The 4 things to keep in mind when doing art for social change

Hangout Crew Episode 2 REVISEDI do this work of teaching artistry in order to make a difference in the world.  Don’t you? And I am constantly learning how to do it better.  So yesterday, when I had the honor and privilege to “hang out” online with 3 women I admire very much – Sarah Crowell, Elia Gurna, and Kai Fierle-Hedrick – I was thrilled how much I got to learn from each of them about why this work is so important and how they go about it in their organizations and communities.  The 4 of us talked for an hour about the connections between art making, teaching artistry, and social change in our communities.  And, waking up this morning, I am realizing that, in order to do the most effective, most impactful arts for social change work, it all comes down to 4 main things:

  1. Commitment – You gotta be all in.  As Sarah Crowell says, we do this work “in every breath.” Note: I don’t mean you must be overworked and underpaid.  That you must forsake the material world and dedicate every inch of yourself to the greater good.  Remember that you are just as important as the rest of us out here.  Taking care of yourself – physically, emotionally, financially, etc. – is part of the commitment you make to this work.  Commitment to changing the world through your art is about imagining that you can actually do it, having a plan for how, and putting the pieces in place to make it happen.
  2. Patience – This work takes time.  Kai and her folks at Free Arts are working to make the arts available to every citizen in NYC despite their economic situation.  They’ve been doing this since the 90’s and they’re still going.  Changing the world doesn’t happen over night.  You gotta get up everyday and celebrate every small win, trusting that each win is working together to bring you closer and closer to achieving your mission.
  3. Integrity – This work requires you to authentically live your values in everything you do.  New Urban Arts was originally founded by high school and college-aged young people who needed a place to make their art the way they wanted to make it.  A couple of decades later, Elia and her crew continue to live this founding story on a daily basis – honoring and integrating the leadership of young artists at every level of their organizational policy.  As an organization focused on preventing and eliminating violence from our communities, Destiny Arts Center works very hard to integrate peace practices into everything they do.  Sarah revealed to us that they start every encounter – every class, every meeting, even every job interview – with a few moments of mindfulness practice!  In your work, you must first understand exactly what your values are – what qualities you most want to bring to the world – and then continue to look for ways to integrate those values into your art, your teaching, and your business practices.
  4. Connection – Simply having had the opportunity to hangout with these 3 dynamic, powerful, and wholehearted women felt to me like I was changing the world just a little bit.  The heart of this work is personal connection.  We are here on this planet to become stronger, wiser, more loving and compassionate people.  We can only do this through our ongoing connection with each other.  You are here, reading this blog post, because you know that art is the number 1, most powerful tool to strengthen our human connection.  So keep going.  Keep making art.  Keep teaching others to make art.  Keep connecting.  Build and maintain the relationships and partnerships that allow you to make this happen.  Build and maintain the relationships and partnerships that don’t just serve you but serve your broader community.  Prioritize these connections.  Put in the work to keep them strong.

What about you?  What do you think is most important to keep in mind when doing arts for social change work?



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