Maryland Institute College of Art

Activating and Amplifying the Power of the Artist-Activist

Arts and culture

This project will transform the respect and use of art as a social change agent through community art activism, research and demonstration, and media innovation.

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Lead Organization

Maryland Institute College of Art

Baltimore, Maryland, United States

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Art has the power to change minds, open doors to new realities, and promote individual and communal healing. Yet this power is poorly understood by policymakers, funders, and the public. In underserved communities throughout the world, artists and laypeople use art to advance social justice - knowing their work improves lives, but lacking the tools to communicate its efficacy. Maryland Institute College of Art proposes to lead a team of partners, including Mural Arts Philadelphia and the Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics, in a project to demonstrate, measure, and communicate the value of art as a vehicle for social justice. This project will involve: the deployment of 100 artist-activists in demonstration sites across the U.S. and internationally to build community and elevate best practices among their peers; a media campaign that includes television program plot inserts and original films; and neurological research that demonstrates the impact of art.

Problem Statement

Art, with its ability to change, heal, and explore new realities, is a potent means of effecting social justice. Artist-activists regularly manifest the transformative power of the arts in their practices. Underserved communities, who have never divorced their aesthetic lives from their daily lives or meanings, often use art as a form of emotional survival, spending more of their attention and money on aesthetics than other groups. For them, there may be no other tool with so much change-making power. Yet the power of the arts as a catalyst for social good is poorly understood, and thus under-utilized by policymakers, funders, and the public. Art is typically viewed as a “soft” tool at best, ineffectual at worst. The applications of art as a vehicle for social justice tend to lack sophistication and precision. Artist-activists often undertake meaningful work without investigating their methods or articulating desired outcomes. Funders that seek quantifiable results of this work are frequently frustrated by the hard-to-define nature of the transformative impact of art. In order to make full use of art’s potential to drive social justice, communities require sophisticated tools to implement and evaluate interventions that are anchored in hard research and best practices. This requires rigorous investigation, documentation, and measurement of art’s impact on individuals and communities. Furthermore, this effort requires an aggressive communications and public relations campaign to shift popular perception. Defining, validating, and communicating the impact as a tool of social justice comprises an effective mechanism for replicating and sustaining good work.

Solution Overview

Just as the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s demonstrated the value of the arts to American society, this project will use philanthropic funding to demonstrate the value of art as a tool to advance social justice on an international scale. By mobilizing a team of 100 artist-activists, highlighting best practices in the field, producing substantive research, and undertaking a large-scale communications campaign, this project will show policymakers, funders, and people around the world that there is no limit to the number of challenges that can be addressed by art. This project will comprise a coordinated effort of artist-activists with a history of effective outcomes. MICA and Mural Arts will organize these artists and deploy them in selected demonstration sites in the U.S. and internationally, to create a global network of practitioners who use best practices in promoting social justice through art. PCfN will investigate and evaluate individual and community changes at the demonstration sites. A cornerstone of the project will be a media campaign to change perceptions about art and social justice. Since films like “An Inconvenient Truth” have proven to be effective means of communicating big ideas, the campaign will involve the production of films to be screened at festivals and other venues. The campaign will craft “plot inserts” for television programs, a technique that has proven effective in shifting attitudes. In Brazil, for example, HIV/AIDS storylines introduced into telenovelas resulted in improved viewer attitudes. The campaign will also include an emphasis on social media.

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