Connecting Movements Thru Art

By Kate Meyer*

Sports, art, and politics: three things that rarely go together. But when they do, their combination has the ability to access deep-seeded emotions, values and beliefs in an unexpected, highly engaging way. Think of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player in major league baseball. Robinson, who joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, used the medium of sports to enhance a political debate about race in America. And think of Anna Deavere Smith, the playwright, actor and scholar who wrote the famous play Fires in the Mirror. Her dramatization of the 1991 race riots between Jews and Blacks in Crown Heights, Brooklyn sparked a debate about identity and community well beyond the theater doors. A recent webinar, Immigration: Arts, Culture & Media, hosted by The Opportunity Agenda showcased these and other experiments in intertwining athletes, artists and activists to promote immigrant rights and cultural diversity.

The first of the three panelists, Liz Manne, was the founder of Work in Progress and co-author of The Opportunity Agenda’s August 2010 report Immigration: Arts, Culture & Media. Based on surveys and one-on-one interviews, the report compiled a list of interdisciplinary initiatives that were particularly effective at increasing cultural inclusivity. One conclusion Manne highlighted was the importance of choosing a type of art that fits the desired impact. Activists can pick from an art spectrum that includes culturally celebratory, irreverent, community based, and personally expressive art, finding the form that best expresses the goal of their movement. She stressed the benefits of genuinely collaborative projects where artists have significant input in activists’ planning processes. She also highlighted the role of those well-rounded, well-linked few who can serve as “connectors” between movements and enrich the advocacy process. She defined them as “people who are “bilingual” in art and advocacy and can connect the right artists with the right advocacy campaigns.”

Eric Ward, National Field Director for the Center for New Community, talked about his experience with the program Show Racism the Red Card. He used the example of soccer in the U.S. as a sport with a culturally diverse base of players and fans. Ward argued that soccer is a perfect sport in which to raise awareness about and fight against discrimination.

Favianna Rodriguez, artist and founder of Presente.org, spoke on the topic “Can Art Stop Hate?” Her presentation was accompanied by slides which showcased her galvanizing posters that overflow with color, vibrancy and dignity. In her mind, the role of the artist is to “educate and agitate.” Artists are in a unique position to reframe the American immigration debate, she said. They can create new images of proud communities to counter the fear-mongering immigrant stereotypes rampant in mainstream media. Rodriguez herself is leading the pack: one of her posters depicts a woman confidently holding a sign that says “UNDOCUMENTED, UNAFRAID.”

Together, these three panelists formed an inspiring group of “connectors” guiding the way to new collaborations and teaching us that if the problems in our world intersect, so should the solutions.

*Kate Meyer is a Research and Programs intern at the National Council for Research on Women. She recently graduated from Cornell University where she studied Government , Spanish and was a member of the Cornell Women’s Resource Center Advisory Board.


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