Art Activism

"Great protests are great art works." - Sarah Sze

IMG_2552.jpeg

CORINNE SALTER

she/her

@

MKM's Art Activism Team Director Eliana Cortez interviewed 17-year-old Corinne Salter from Chicago, IL. She discussed her background and start with art, her catalyst to promote her social justice related artwork, and IRRESISTABLE.

Eliana: You’re an amazing artist! Can you tell us about your artistic background?

Corinne: Thank you haha! I think I've always been somewhat artistic. When I was younger I would copy pictures of cartoon characters and eventually upgraded to portraits, which I guess were good enough for my parents to put me in summer camp at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. That was in middle school, and there I learned to see art as a more technical skill rather than just something I did when I was bored. When I got to high school I kind of lost my artistic drive, getting involved in sports and dance, until I saw a classmate wearing customized sneakers and thought "I could do that." I spent about a year doing custom paintings on Nikes and Converse for classmates and friends, and I remembered how fun it was to create. Junior year I had an empty space in my schedule, between Lunch and Global Citizenship, and my counselor suggested art. My background got me placed in Advanced Placement Drawing and Painting, which is where I discovered a love for painting, both traditionally and digitally. That brings us to today!  

Eliana: Wow! It’s so interesting how you re-discovered your passion for art! Can you describe your artistic process? How do you go about creating your pieces?

Corinne: These days, since I finished my AP Portfolio, most of my work has been digital, because I love a new challenge and Adobe Illustrator is definitely that. In terms of how I go about creating, I just think about what I want people to feel when they see my work. What message I want to convey or thought I want to invoke. I would be lying if I say that ideas just come to me, but most of the time when I get started, I can't stop. I wish I could lay out my exact "process", but my brain is a bit of a wild card and it really varies for each piece.

Eliana: I’m the same way. So, what got you involved in activism? Can you identify a specific catalyst?

Corinne: I would say I've always been focused on uplifting my community in small scale ways. At home in Chicago I've worked at a non-profit focused on youth activism for three years, equipping young people with the tools we need to influence our own realities and future. It wasn't until this year, late May when the video of George Floyd's murder shook the world, that I felt angry enough to use social media as an outlet. I was sickened by the reality that we live in, one that I had been too comfortable in, because I couldn't see its effects.

Eliana: What inspired you to connect your art with your activism? 

Corinne: So hurt by what was going on around me, I felt helpless to do anything about it until I found my way to graphic design just a couple months ago. A dear friend and artistic mentor, Ameya Okamoto, reached out to me to be a part of her new organization "IRRESISTIBLE". She needed someone who could create infographics and impactful pieces, and knew that it was something I would be interested in. By continuing to spread awareness and useful information through art and design, I find myself contributing to the movement, a purpose I hadn't been able to find before.

Eliana: Besides running this account, how else are you involved in activism? Could you tell us more about IRRESISTIBLE. And, are there any past, present, or future projects you would like to talk about?

Corinne: I am most committed to my work with Chicago organization Mikva Challenge, where I work with a group of other Chicago teens to help create and implement policies that improve the Chicago Public Schools system. In addition to this I work on the previously mentioned Ameya Okamoto's project IRRESISTIBLE, which connects myself and other social practice artists with organizations where their work can be of service.

Eliana: Both those organizations sound awesome! Can you tell us about your blog?  

Corinne: The blog started as a website compiling resources after the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd in particular. I had been seeing so many numbers, emails, and petitions floating around, but nowhere they were all in one place with easy access and labelling. I created corispeaks.com after a long day of research, putting everything useful I could find on the site. At the same time, I was studying for finals and frustrated that my classmates and I were expected to turn in semester-defining exams and papers while time could be much better spent on participating in a global movement. The first blog post was a copy of the email I'd sent to my principal, and it grew from there. I noticed that people were having a hard time expressing their feelings and hearing other perspectives, so as someone who often speaks up I thought my words could be not only valuable, but relatable.

 

Eliana: They definitely are! What was the response surrounding your activism from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded activists who were also willing to take on important issues? 

Corinne: My work has been received greatly! I couldn't ask for better support from my friends and family. I was certainly nervous to put my thoughts out in the world, especially on the internet where things travel so fast and live forever. I have found and been connected with so many other youth activists and artists that I know will continue to inspire my work and me for a long time.

Eliana: That’s awesome! You’ve kind of answered it already, but my next question is: What inspires you? What issues do you hold closest to your heart? 

Corinne: I am greatly inspired by others. I feel motivated to be as great as the people around me. My family and friends do amazing work each day, so it only seems right for me to keep up! I am driven by the vision of youth. To see how passionate this generation is, yet how often we are overlooked or belittled enrages me. I want nothing more than for us to be taken seriously and allowed to make the changes we see fit. This world and country specifically have been built upon foundations that suppress so many and uplift so few, but I see hope in the future as young people continue to work towards dismantling these systems. Everything I do is to show other youth that we all have a voice, and to teach others how to use theirs.

Eliana: I love that. What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better?

Corinne: All I can say is that we need leaders who reject white supremacy and actively work to dismantle it. I would argue that a great deal of the issues that plague the United States are rooted in these ideals. Poverty, crime, discrimination and more have been encouraged by the division and oppression of American people. I would like to see a new generation of policy makers be ushered in, to tackle the issues that older citizens won't. Systems that benefit some, keep others from doing the same, which means that progress starts with recognizing this privilege and using it to uplift everyone.

