Art is activism. Art is therapy. Art is meditative. Art is important. Art is protest. Writers and poets like Audre Lorde and Pat Parker—both Black lesbian feminists—have created some of the most lasting and informative works of the past decades. The legacy of using art as activism and as a means of dealing with trauma, understanding oppression, and fighting back continues today. We see contemporary artists invoking music and other mediums to protest injustice. Janelle Monáe’s “Hell You Talmbout,” which was written to raise awareness about and condemn police brutality against people of color, is a prime example of blending art and activism. This article functions as a resource for those who want to explore art as a means to respond to and protest prejudice.
1. Loud: New Orleans Queer Youth Theater.
Loud is an organization of “outspoken, unapologetic queer and trans* youth and their allies” who are “coming together in solidarity to build community and tell their stories.” The New Orleans based group seeks to use theater as a means to bring together a community of activists who promote the values of diversity and anti-oppression. Loud utilizes theater to individually and collectively deal with the emotional effects of trauma. Take a look at this video of the group’s first show “Beyond Acceptance.”
2. The Theatre of the Oppressed, NYC
The Theatre of the Oppressed uses interactive theatre as a tool to recreate and then move past oppressive situations. The group partners with different communities and showcases artists who are addressing a multiplicity of injustices. Acting out and understanding oppression helps the actors and audiences take action against marginalization off-stage. A video featuring the process of creating interactive and community building performances can be found here. And check out this video preview of the group’s upcoming show, ”Legislative Theatre Festival: The Housing Circus”, which explores true life narratives about the difficulty of finding housing in NYC for low income, LGBTQ+, and veteran communities.
3. Shout Your Abortion
Shout Your Abortion is a growing movement to draw attention to attacks on reproductive rights and to support people who have received and who are seeking abortions. Shout Your Abortion is also an integrative movement that strives to provide resources and encourage individuals to hold their own events and connect with their local communities. It recognizes the importance of larger advocacy groups, but also looks to “decentralize” abortion advocacy and provide platforms for people to engage on individual levels, both to promote supportive messages and to come to terms with their own experiences.
4. Black L.U.V. Fest
Black L.U.V. Fest is a yearly arts festival held in Washington D.C. Its mission is to elevate marginalized voices, uplift the D.C. community, and pay tribute to powerful movements like Black Lives Matter. Black L.U.V. Fest also seeks to educate the larger community on lasting issues like education, social injustice, and healthcare. It partners with groups like Social Art and Culture to bring in influential artists and promote positive and culturally relevant messages. Check out a promotional video featuring some of its past music groups and performances.
Learn more about Black L.U.V. Fest here.
5. Beyond Prison
Beyond Prison features programs established in different prisons that create opportunities for incarcerated people to engage in the arts. They offer workshops that use art as therapy and call for reforms from across all sectors and political backgrounds. The group supports narratives pushing for the public to address systemic discrimination—such as racism, sexism, classism and transphobia—encountered by incarcerated people in the U.S. prison system.
6. The Prison Arts Coalition
The Prison Arts Coalition reaches out to, guides, and promotes different groups focused on prison art therapy. The organization serves as a great resource for people interested in prison art therapy because it has compiled links to different programs across the United States. Our criminal justice system is centered around punishment rather than rehabilitation, and this leads to difficulty re-entering society, heightened rates of recidivism, and higher rates of PTSD and mental illness in formerly incarcerated individuals. (Another similar resource is “Rehabilitation Through the Arts,” which offers programs in many different art forms.)
7. KQED Arts
The arts page of this public media group in California explores the history of art as activism and the evolution of the power of speaking out through creation. Based in the Bay Area, KQED Arts provides links to different groups and art programs fighting for the rights of incarcerated people, LGBTQIAP+ folks, communities of color, immigrant communities, and many more.
KQED Arts can be found here!
8. Americans for the Arts
This non-profit organization protecting the arts is more important than ever, given the Trump administration’s recent attempts to cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Here is a video promoting Americans for the Arts’ “Arts Advocacy Day 2017: Speak Up, Speak Out!”, which took place in Washington D.C. in late March.
Edited by Kidest Assefa-McNeil.