On Saturday, January 21, I joined an array of women in my city of St. Louis, MO, to share remarks, reflections, and calls to action during our local post-inauguration Women’s March. Below are both my original speech script as well as footage from the speech (captured by various friends).
Design Observer “Creative Will: What It Takes to Shift Creative Organizations and Industries toward Greater Racial Equity”
As a new political administration and cultural climate continues to unfold in the United States, there will be demand and need for more industries and populations of people to rise up for the protection and sustainability of justice, unity, and humanity across the nation and world. Industries of creative practice are presented with a crucial set of roles and opportunities in which to contribute, design, and actualize systems, tools, cultural norms, and services that will benefit the collective mass of citizens moving forward.
Join me and other creative changemakers in Portland, OR, for Affect Conf October 7-8. Affect Conf is a new 2-day event that’s part conference and part volunteering and highlights the work, culture, and design behind social change. Talks will include presentations and lectures from activists and social impact designers like me to writers like Kai Cheng Thom (from Everyday Feminism), coders, artists, podcasters, and more.
On May 19, I gave my first commencement address to art and design students graduating from my alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis. In engaging this opportunity, I was asked to speak from the perspective of a young alum and share inspiration for how to live a radically and consciously creative post-graduate life.
In reflecting on this task, I tapped back into my 22 year old self and asked: what would I have wanted to know? What would have made my journey easier? What were the biggest challenges in transitioning from a life-long role as a “student” to becoming a creative adult? How did I learn how to live a life with meaning?
With many tears wiped aside, I shared the following:
On April 25, I was one of the recipients of the St. Louis Visionary Awards, which exists to “celebrate the numerous contributions and achievements of women who work in or support the arts in St. Louis. From established working arts professionals and arts educators to emerging artists and community impact artists, each year’s honorees are truly ‘visionary’.”
For the 2016 Visionary Awards, I was nominated and received the Community Impact Artist award, which recognized contributions I’d made during the past year(s) as a social practice and community artist.
This presentation was presented to leaders of foundations and granting organizations to inform the growing trends of artists-activists (artivists) in times of social unrest.
Young people are ripe for creative social change. This truth was concreted for me during the Artivists & Uprisings workshop discussion I recently engaged at St. Louis University. I joined Elizabeth Vega, Damon Davis, Jelani Brown, and professor Olubukola “Bukky” Gbadegesin to share how artivism–the act of using art as a tool and pathway for organizing and advocacy– can serve a role for youth and high schoolers who care about social justice, issues, and causes. We were joined by students from three creative and performing arts high schools in the St. Louis Grand Center Arts District–Metro High School, Cardinal Ritter, and Grand Center Arts Academy.
During this session, the four of us Artivists talked and shared our collaborations and works from the movement that was jumpstarted in Ferguson, MO, following the shooting death of Michael Brown. We recounted stories and inspirations for creative actions and works from the mirror casket to the Requiem for Mike Brown, various ArtBuilds and protest art, Racism Still Lives Here banners, United Story: Ferguson Beyond Today, Connected 4 Justice, All Hands on Deck, MLK Day banners, Faces of the Movement, Whose Streets? documentary, I Have a Right Too…, and more projects we’ve each led and engaged.
This discussion was followed by workshops with the high schoolers, and one of the school groups yearned to learn our methods and apply them at school. This was expressed because of a series of incidents where teachers and administrators censored their visual voices by covering a social justice mural that students painted inside of the school. We, therefore spent the remaining time working with them to strategize ways to creatively protest and amplify student voices against censorship.
Through this experience, several tactics were shared by the artivists, many of which are applicable to students and creative organizers at-large. Some ways that groups and individual organizers can use art as activism include:
- Hosting an ArtBuild and making art for protests and actions. ArtBuilds are a collaborative art-making session where core organizers, artists, and allies alike join in to create and build the materials needed for your direct action. If your teachers will not let you build during class or after-school, find a local arts organization or group (like the Roots Co-op) that will let you use their space, or use the garage or yard of one of your group’s members.
- Leveraging social media to document and amplify your cause and calls to action. Social media can serve as a great platform not only to market, organize, and archive your work, but also to creatively raise awareness through humor and art. One awesome creative maker doing this is
– Franchesca “Chescaleigh.” Check out some of her work on Facebook and YouTube. Another project that did this for a while is the Faces of the Movement online portrait project.
- Organizing a flash mob, teach-in, or walk-out with other students about the cause(s) you care about. Use art to visualize your message. Creative mobilizing serves to educate others’ about your cause, articulate your demands, and/or illustrate the context of your “why” through performance and movement. Include the visuals created in your ArtBuild to expand your efforts. Some examples from this past year that did this well include the Requiem for Mike Brown protest at the St. Louis Symphony, #ChalkedUnarmed, the mirror casket and the spread of student walk-outs and teach-ins across the nation.
- Installing and making public art work. Create art that can be placed in public spaces and shared with others to communicate or recruit them toward your cause. Chalk Riot organizer, Chelsea, and Damon Davis’ All Hands on Deck are good examples of this approach with their respective works.
- Creating a daily project that helps you visually reflect. With the overwhelming amount of issues that face our society, it becomes a challenge to digest, reflect, and express all that we are learning, experiencing, and fighting against. As artists and artivists, one special tool that you have is the ability to create. As an alternative to reposting articles on Facebook and tweeting thoughts, challenge yourself to visually express what you’re feeling, thinking, and doing. One way that I’ve done this is through the #StickyNotetoSelf. Damon Davis, an artist-organizer-filmmaker in the movement, does this through his project, Negrophilia.
- Documenting your learning, process, and created work. One of the key lessons that Artivists are learning in the movement is the power of documentation. Be sure to photograph and film your process as you work. Capture final works as well as works-in-use. Show people interacting. Create an active and accessible archive. You never know if or when these works may come up again.
What other ways can young people use art to activate the causes that matter to them? Share other examples and ideas below.
Header Photo by Jessie Sequeria via Facebook