Last semester, my group members and I, focused art activism within Black and Brown communities for our final project. What we learned is that historically, art has been used as a tool of activism, resistance, and empowerment, especially within Black and Brown communities/movements. In a more contemporary sense, art has become a tool of many professions for intervention, recovery, and healing.
“Arts and culture make considerable and necessary contributions to the well-being of communities. Arts and culture are powerful tools with which to engage communities in various levels of change. They are a means to public dialogue, contribute to the development of a community’s creative learning, create healthy communities capable of action, provide a powerful tool for community mobilization and activism, and help build community capacity and leadership.” ~ Creative City Network of Canada
It is also important to note that the arts empower, and as stated by Robert L. Lynch, President, Americans for the Arts, “the arts give a voice to the voiceless. The arts help transforms American communities and, as I often say, the result can be a better child, a better town, a better nation and certainly a better world. Let’s champion our arts action heroes, emulate them and make our communities everything we want them to be.”
A time where both art and activism flourished together was during the Harlem Renaissance during the early 1900’s. Harlem became the hub for intellectuals, writers, painters, and musicians. Art was used as a vehicle to combat negative stereotypes and images, to uplift and instill racial pride, and achieve Civil Rights, Fair Labor, and housing. A strategy Langston Hughes uses is concealing “politics” in “poetry”. Hughes wanted his writing to be recognized as “art” that also depicts social and racial discrimination. Poems such as “If We Must Die” along with “America,” and “Harlem Shadows” were all exposing the angst of working class African-Americans struggling with issues such as alienation, rage and oppression. The Chicano Arts movement transpired from Chicano Civil Rights Movement where Chicano muralism was used to strengthen cultural identity, raise the consciousness of their community, and challenge racism.
Art as a mechanism for healing and change, is now becoming more prevalent within social work practice methods. Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process of making art to improve a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It can be used for counseling by therapists, healing, treatment, rehabilitation, and psychotherapy. Art therapy also helps to channel one’s inner-self in a way that may provide the individual with a deeper understanding of him or herself. And not to my surprise, art therapy is employed in many clinical and non-clinical settings.