Activism Through Art

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.



5 thoughts on “Activism Through Art”

  1. I hope to see art and activism working together more conjointly because they are such a natural pair and I loved your quote of how art can give a voice to the voiceless. This can be such an effective medium to amplify others and allow them a space where no other space exists. I want to learn more about art therapy as I have heard of it but still do not fully grasp all of its possibilities.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’v recently been experimenting with art as a mechanism for healing . I think this is the future in activism and shooing change because art allows space for growth and critical thinking without feeling that you are doing the work (audience perspective).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Absolutely loving the thoughts you are bringing to this conversation! I am tired of art being seen as a cop out when it comes to activism. I’m currently going through a mild existential crisis as I attempt to strike a good ratio balance for myself that sustains me and also isn’t overly one or the other. It seems to be the constant work, adjusting that ratio moment to moment, even if it has to be the fragment of a thought written in a margin. I’m thinking about Art as therapy, and on Catalina’s post, I’m wondering if poetry could influence policy


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