Every time I pick up the newspaper, and by newspaper, I mean my iPhone, I read about communities divided. I read about a nation divided. I read about a world divided. People being murdered because they aren’t white Christians. Armed forces sent to intimidate rather than help immigrants seeking solace in the US. An elected official saying that african people were “scum of the earth,” and has sought to displace the indigenous people because “there is wealth underneath” the land.
All of this, and more, is happening daily, so what can a small arts organization in Seattle do to combat the reality we are all fearing, everyday? Do we accept it and charge through? Do we bow our heads, and hope it goes away? No we raise our heads, start working with others. We ask questions. We seek answers. We create change. We are Arts Corps.
Nothing will take the paint brush or the microphone out of our hands, if we are all holding on together. Arts Corps has three values: community, creativity, and equity. Those define how Arts Corps operates and move throughout the world. We work with our community and build bridges instead of walls.
This year, we were honored to be awarded the community partner of the year, from Teen Tix. They are a wonderful arts organization that is youth centered, and helps provide access to arts opportunities for those that have been denied those opportunities. This is a great deal of symbiosis with their New Guard program and our Youth Speaks program, and our missions are also closely aligned. I went to their gala with several members of the Arts Corps staff, and when Arts Corps received the Community Partner Award, we accepted the award together, as a community.
Community, ya heard?
Not long after the award ceremony, I flew to Montreal, Quebec to present at the Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM). UAEM’s annual North American conference is an opportunity to inspire, educate, skills-build and mobilize students from a variety of disciplines to become part of something bigger and act now on the access to medicines crisis at their universities. When I was first invited, I thought, “what, the hell?”
But, their wonderful ED, Merith Basey, convinced me that the attendees needed to connect with what we are doing at Arts Corps. She was right. During the opening speech, she spoke about the same issues that we speak about: equity, access, youth. How can they make drug pricing fair? How can more people have access to essential medicines? What can we do to raise awareness around the issues impacting low income, and mostly black and brown communities.
That’s where Arts Corps comes in. On a bleary Sunday morning, I led a workshop on how to use the many aspects of youth culture to create campaigns about inequitable drug pricing. Before my workshop began, I played an upbeat mix including A Tribe Called Quest, Chaka Khan, and Gilles Peterson. The participants looked warily at me but began moving in their seats. After a brief warmup, I introduced the tenets of youth culture, including the sounds, visuals, social media posts, clothes, and even tastes that drive our world. They were, then, tasked with creating calls to action using what they learned. The participants made memes featuring Drake and Spongebob. They remixed popular songs, replacing the lyrics with content about public health. They also made boomerang videos, music videos, and visual art, posting everything on social media, with the hashtag, #access2meds. Everyone left the workshop inspired and excited to make change.
Creativity on fleek.
Last week, I went to the New Executive Fund conference sponsored by George Soros Open Society Foundation. We are recipients of the New Executive Fund, which is for newish Executive Directors working in human rights. Arts Corps is one of a few arts organizations to be recipients, so I was excited to be with others doing social justice work, in different sectors. With people working in Syria, Malawi, India, Kenya, and throughout Europe, the conversations were varied. The strangest, and thereby wonderful, thing that stood out, was that everyone was excited about the work of Arts Corps. Using the arts to revolutionize education, support youth voice, and provide access to free arts classes can’t be dismissed. We are making an impact in the region, and we are broadening that impact to other parts of the continent. We don’t conform, we reform.
Equity. Can’t stop, won’t stop.
Even though we read something new everyday that threatens our resolve, we must find ways to unite, to think creatively about issues, and work to support youth voice. Don’t let yourself be dismayed. You are not alone. Look up from your phone and computer and tell the person next to you, “I love you.” Shake the hands of a stranger. Breathe. Laugh. Cry. Shout. Paint. Act. Dance. Play.
Make Art Anyway.
Check out our newest Annual Report, and see what else Arts Corps has been doing.