In 2014, my husband and I moved to Miami from Chicago where I was a Creative Director in advertising. Here in Miami, we have sunny day flooding yet a large body of climate change deniers. Our city has the largest population of immigrants in the U.S., yet there’s apathy for Syrian refugees and undocumented immigrants seeking a better life. We have a wildly flourishing art scene, yet many artists, galleries and collectors who ignore the issues we’re drowning in.
I felt the need to plant seeds of change and started by creating Inspiration Pollination, a group that uses art to connect the public with the plight of pollinators. With this type of activism, I was able to use my marketing, PR and fine art skills for change.
I then collaborated with activists to create awareness for the Florida Black Bear hunt, Lolita the Orca at Miami Seaquarium and the River of Grass Greenway (ROGG) “bike path” (a road for seismic testing trucks, literally paving the way for oil drilling in the Everglades and five other national parks).
Along the way, I connected with a multitude of passionate people. Some were working in a silo, although almost all were open to collaborating. I was in a show called FOR EVERGLADES with JohnBob Carlos and several other amazing artists, that started conversation and created awareness around the ROGG; I was inspired to use art to facilitate more. The hurdle is finding galleries willing to host shows involving social practice or political art, as they’re of course concerned with their bottom line.
I see the The Artful Activist as an avenue to connect artists, activists and galleries in a way that’s tailored to all involved – facilitating dialogue and shows revolving around issues they may already be championing. My dream was that this model might also influence collectors and the work they buy, adding even more “value” to art that has something to say.
It started as an idea for an app that would connect artists, activists and gallerists around specific issues. It then evolved into a blog, as I hadn’t found many forums that were willing to publish articles from artist activists’ perspectives.
Trump “winning” the election gave me an incredible sense of urgency to do something more with it. So I formed a secret group online where I could brainstorm troll-free with twenty-five like-minded creatives.
From there, we added more people to the group and started public Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages where our Contributors could share content, including art and events involving social or environmental activism. We’re now up to around 130 Contributors.
I marvel each day at the quality of brainpower, compassion and motivation within our collective. Some who have been particularly instrumental in its creation and evolution are Dakota Rais, Scott Kraynak, Laura & Gary Dumm, Michelle Ivette Gomez, Stuart Sheldon and James Deeb. I want to list them all, but readers will have to check out our pages (& website when it’s live)!
Getting acquainted with the work of our Contributors has taken the project to a new, exciting place. Each are on the forefront of something BIG and their work runs the gamut. The way each are tackling important issues has incredible potential to inspire.
The next goal is to turn The Artful Activist into an online magazine, where Contributors can interview each other and individuals outside of the group. Artist-to-artist, artist-to-activist or artist-to-gallerist (& vice-versa) interviews offer unique insight into all of these worlds. Our first interview on the new website will feature artist & Contributor Akira Beard and musician NEO 10Y!
Members are mostly people I’ve met through my art and activism, so at first the group was heavily environmentally-focused. I’ve since been able to reach out beyond my own network and connect with those working on social issues. I feel incredibly lucky to have made these new connections, as environmental and social issues are all so interconnected. I have learned a lot from artists Stephen Towns, Sarah Stolar, Zeal Harris, Debbi Becker and Morel Doucet, as well as several gallerists I’ve recently connected with.
These connections have influenced my own art – my After-image series is now taking a different turn, where social issues are layered over environmental issues. In addition, I’ve become aware of more ways in which discrimination plays out environmentally; marginalized populations are bearing the brunt of pollution and climate change globally and in our own back yards.
Artists see things differently, maybe because most of us have an insatiable curiosity. With our work, we have the ability to evoke emotion and inspire new ways of thinking. It’s funny, because professions in the arts are often discouraged and undervalued, yet our ideas drive culture and fuel society. We often have people telling us something can’t be done, but then we do it. We see ways around problems that others may not see. To be an artist in today’s society requires fierce determination, incredible optimism and willingness to be “weird”!
When applied to activism or changing archaic ways of thinking, artists can provide the visual story that most minds require to absorb a new idea. We can create something that connects with people on an emotional level – literally mapping new paths in the brain – whether it be writing, painting, performing, playing music and so on. By collaborating with activists and scientists, we can more effectively tell the important stories that need to be told.
Willingness to collaborate is another gift most creatives have. Artists of all kinds exist in every community, creating with whatever is available, and are in general incredibly empathetic and giving people. An upcoming project that harnesses this power is the Artist March, the brainchild of one of our amazing Contributors, artist/fabricator Alessandra Mondolfi. On June 14 (Flag Day & Trump’s birthday), we will have the opportunity to take our passion to the streets worldwide, fighting for equality, the environment and the arts, in solidarity and in collaboration with others, USING art.
I have a long list of individuals I’d like to bring together!
This collaborative interview style can connect activists and artists, and not just for protesting purposes, but to aide each other in figuring out ways to change legislation. Artists may have different approaches that can influence lawmakers in unexpected ways. Activists can also influence artwork by being resources for artists and keeping us informed on current issues.
Connecting artists and activists with galleries can be beneficial to all parties. Galleries can offer a venue and audience; artists and activists may bring some intrigue, helpful information, additional marketing and unexpected collectors.
Connecting creatives to politicians also interests me. We may ask them questions in a different way, offering a unique perspective and interview style. We might even learn more about policy-making in the process!
Galleries hold a certain power to elevate artists. They often play it safe so that sales are not sacrificed.
With our current economy, artists and galleries often feel they have to choose between making a living and making or showing edgier work that’s potentially polarizing. Yet, when you look at artists like Basquiat, Haring or Banksy and those who have supported them, it’s not only led to great success, but has shifted the world’s thinking.
Collectors look to galleries to tell them what’s “of value”. With our current state of affairs, I think we all have a certain amount of responsibility to elevate artists who are asking tough questions, exposing issues in our society and creating culture and true value with their work. The Artful Activist can help promote them when they do. I would love for our Contributors to moderate artist talks at galleries, facilitating more dialogue around intersectionality, free speech, the environment and more.
It’s difficult to pinpoint one issue, because I now see them as interconnected and equally important. One thing I’m sure of is that we all need to work together to eliminate hate. We will not come close to solving our world’s social or environmental problems until we do.
Hate stems from fear and self-loathing. Fears can only be overcome by stepping outside of our comfort zones and exercising more curiosity, leading to empathy and compassion. Compassion also requires self love.
The Artful Activist can help by shining light on intersectionality and lifting up marginalized artists. Intersectionality is defined as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”
Galleries, museums, theaters and publications have the power to lift up voices that have historically been and are currently being shut down, especially women of color and the LGBTQ community. Only by seeing the world through perspectives different than ours will we ever be able to build empathy, which will lead to compassion, which will lead to helping each other. Art has the power to create this portal for “seeing” like nothing else.
With environmental and animal rights issues, I see activists from all sides of the political spectrum working together. However, when it comes to addressing these issues or social issues with art, I tend to only see liberal voices. Conservatism seems to be driven from fear of change, or fear of the unknown, so it makes sense to me that artists, who are generally liberal, empathetic and fearless in many ways, are the ones using their work as a forum for activism.
I’d love to see all environmental activists acknowledging what social issues may be playing into environmental issues, and addressing the bigger picture.
I’d like for a diverse Board of Advisers to help shape it into something that’s truly a forum for perspectives not often heard. It could also facilitate group shows and moderate artist talks that are educational and beneficial to all involved. I’d like it to be a catalyst for changing the art world to be more accessible to everyone, representing voices not often heard.