Eliana: I completely agree. Finally, what advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Corinne: To other young people I would just say trust yourself. Oftentimes we get so caught up in feeling like we are limited in what we can do. Adults intimidate and overwhelm, making it seem as though we have to "wait out turn". We don't! We know so much about the reality of the world, and we have more tools at our fingertips than ever before. Whether you're an artist, an athlete, or an academic, you can always find a way to do something. Don't worry about the scale or success, just keep trying and working towards change! I found my way by starting a blog, and designing t-shirts to fundraise for causes important to me. There is so much you can do, and so much change to be made.

IMG_2551.jpeg

HAVEN GONZALES

she/her

@hvngnzls

MKM's Art Activism Team Director Eliana Cortez interviewed recent 20-year-old Haven Gonzales based in Austin, TX. She discussed her passion for photography and graphic design, the #NotYourMascot movement, and her recent start in June because of Blackout Tuesday.

Eliana: I love the graphics you post on your page! You’re so talented! Can you tell us about your artistic background? 

Haven: Creative outlets are my go-to for expression! My top two favorite outlets are photography and graphic design. I taught myself what I know, and it’s a really gratifying feeling when your image translates from your mind to your screen.

Eliana: Can you describe your artistic process? How do you go about creating your pieces? 

Haven: Whenever I have an idea for a piece it just kinda hits me when my mind is going off on a tangent. Normally, my ideas stem from a statement that I feel is powerful. If it catches my attention when my brain is meandering, I feel inspired to catch other people’s attention. I normally have a quick word-to-image association going on in my mind, truthfully I think it has to do with being a bookworm growing up and playing out scenes in my imagination, so the overall concept comes quickly and then I just have to work out the details.

Eliana: What got you involved in activism? Can you identify a specific catalyst?

Haven: I’ve always felt very passionate about social justice and amplifying those who were speaking up, but I myself had never put my own words out. And the catalyst for my design/activism work was actually the Blackout Tuesday this past June. I was frustrated that so many people were missing the true meaning of it, but I didn’t see anyone sharing info about it. So I sat down, drew up a quick graphic, and the confidence in using my own voice just grew from there!

Eliana: That’s awesome! I’ve loved all your BLM posts! What inspired you to connect your art with your activism? 

Haven: Like I said in the last answer, I had always been amplifying others, never really using my own voice and expression. So when I finally did start putting things into my own words, I relied on my ability to put things into a visual form. They merged so easily, it was almost like why haven’t I been doing this all along? For me, activism is so connected to creation. Creation of change through the creation of art.

Eliana: You put that so well. Besides running this account, how else are you involved in activism? Are there any past, present, or future projects you would like to talk about?

Haven: I had never planned on my account turning into an activist page to be honest, that’s just what it became. And I’m so very happy that it did. To make activism more commonplace on social media is just one way that we make equality more commonplace. We shouldn’t worry about messing up our feeds, we should be shaking up the whole system. My current project is a part of the larger #NotYourMascot movement, which is a movement to remove Native people as mascots and logos that reinforce white supremacy. I’ve been leading a petition against Keller HS to remove their “Indian” mascot. Keller is a town about 5 minutes from where I grew up and I believe your biggest sphere of influence is in your communities. And it’s amazing to see how people have been reacting to the push for change, and I know that in the future, my efforts made now are gonna remind me that all of us are capable of enacting change.

Eliana: I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s so frustrating how having “Indian” mascots has been normalized by some. I love how your shedding light on this issue. What was the response surrounding your activism from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded activists who were also willing to take on important issues? 

Haven: The response at first was mostly positive. I was just sharing to my 1000 followers made up of friends from high school and college. And then when one of my posts blew up, I was suddenly subjected to so much hate and criticism I almost wanted to stop what I was doing. And then I realized, people don’t send hate to people who aren’t making an impact. Luckily, I’ve joined an amazing org at UT Austin called Texas Spirits. It’s filled with amazing, outspoken, and caring women who support every post that I make and just inspire me to keep creating and keep fighting for justice. Some of them have even told me that I inspired them to be more vocal about equality and that is a top 5 best feeling in the world right there. And I think that you attract what you put out. So sure I got a lot of mean comments, but the positive responses outnumbered the negative 20:1.

 

Eliana: I can definitely agree that your posts have inspired me! That’s a great segway to my next question: What inspires you? What issues do you hold closest to your heart?

Haven: My inspiration comes from those around me. My parents always encouraged me to stand up for what I believe in, and my friends never stay silent in the face of discrimination. They hold me to a high standard and empower me to feel confident in my activism and keep pushing for change. The issues closest to me also reflect the issues in those around me. I advocate for disability rights for my mom, immigration for my family, racial equality for my friends, and women’s rights for myself and the women around me. I think if you’re going to call someone your friend, you better be willing to fight for their rights to be themselves.

Eliana: 100%. What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better?

Haven: I think they need to listen to the people. Hear us and our troubles instead of placate us. We need to be ready to analyze ourselves, analyze our systems of power, analyze our society. It’s not okay to settle for good enough, when we know that we can be better. We need to keep pushing and striving for better. 50 years ago, this climate for change would’ve been unimaginable, but it’s been achievable because we have not stopped fighting. As John Lewis would have said, we haven’t stopped making good trouble.

Eliana: Finally, what advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Haven: My advice is speak up for what’s right as much as you can, as loud as you can, wherever you can. Don’t be afraid to do what makes you uncomfortable, keep pushing the envelope. Discomfort is the only way to allow for growth.

IMG_2700.jpg

IRENE AMEENA AND RIYA ZAINAB

she/her

@riyadoesart

@irenea99

MKM's Art Activism Team Member Kaitlyn Zhou interviewed 19-year-olds Irene Ameena and Riya Zainab. They discussed their beginnings and backgrounds with art and their Instagram account @riyadoesart.

