Activists speak about the power of art

Activists speak about the power of art

September 7, 2018

For some students, the beginning of a new academic year brought the opportunity to meet some well-known artists and social activists.

The Creativity, Arts and Social Transformation (CAST) minor worked with Brandeis’ Imagining Together Platform of Arts, Culture and Conflict Transformation (IMPACT) program to bring accomplished peacemakers and cultural artists to Brandeis to speak to students interested in doing the same.

The event, which took place on Tuesday, Sept. 4, was a cross between the end of a long weekend Design Lab hosted by IMPACT, and the beginning of the class Introduction to Creativity, the Arts and Social Transformation. The Design Lab, which took place from Aug. 31 through Sept. 3, was a conference of various workers in the field of arts working to create a clearer picture of the arts, culture and conflict transformation field by bringing together people from all roles (researchers, policy-makers, funders, etc.). It was a small part of IMPACT’s continuing efforts to create networks and resources among artists and cultural leaders to more effectively transform conflict. Project Manager Armine Avetisyan (HS, COEX), who has worked to build relationships over the closed border between Turkey and her home country of Armenia for over a decade, says the program has helped realize the scale of the community to social activists in the world, despite often facing discouragement in her home country. As the first session of CAST’s introductory class, the event also served as a “welcome back” event for the CAST community, which brings together artistically and socially minded students and teachers at Brandeis for education, conversation and creation.

Nine artists stayed behind after the end of the conference Monday to speak at the event, which was scheduled to coincide with the first session of the CAST class but was open to the wider Brandeis community. These artists included Babu Ayindo of Kenya, Ellada Evangelou of Cyprus, Mary Ann Hunter of Australia, Catherine Muhoma of Kenya, Shahid Nadeem of Pakistan, Carmen Olaechea of Argentina and Lee Perlman of Israel. All have combined art with efforts to work towards causes such as societal integration and peacebuilding, and all have accomplishments too vast to efficiently list.

The event started off with each artist introducing themselves and talking about how they see the future of arts as a means of social transformation. They stressed the power of art as a means of community engagement, a means to empower and engage young people and those disenfranchised, as well as a means to bypass conscious biases. Or, in the poetic words of playwright Shahid Nadeem, art is a means to “bypass that [conscious biased] process and reach the heart,” where people can truly engage with other people without the obstacle of instilled biases. The floor was then opened for questions, many of which concerned the specifics of how to make progress or keep hope in a bleak world. The universal answer from the speakers was to keep faith in humanity and look at the progress being made every day, stressing the great technological and societal advances which allow for artists and activists from all over the world to come together and work much more effectively.

After this discussion, a reception was held where students, teachers and speakers came together over surprisingly excellent snacks and discussed the specifics of their futures and the issues at hand in a friendly environment, a testament to the excellent collaborations Brandeis enables.

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