the MacArthur Fellows Program at 40

Jun 1 – Sep 1, 2021

University of Chicago
5550 S. Greenwood
Chicago, IL 60637

Note: As of March 2021 exhibition dates are summer 2021–fall 2021. Please check website for updates this spring.

Presented in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the MacArthur Fellows Program, this multi-site exhibition uses the idea of “the commons” to explore the current socio-political moment, in which questions of inclusion, exclusion, ownership, and rights of access are constantly being challenged across a wide array of human endeavors.

Although the idea of the commons is historically associated with Western Europe, the notion of common property, communal-use rights, and communally managed natural resources has broad geo-political resonance. Toward Common Cause encompasses a wide spectrum of contemporary artistic practice that engages with the natural world, the built environment, human society, and identity. It explores the extent to which resources—air, land, water, and even culture—can be held in common without being freely available, and the idea that all commons involve obligations and are, to some extent, exclusionary.

Toward Common Cause utilizes the MacArthur Fellows Program as an intellectual commons and features new and recontextualized work by more than two dozen visual artists who have been named Fellows since the award program’s founding in 1981.

The exhibition is organized by the Smart Museum in dialogue with institutions across Chicago and will be presented in multiple venues and neighborhoods throughout the city. See a list of partners at


  • Njideka Akunyili Crosby
  • Ida Applebroog
  • Dawoud Bey
  • Mark Bradford
  • Mel Chin
  • Nicole Eisenman
  • Wendy Ewald
  • LaToya Ruby Frazier
  • Jeffrey Gibson
  • Guillermo Gómez-Peña
  • Gary Hill
  • David Hammons
  • Alfredo Jaar
  • Toba Khedoori
  • An-My Lê
  • Whitfield Lovell
  • Rick Lowe
  • Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle
  • Kerry James Marshall
  • Julie Mehretu
  • Amalia Mesa-Bains
  • Trevor Paglen
  • Fazal Sheikh
  • Shahzia Sikander
  • Kara Walker
  • Carrie Mae Weems
  • Fred Wilson
  • Xu Bing


Guillermo Gómez-Peña: An Open Letter to the Museum of the Future
February 3, 2021

Conversation: Jason De León, Wendy Ewald, and Daysi Funes
January 12, 2021

Arts, Community, and Activism
November 18, 2020

The Fall of the House of Lead
October 31, 2020

Imagine a Day Without Water
October 21, 2020

Daily Life and Dreams in the Pandemic
October 8, 2020

Artist Talk: Mel Chin, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, and Emmanuel Pratt
June 3, 2020

Image: Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Well 35°58’16”N - 106°5’21”W (Santa Clara Pueblo, NM), 2014. Pictured: Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle. Courtesy of the artist.