Kaitlyn: What inspires you? What issues do you hold closest to your heart?

Irene: I am inspired by people who pave the way for others like them - any kind of trailblazers. I'm inspired by organizers, revolutionaries, and thinkers who dare to imagine a world better than the one they live in, for everyone. I'm passionate about reform of the justice system, education, and the power of words. 

Riya: Watching other young people take a stand and call out injustice around the world, through their use of creativity has inspired me to follow their steps and contribute to their efforts. Right now, I am focusing on the rising Islamophobia in India. A series of Hindu nationalist and Islamophobic policies were implemented in the last few months, by the government. This made living in India increasingly volatile for Indian muslims, especially in the north. My heart aches for the rising victims of this hatred and I want to use my privilege to help other activists, influencers, politicians etc fight this.

Kaitlyn: What got you involved in activism? Can you identify a specific catalyst?

Irene:  I have always been someone who tended towards activism, even as a kid. I was just raised with a really strong value of justice instilled in me - I was always outraged by unfair teachers or policies at school and when I realized (and as I continue to realize) my relative privilege in moving about the world, I knew I needed to use it and weaponize it.

Riya: Seeing many of my friends in India actively protest against Communalism in February inspired me to get involved in social injustice activism, and to advocate what I believe in. I wanted to use my voice and gift as an artist to help make my community and world a better place for the next generation.

Kaitlyn: Can you describe what you do for the @riyadoesart account? What inspired you to connect art with activism on this account?

Irene: Riya is my first cousin, and I help run her account. I set up her commissions system and continue to help manage it. In addition, I help come up with the concepts in the activism-themed works. I also write the captions for any art posts that have messages in them (so artworks that aren't commissions or other works Riya did for fun). I personally can't draw at all, but I love love love artwork on Instagram. I felt like I had some good ideas and Riya has a TON of talent, so we put our brains together!

Riya: I have always wanted to use my artistic skills to raise awareness and communicate important messages with people but it was Irene who encouraged me and gave me the push I needed to start. 

Kaitlyn: Besides running this account, how else are you involved in activism? Are there any past projects you would like to talk about?

Irene: Sure! I think my activism mostly reflects itself in my commitments to community service. I have previously helped work on activism that focused on sexual misconduct policies for faculty at my university. I think activism is sometimes viewed as such a narrow term, but anyone who works for justice in any capacity is an activist to me. Most of the time, that just means speaking up and raising awareness for me!

Kaitlyn: Can you tell us about your artistic background?

Riya: I have been drawing all my life. Growing up, I went from coloring Disney characters to experimenting with different forms of art media and creating my own art. What started as an 8 year old’s hobby became her objective in life — to create meaningful art and help people connect through it. I expanded my creative reach when I took up the IGCSE art course in school. It was creatively challenging and helped me push my boundaries and take my creativity to a whole new level. After doing acrylic/ watercolor/ oil paintings and charcoal/ graphite sketches and mixed media artworks for the last two years, I wanted to try something different. Digital Art was trending at the time on social media, and I thought I would give it a shot and it has been almost a year since.

Kaitlyn: What would you say your biggest accomplishment has been?

Irene: I would say my biggest accomplishments have been when I have made breakthroughs with kids I tutor or take care of at the daycare I work at. These are such fleeting, individual moments but they give me a lot of pride. 

 

Kaitlyn: Can you describe your artistic process? How do you go about creating your pieces?

Riya: To be honest, sometimes I draw without having anything in mind. But if I do a planned artwork I gather references for colors, clothes, facial expressions etc. After creating a basic outline of my characters I color in, and after which I get into the details.

Kaitlyn: What was the response surrounding your activism from your community and your peers?

Irene: Did you find similarly minded activists who were also willing to take on important issues? As my activism grew and evolved, so did my circle of peers. My peers reflect my values, as most people's peers do, so I definitely feel like my friends are a great source of support. I think the response from South Asian folks like extended family, "aunties", etc. has been much more...mixed. I think I'm sometimes perceived as too vocal, too nitpicky, or a little out of line - but I don't really mind!

Riya: I couldn't have asked for a more supportive and encouraging peer group. Most of the other kids I know including my friends are incredibly woke and speak up against social injustice.

Kaitlyn: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

Irene: Currently, I'm compiling and updating a list of lawyers offering pro-bono representation for protestors arrested in Texas during the Black Lives Matters protests going on.You can find the link for that in my Instagram bio (@irenea99). Plans for the future - I would like to continue volunteering throughout my life, and my career goal is to go to law school and do civil rights work!

Riya: I am planning on starting an Anti- Islamophobia campaign with the core aim to eliminate the stereotypes and fear revolving around muslims in my community and other communities. 

Kaitlyn: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better?

Irene: Acknowledge their gaps in knowledge and privilege and consider themselves as constantly learning, growing people.

Riya:

Kaitlyn: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Irene: As a character from a book I love said, "The most interesting women are always the most whispered about." No matter your gender, don't be afraid of breaking free of social stigmas and being different. Your commitment to justice and equality is important. The world needs you. 

Riya: Speak up! If you have a voice and means to help  the efforts of hundreds of activists, please do. The world needs young people like us to demonstrate that there is hope for a better tomorrow.

IMG_9328.jpg

TRISHA BEHER

she/her

@trishabearr

MKM's Art Activism Team Member Kaitlyn Zhou interviewed 16-year-old Trisha Beher from Redmond, WA. They discussed her beginnings of art, the Art Shine Foundation, and the recent start of the Glimmer of Hope Project.

