‘Artivism’ fuses art and activism to cultivate creativity within communities

Johanna Toruno displays her street art of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during the “Imagine What is Possible: Artivism” event held by the Women’s Center and the department of women’s, gender, sexuality studies and the Ballard Instituted of Museum of Puppetry. Photo provided by author

The term “artivism” combines art and activism and is used to describe the work of various types of artists who challenge the traditional idea of what art is and what impact it can have on society. This term is inherently linked to community and the ways that artists can use their artistic endeavors to connect with the people and places around them. 

In an event titled “Imagine What is Possible: Artivism,” co-hosted by the Women’s Center, the department of women’s, gender, sexuality studies and the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, four artists gathered to discuss how their work extends beyond the typical definition of art and is working toward improving society.  

“My work is really rooted in community practice…I want to connect to where it’s being performed and the people who live there and what they care about,” Felicia Cooper, a puppeteer and graduate assistant at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, said. 

The event began with a reading of “Won’t You Celebrate With Me,” a poem written by Lucille Clifton and read by Mick Powell, a poet and assistant professor in residence in women’s, gender and sexuality studies at UConn. The poem confronts the presence of racism and gender inequality in society and celebrates how, despite these challenges, Clifton overcame the odds and had a successful career.  

One of the current challenges in society that is unearthing many inequalities is COVID-19. As with many other industries and fields of study, the art community has been significantly impacted by COVID-19 and artists have been forced to adjust how they connect with their community and continue to ensure that their work is seen and shared. Zulynette, a poet, performing artist and social worker, reflected on how she was able to witness an uplifting of mutual aid, especially toward the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, to help those in need through acts such as delivering food and resources. 

“That was really important and beautiful to see, when it comes to community, is essentially us taking care of each other versus relying on outside entities to take care of us,” Zulynette said. 

The panelists for the Artivism event hosted by the Women’s Center and a department of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry discuss the way in which art can push boundaries and take on new forms. Photo provided by author

Though Zulynette’s artwork does not translate into the typical idea of what a social worker is, she is carving out her own definition of what it means to work in communities and help those in need of assistance.  

“I have decided that the way that I am going to do my form of social work in the world is through art and poetry and so in everything that I do it is also challenging the norm of what it means to work socially in communities,” Zulynette said.  

Zulynette is one of many artists who are challenging the limitations that our minds place on the study of art and showing that it can be whatever you want it to be and that it also can take on new forms. In doing so, it becomes apparent that activism is deeply rooted within art and this concept of “artivism” is not new to society. Writers, like Clifton, and other artists have been integrating politics into their art to address the inequalities in society and instill a sense of hope for a better tomorrow.  

“Not all art is activism, but I do think that all activism is art because it imagines a better world and you need a lot of creativity to imagine a world that you want to live in,” Cooper said.  

“Artivism” is an idea based on healing and community gathering and provides an outlet for artists to share their work with the wider public and work toward creating meaningful and lasting change in certain aspects of society. Whether you are a poet, writer, puppeteer, painter or photographer, all art is valuable in its own unique way and can work toward eradicating injustices in society. 

“The work will never be done…we need to commit to it being a lifelong endeavor and know that the world that we are building is not even one we might see but we are continuing to build it because we believe in it,” Cooper said.  

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