Art and Social Justice

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 3.08.15 PMAs a creator and consumer of the arts, I recently took a trip to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis with a friend to see some new exhibits. It’s been awhile since I visited a museum and was pleased to see so much variety in the exhibits and art disciplines, which led to my friend and I having a casual conversation about the age-old question, “What is art?”

People have been asking this question for hundreds of years. And despite the fact that the definition can be narrower or broader depending on the respondent, today there are multitudes of artistic disciplines: some are carryovers from our ancient past, such as pottery and painting, and others are newer forms like electronic music and digital video.

Following the trip to the Walker, I went online to see how others are defining the term “art”, and I came across a recent blog on Huffington Post, where the author examines the meaning of “art” from the perspective of various people.

One of the responses that caught my attention was by theater director, Ana Mendelson. In the blog she states:

To me, Art is at its core inclusive. It’s inclusive in form, topic, and, hopefully, in creators and audience. Because art can be anything we want it to be, be about anything we want it to be, and be done for and by anyone, arts at its highest form brings people together and helps us reflect on our own humanity. Through art we can honor what makes us unique and celebrate what makes us all one.

Similar to Ms. Mendelson’s definition, I also see the value art has in bringing people together and its power to positively transform communities.  This definition had me thinking deeper about the question of art, and my current work of leveraging arts for better social equity.

Social justice and equity are not new concepts and have been around since the days of Plato. We generally think of social justice as a fair and equal relationship among members of a community or society. To learn more about social justice and equity, a simple history and explanation of “social justice” is provided in a blog post by The Pachamama Alliance – an organization whose mission is to reach out to the public and inform them of these social inequality issues that plague the globe.

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 3.59.49 PMAs a professional filmmaker, media producer, and artist, I have evolved my skills to adapt them for social good and today I apply them in a non-profit setting to help under-served communities and disadvantaged community members. Many of my organization’s programs and projects focus on social justice issues: health equity, arts and cultural access, educational equity, equitable community development, etc. However, our unique methodology is to think about and develop solutions through the arts and culture.

For example, we recently worked on a project with the Minnesota Department of Health and its Center for Health Equity to document and share health equity stories from around the state.  We used storytelling, video production and other art skills to accomplish this work.  One of goals of the project was to help state and community health worker work towards better health equity outcomes. The use of art tools was a successful strategy to engage more people and policies around health equity in Minnesota.

So how to I define art today?

For me, art has always been is a useful tool: a tool for communication, reflection, entertainment, and promotion. But today, I also include art as a tool and vehicle to address and solve social equity issues in our community, which is a way of thinking about art that has expanded my definition of the word.

How do you define art today?

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