Kaitlyn: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with all of your work! What got you involved in youth and student activism specifically?

Trisha: Thank you! I have always been passionate about activism and advocating about things I stand for. I have been an avid feminist for the longest time, always trying to empower myself and the incredible women around me. Going through challenges of my own, I became a strong advocate of mental health and self-love, which can be seen through some of the artwork I create. I think that teens have the ability to have an astounding impact on the world around them, which is why I seek to get more students involved in activism. Seeing the youth do so much to create a positive and lasting impact around them is so inspiring, and I’m so glad I get to be a part of that community.

Kaitlyn: What got you involved with art? Tell us about your art background.

Trisha: I have loved art from a very young age. Creating pieces with a variety of mediums always seemed like the perfect avenue to express myself without judgement. I started getting involved in the artistic community as a means of managing my stress and coping with some difficult times. Over the years, I have started to delve into artwork involving deeper themes and have come to realize that art is one of the most profound ways to depict my emotions. I love illustrating the subtle nuances of life and exploring deeper themes in my artwork in order to connect with global audiences. I pay the most attention to tone, mood, and color scheme in order to send a certain message to people. I’m the sort of person that wants to try out everything that is available to me, which is why I work in a plethora of mediums such as colored pencil, oil paints, clay, digital programs, and more. I also love writing and write poems often. Last year, I delivered a spoken-word poem to my school that illustrated the importance of human rights, and I hope to continue with delivering spoken-word poetry in the future. Artwork has the ability to have an incredible impact on viewers, and I hope to inspire people through my artwork and organization.

Kaitlyn: Why did you choose to combine both art and activism?

Trisha: As a teen who has used the arts to help me in some of my worst times, I know art has the power to change communities and transform lives. Artwork can connect entire populations of people and has the ability to demonstrate extremely profound things which not even words can accomplish. Sometimes artwork can lead to controversy, but this only shows how deeply artwork can affect peoples’ opinions and views on the world. I think that the impact of art should be utilized in doing things like raising awareness for important issues, being donated in order to raise money for a variety of causes and to uplift others, and more importantly, to connect and empower groups of people, and bring people closer together. Artivism is essential to have in our world, especially now, during times where our world is undergoing substantial change. My heavy involvement in the artistic community has only kept pushing me to continue my advocacy through the work I create.

Kaitlyn: What type of mediums do you use to engage in a strong portrayal of protest art?

Trisha: I love using a mix of traditional and digital art! To me, mixing these two mediums is analogous to bridging the gap between technology and traditionalism, and I enjoy exploring and experimenting with the balance between the two to create powerful artwork with a resounding message.

Kaitlyn: Can you tell me more about The Art Shine Foundation? What has it been like organizing events to highlight art activism? 

Trisha: For the longest time, I had dreamed of making an impact on the community through artwork, so last month, I started a fundraiser called the Shine Bright Fundraiser, where I sold handmade polymer clay star charms. After raising over $300 dollars through this fundraiser for a Washington-based food bank called Food Lifeline, I recognized the impact artwork can have on the community. I wanted to do something more, however. I wanted to see other teens get involved in making a difference through art.  This is why I created the Art Shine Foundation, which is a youth-led organization that seeks to further leadership, creativity, and service amongst other teens, all things that I’m incredibly passionate about. We are creating a community of youth artists around the globe who wish to make a positive and lasting impact on others through artwork. We just finished curating our BLM themed gallery to raise awareness about the issue, which is on our website. Additionally, in the coming months, I’m planning to hold art fundraisers through ASF to raise money for those in need and hosting workshops to increase teen involvement in leadership and the arts.  Our ultimate goal is to make a difference on peoples’ lives through artivism. Seeing the work of so many talented artists has been the highlight of my experience with founding ASF. Some of the art I get to see is unbelievably good and touches my heart. I’m really looking forward to continuing my work with ASF and being able to see and interact with so many inspirational creators around the world. I hope ASF serves as the avenue for amplifying the voices of teen creators, as youth artivists have the ability to have a profound effect on the community.

Kaitlyn: What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded activists who were also willing to take on important issues?

Trisha: It was really wonderful to see the amount of people who felt like the mission of ASF really resonated with them. I saw an overwhelming support and understanding of the fact that artwork, when combined with a purpose, can have a very powerful effect on the world around us. I think deep down somewhere, every creator is an activist. We let our artwork portray our emotions and what we feel strongly about. I have had the opportunity to interact with hundreds of artists through ASF, and it is empowering to see how all of us have a common goal in mind, and that is to make an impact on our viewers- whether or not we face judgement for it. And I think that’s beautiful.

Kaitlyn: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Trisha: Youth have the potential to completely transform the world around them. We are driven, ambitious, and more importantly, extremely concerned about the array of modern day-issues that afflict us. Without our collective efforts to advocate for things to change in order to lead to a better world, I would think that our future is doomed. I think teens today have started a movement. We are not afraid to call out the issues that our world is plagued by, not afraid to tackle those issues with a creative approach, which is so important in sparking change to reach a place of complete equity. However, we are not even close to achieving this sort of equality, which is why it is therefore imperative for the youth of today to continue their efforts to make a difference in their communities and raise their voices against stigma, injustice, and inequality.

Kaitlyn: Are there any current activism projects you are working on that you would like to talk about, or plans for the future?

Trisha: Yes! We just recently launched our Glimmer of Hope Project, which aims to provide the elderly in the community a sense of hope during these uncertain times. Right now, senior residents are feeling a crippling sense of loneliness and isolation, as they can’t interact with the outside world and can’t see their loved ones. We’re collecting artwork from teen artists, which we will turn into cards and then print and deliver them to retirement homes across the US. We hope to help foster a sense of togetherness amongst these vulnerable populations by doing this. Additionally, we have a GoFundMe, where donations we get will go into purchasing N-95s, toiletries, and other essentials curated to nursing home needs. We will be making care packages through donations we receive which we will be delivering to retirement homes along with the artwork we receive. In the future, I’m hoping to set up workshops and classes to teach teen creators about different forms of art!

Kaitlyn: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Trisha: I would say that though it seems daunting at first, it is incredibly important to just start- even if that means starting small. Honestly, I never thought I was capable of setting up a fundraiser single-handedly, let alone starting an organization. However, I now realize that taking the first jump into trying to make a difference, however small, allowed me to stay dedicated, gave me the tenacity to continue my work, and helped me more effectively deal with the trial and error I was constantly faced with. Taking risks are terrifying at first, but without questioning the status-quo and actively trying to take action, it is impossible to make positive change in the world, which is why other youth should be motivated and eager to take risks that seek to improve peoples’ lives.

996B29B5-C485-4E8C-9295-81D7FCD82B6B.JPG

SADIE HONCHOCK

she/her

@_.xirasois._

MKM's Art Activism Team Member Kaitlyn Zhou interviewed 17-year-old Sadie Honchock from New Orleans, LA. They discussed her recent start with digital art, the art aspect represented in her long-time fictional writings, and Young Artists For Justice.

Kaitlyn: When I was doing some research before reaching out to you, I was really impressed with all of your work! What got you involved in youth and student activism specifically?

Sadie: I’ve always been pretty politically and socially aware thanks to my parents’ work and the people who would take care of me while I was away. My parents really pushed me to have empathy and consider the rights and needs of others. I finally got the push to get involved in youth activism when I started being homeschooled due to being discriminated against for a disability at my old high school. I had a lot of pent up anger because of my situation and was seeking a way to channel that anger into change so I got involved in digital organizing. 

Kaitlyn: I am amazed by your artworks! Can you tell me about your artistic background?

Sadie: My art has always been inspired by my fictional writing. I started doing digital art as a means to kind of create my characters in a manner that I could more easily express to inspire how I wrote about them in my stories. 

Kaitlyn: I would like to talk to you more about your work with art activism. What got you so involved? Can you identify a specific catalyst?

Sadie: With my art, I didn’t really intend to become an art activist, like I said before, my art is based around my fictional stories. As a reader and artist I noticed a huge lack of diversity in mass media so I strove to write with diverse characters that handled important issues. I didn’t perceive myself as an Artist-activist until I began thinking of  ways to use my skills to help Black Lives Matter protesters after the murder of George Floyd. 

Kaitlyn: Can you tell me more about Young Artists for Justice? What has it been like organizing to spread awareness on Black Lives Matter and fight against other injustices?

Sadie: Young Artists for Justice was originally supposed to be a one-time thing to help out BLM protesters but due to my own feelings of helplessness at not being able to attend a protest or donate. It ended up becoming what it is now due to the massive amount of responses and assistance from wonderfully dedicated people from all over.

Kaitlyn: What was the response surrounding your effects from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded activists who were also willing to take on important issues?

Sadie: I didn’t get too much feedback from my community as I keep to myself however I did receive some support from my fellow youth activists in helping YAFJ become a reality.

Kaitlyn: Why do you think it’s important to connect with other young people, even young people who previously were not activists when it comes to creating change?

Sadie: To put it simply, we’re the ones who are going to be inheriting this world and leaving the problem-solving up to a small group of youths is both irresponsible and ineffective. Every individual only has the capacity to do so much but if larger numbers of people collaborate and unite, more issues have a chance of being resolved.

Kaitlyn: Are there any other past, current, or future activism projects that you would like to talk about?

Sadie: Not at the moment, I’m just focusing on Young Artists for Justice for now!

Kaitlyn: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Sadie: Don’t overextend yourself. Find that one thing that keeps you up at night and focus on that. There are a lot of issues in this world and you won’t do any good if you’ve burnt yourself out. 

anya and kat insta future changers 1.jpg

THE COLORIZATION COLLECTIVE (ANYA AND KAT)

she/her

@thecolorizationcollective

MKM's Art Activism Team Member Kaitlyn Zhou interviewed Anya and Kat from the Colorization Collective based in Seattle, WA. They discussed their beginnings and journey of The Colorization Collective and the importance of protest art.

Kaitlyn: What got you involved in youth and student activism?

Both: We believe that we, the younger generation, will best be able to create change: younger activists have the power to educate others and create a legacy. 


I (Anya) have volunteered in the community since fifth grade and became more involved with student activism once I joined TeenTix (see my glowing review of the organization below!) and met other teens interested in service and activism.


I (Kathryn) got into youth activism through volunteering in groups with other young people, as well as seeing other inspirational groups of students create change in their communities (like Parkland).

Kaitlyn: What got you involved with art? Tell us about your art background?

Both: I (Anya) started dancing as a toddler, and then began acting as well in fifth grade. I have since transitioned away from dance and drama: I now primarily sing and write instead (and do a bit of collage work in my spare time!). Outside of school, I participate in an arts leadership program and art criticism program through a local organization called TeenTix. I don’t want to fangirl, but my experience with TeenTix has been absolutely AMAZING, and The Collective would not be a reality without support from the organization. My favorite part about the organization is that they really value teen voices: we plan our youth board meetings, not the adults. So when we talked to the Executive Director about starting The Collective, she didn’t tell us that our age made our dream unrealistic. She was complete with us 100% of the way. 


I (Kathryn) also started dancing at a really young age and began looking more into acting around grade three. I really only started singing in eighth grade, but have fallen in love with performing arts and now participate in various shows. I also bullet journal and play around with some visual mediums as well. I tend to use visual arts as a hobby and performing arts as a more integral part of my life.

Kaitlyn: Why did you choose to combine both art and activism?

Both: We didn’t necessarily choose to combine the two: it was more an organic decision. We saw that the arts lack racial diversity and wanted to change that dynamic; we decided that founding this organization would be the best way to do so. Actually, art oftentimes has an activism-related social impact, so we’d say that most, if not all, art are intrinsically about activism.

Kaitlyn: What do you think is the importance of protest art?

Both: We actually talked about this in our TeenTix meeting yesterday (sorry for the continual TeenTix plugs!): art is often a “softer” entry point to issues of equity. To expand on that: when you see an art piece, there often isn’t a direct, harsh message that you’re forced to confront; there may not even be a call to action. But art will evoke an emotional response to an issue and, in that way, make you start thinking about larger topics and inequalities. In fact, that emotional response will often stay with you more than facts and figures will. I (Anya) watched a show called Pass Over a two years ago, and that show, which dealt with issues of race, has stuck with me in a way that newspaper articles and school lessons have not.

Kaitlyn: What was the response surrounding your art activism from your community and your peers?

Both: The response has been super positive! Everyone we’ve talked to is really excited about our project and its work. For example, a local theater professional, Anne Allgood, shared our work with A Contemporary Theatre’s Equity Committee, and a local government official, Kathy Hsieh, has offered to feature our videos at arts organizations’ racial equity training. Our white peers, as well, have found our content powerful: “It’s one thing to know that inequality and exclusion exist, but another thing to hear your peers share their own stories,” a white teen commented. “What I've taken away from [The Collective’s] work is the importance of listening to the experiences of others.” 


And finally, our teen features themselves really appreciate our work as well: “I think this video validated me as a person,”  Nikko Johnston, a web-series interviewee, told us. “It made me feel more confident.” Our interviewees often tell us that because they don’t see themselves represented in the arts, they often doubt their abilities and talents. By taking the time to spotlight successful TAC, our projects show our interviewees and viewers of color that they do deserve to be part of artistic space. We value and respect their experiences. They are good enough. “I never thought of myself as an artist before your video,” Sofia Dominguez, a web-series interviewee noted. “Before, I didn’t feel important. But you took the time to make a video about me… and it made me feel important that you cared and wanted to feature me. It made me think, ‘I could go into the arts in the future’... You made me feel seen.”

Kaitlyn: What type of mediums do you use to engage in a strong portrayal of protest art?

Both: We think really any medium can be used to engage in protest art. Some strong examples that come to mind: Kyle Abraham’s “Meditation: A Silent Prayer,” a dance piece; Joni Mitchell’s songs; the aforementioned Pass Over; Robert Colescott’s “George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware”… there are so many.

Kaitlyn: What is your favorite type of protest art? Have you created anything specifically that represents it?

Both: Personally, we think The Collective’s work is an act of protest art. Our blog articles and web-series videos all decry the inequities of the art world; our interviewees speak up about their experiences as artists of color and offer suggestions as to how institutions can change their practices. Teens of color don’t often have an opportunity to speak about these issues, so our organization gives them a platform on which to do so.


Personally, I (Anya) have written a few pieces about race that I would characterize as protest art. You can find an example here.

Kaitlyn: Can you tell me a little about what the Colorization Collective is? What got you to create this organization?

Both: Over the summer of 2018, we participated in an acting program, where our cohort had many conversations about diversity in the arts. This put a name, so to speak, to the feelings of isolation we felt as teen artists of color in largely-white artistic spaces. We didn’t feel that we belonged in the art world, and we realized that others felt the same way. While the arts industry has been diversifying, people of color still lack representation (as seen through #OscarsSoWhite, for example). Furthermore, a pipeline
problem exists: if teens of color lack role models or peers that look like them—as we did—and drop out of the arts, a new generation of diverse artists fails to enter the workforce. We decided to combat this problem by creating The Colorization Collective. The Collective works to assist teen artists of color by providing our participants with resources, opportunities, and a community of peers and mentors who look like them. In doing so, we hope to create and promote diversity in the art world through inclusive and accessible means. We run three main projects: our web-series, which has received over 1000 views on YouTube; online content, such as interviews, reviews, and social media features; and a mentorship and performance opportunity, which we are working to host online this summer.

Kaitlyn: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Both: Use what you’re passionate about to give back to the community! We’re interested in art, so we decided to use our skills to help artists. But that doesn’t mean you have to do the same. If you love soccer, coach little kids; if sustainability is your thing, petition for recycling bins to your school. There are many ways to enact positive change, and no one is better than the others. What’s important is that you do good in the world. And, there will be times when you get frustrated, especially when you don’t see immediate results. It’s important to keep working to your goals and striving to enact change because that drive and dedication will eventually lead to achievement.

IMG_1130.jpg

TOLMEIA GREGORY

she/her

@tollydollyposh

MKM's Art Activism Team Director Eliana Cortez interviewed Tolmeia Gregory, a 20-year-old environmental activist and digital artist based in Gloucestershire, UK. They discussed her involvement with environmental activism, digital illustration with activist-rooted themes, and her blog.

Eliana: I love your work! Can you tell us about your background in art?

Tolmeia: Everything I do is self-taught. The art aspect of what I do has become a bigger focus over the past couple of years, as I've become a self-employed artist to support my activism and keep a roof over my head! I mainly focus on digital illustration and GIF sticker animation, especially when it comes to client projects.

Eliana: Can you describe your artistic process? How do you go about creating your illustrations, filters, and gifs?

Tolmeia: I do whatever feels right for me - I don't take a particular technical approach or anything. Most of my work starts out as a very basic sketch, and then I take it straight to digital and a final concept. I still use Adobe's Photoshop and Illustrator software from 2008, and I'm on a slightly over-worked Windows laptop, so, I don't use anything fancy. If it works, it works!

Eliana: What got you involved in activism, particularly environmental activism? Can you identify a specific catalyst?

Tolmeia: My lightbulb moment was watching The True Cost documentary back in 2015 when it first came out. This documentary explores the fast-fashion industry, specifically focusing on the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in 2013, which killed over 1,100 people and injured 2,500. That was definitely the turning point for me, as it opened my eyes to the industry I originally wanted to break into and led me down a path of questioning the entire system we live in.

Eliana: What inspired you to connect your art with your activism?

Tolmeia: Art for me is about expressing what you're feeling in the present moment and for me, a lot of that relates back to activism because it's a huge part of my life now. Anything I create usually relates back to the climate crisis in some way or another because it's my main concern and priority.

Eliana: Can you describe what starting and running your blog has been like?

Tolmeia: I started my blog back in 2012 when I was 11 as a summer project to combine my love of fashion and the digital world. I never thought it would still be up and running 8 years later but I'm incredibly proud of the purpose it has served over the years, both for myself and others. 

Eliana: Are there any other past, current, or future activism projects that you would like to talk about?

Tolmeia: Things are going to be changing for me, soon. As I said, activism has become my number 1 priority, so, I'm going to be taking that and refocusing my work. Hopefully, that will make more sense, soon!

Eliana: What would you say your biggest accomplishment has been?

Tolmeia: I don't think I can name one specific moment or accomplishment. This past year (2019-2020) has been a big one, though. I've learned a lot about myself and what role I want to play, as well as the scope of the crisis we're facing.

Eliana: What was the response surrounding your activism from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded activists who were also willing to take on important issues?

Tolmeia: In all honesty, I didn't have much of a community before I found activism; it's one reason I am so glad I did find it! It's enabled me to find those like-minded people and knows I'm not alone in how I'm feeling. It's relieved a lot of eco-anxiety for me because I have first-hand proof that people do actually care.

Eliana: What advice would you give to people who want to live more environmentally friendly/ sustainable lives?

Gracie: Remember that we want systemic change, not just individual change. Do what you can, yes, but don't cripple yourself under the pressure of trying to be perfect and getting everything right. It's exhausting if you do that because it's impossible to be perfect in an imperfect system.

Eliana: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better?

 

Tolmeia: We need to listen to nature and to indigenous peoples who already know how to work with nature and the land. We are nature and we all need to remind ourselves of that. If we can start to work in harmony with the planet and each other, we'll start to build a much more sustainable foundation for living.

Eliana: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

 

Tolmeia: Try and stay true to yourself and your own messaging. There are so many issues and conversations to be had, but you're only one person, so, speak your truth about what empassions you the most.

IMG_1127.jpg

GRACIE PEKRUL

she/her

@gracieleeart

MKM's Art Activism Team Director Eliana Cortez interviewed Gracie Pekrul, an 18-year-old from Simi Valley, CA. They discussed her artistic background and process, some of her most recent pieces, and how she gets involved within the community.

Eliana: You’re such a talented artist! Can you tell us about your artistic background?

Gracie: I have been drawing for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in art. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life. I’ve been interested in multiple areas of illustration, so I wasn’t entirely sure how art would ultimately manifest itself. When my involvement in activism started, I knew that I had found my purpose. I am now dedicated to using my art to highlight movements and issues I care about and promote healing for individuals and communities.

Eliana: Can you describe your artistic process? How do you go about creating your pieces?

Gracie: My artistic process varies from piece to piece. Unfortunately, a lot of what I draw is done in response to tragedy, so illustrating can often be a painful and emotional process. It can also be very cathartic, as I am able to express my feelings and familiarize myself with the stories and the work of others. Most of my illustrations are drawn freehand using my iPad Pro, but I also love to paint and sketch.

Eliana: What got you involved in activism? Can you identify a specific catalyst? What inspired you to connect your art with your activism?

Gracie: I had done some activism art in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, but I really consider my activism “catalyst” to be the gun violence prevention movement sparked by the school shooting in Parkland. Prior to February 14, 2018, I had not understood that gun violence was not exclusively an issue for adults to solve. It was the first time that I recognized my voice. Students were mobilizing, and I asked myself why I couldn’t make a change along with them. Because art has always been my passion, I decided there was no better way to lend myself to the movement than by doing what I love to make a difference. I decided to draw the portraits of the 17 Parkland victims because I needed to know every name, every face, and every story. I could not let myself forget. I stayed up every night for two weeks working on these portraits and writing short biographies of every beautiful soul lost. My family, friends, and I brought the portraits as protest signs to the March for Our Lives, and that experience gave me new cognizance of the power of art.

Eliana: I thought your “Let Peace Live” workshop was super inspirational and impactful. Can you describe it and what it was like organizing it?

Gracie: Last year I had the honor of being selected as a 2019 Giffords Courage Fellow along with thirteen other students from across the country. As a part of the fellowship we each attended two gun violence prevention trainings in Washington DC, and had the amazing opportunity of lobbying in Congress. Each Fellow was tasked with organizing a project in their community, and for mine I decided to create “Let Peace Live,” an art workshop dedicated to providing love, support, and healing for survivors and families affected by gun violence. During the workshop, we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable and shared our stories with one another. We listened to two youth poets recite very personal poems that moved nearly everyone in the room to tears. We participated in a healing meditation and created beautiful art including floral arrangements, gratitude journals, and quilt squares for our “Let Peace Live” quilt. It was one of the first times I had organized something on my own (although I did have some incredible help from my amazing artist/activist friends), and I learned so much from the process. I am hoping to do more workshops for other communities in the future.

Eliana: Can you talk about your involvement in March for Our Lives?

Gracie: At the end of 2018, I joined with other local students to start our own March for Our Lives chapter in Ventura County. We hadn’t held our first meeting before 12 people were murdered at the Borderline Bar in Thousand Oaks, one town over from my own. Since then our chapter has organized multiple events focused on ending gun violence in our community and our country. I hope to stay involved in March for Our Lives both locally and nationally.

Eliana: Are there any other past, current, or future activism projects that you would like to talk about?

Gracie: In March, I went to Washington DC for an art activation I created with March For Our Lives. After the shootings in Dayton and El Paso, I started a series of drawings titled “This Is America” depicting different images of locations where shootings have occurred. I delivered prints of these drawings with the help of several other passionate student leaders to all 100 United States Senators. With the drawings I included a box of crayons and a blank page to allow each senator to color in the next set of shooting locations. We also staged an occupation of Mitch McConnell's office to demand that he take action on gun violence. Future projects have been stalled due to the pandemic, but I have been creating a lot of art while in quarantine.

Eliana: What was the response surrounding your activism from your community and your peers? Did you find similarly minded activists who were also willing to take on important issues?

Gracie: My art and activism have garnered such positive responses from my community and my peers. It has allowed me to connect with beautiful families directly affected by gun violence, as well as other incredible, outspoken activists. I feel like I have developed a family of dedicated organizers who has helped me find my voice.

Eliana: What do you think our society and our lawmakers in particular need to do better?

Gracie: Our incompetent law makers need to be voted out, and our society needs to stop looking away from the crises that are killing us. To put it simply, we need to start paying attention. It is tiring when the same dedicated group of people are on the front lines. We need everyone on board. Apathy is dangerous.

Eliana: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Gracie: My advice to young people is to familiarize yourself with those already doing the work you want to do, and listen to their needs. Disregarding the efforts of others, as is often done to marginalized organizers and those in highly affected communities, is harmful to your movement as a whole. Listening will only help you grow. It is also important to ground yourself in your reason for fighting, and never forget the people and moments that shaped you. And lastly, read, and learn. Knowledge is power.

Kaitlyn.JPG

KAITLYN ZHOU

@zhoukaitlyn

Shayna Rutman interviewed our new Art Activism Team Member, 17-year-old Kaitlyn Zhou from Naperville, Illinois. They discussed her background in art and youth-based activism, her national recognition, and illustration positions within Gen Rise Media and the Young Artivists Alliance.

Shayna: What got you involved in youth and student activism?

Kaitlyn: As a youth myself, I believe that our opinions have often been shut out in public. Many adults just ignore our generation, and their reason for that is because we are inexperienced and unaware of modern topics and issues we have in our world. As a result, most of the youth today are too scared to voice their opinions to the public. However, that should not be the case. Thus, I started getting involved in youth and student activism because I want to inspire other youth to take on activism and to advocate for what they believe in. Additionally, I felt passionate about expressing my opinions and making a change to different issues we have in the world, and I wanted to do my part to make a change within my community and other communities as well.

Shayna: What got you involved with art? Tell us about your art background.

Kaitlyn: I have always loved to create, and I think my parents saw that because they signed me up for art classes when I was 5 years old. I have been drawing since then. Right now, I have been nationally recognized by Scholastic Art and Writing twice, once as an American Vision nominee, and internationally recognized by Claremont Review.

Shayna: Why did you choose to combine both art and activism?

Kaitlyn: I have loved art since I was very young, and I often use art as a way to express myself. I also am passionate about activism and wanted to create social change in my community and in other communities as well. Thus, I decided to combine my two passions and advocate with my art.

Shayna: What do you think is the importance of protest art?

Kaitlyn: Art is a powerful way for activism because it gives artists a strong voice and a way to express their opinions through doing what they are passionate about, which is being creative. Additionally, art is a powerful way to advocate because it allows a creative outlet for artists, while also creating social change by appealing to the audience emotionally with their artworks.

Shayna: What was the response surrounding your art activism from your community and your peers? 

Kaitlyn: My community and my peers have been very supportive surrounding my art activism. I am very lucky to live in a very encouraging community and to have very motivational peers.

Shayna: What type of mediums do you use to engage in a strong portrayal of protest art?

Kaitlyn: I have experimented with many different mediums, such as ink, color pencil, oil paints, watercolor, digital art, and many more. However, I use mostly color pencils and oil paintings to protest art.

Shayna: What is your favorite type of protest art? Have you created anything specifically that represents it? If so, will you also attach an image?

Kaitlyn: My favorite type of protest art that I want to experiment with is the one that is more abstract and uses bright colors to attract attention. I have not created anything specifically, but I hope I can in the future.

Shayna: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Kaitlyn: I would say just go for it, find an issue you are passionate about, and start advocating. You are not alone. There is a huge group of youth around the world that are working for the same goal and that will support you. Doing something today, can make a huge impact for tomorrow.

IMG_6500.JPG

ELIANA CORTEZ

@

Shayna Rutman interviewed our new Art Activism Team Director, 17-year-old Eliana Cortez from NYC. They discussed her background in art and youth-based activism as well as the importance of protest art.

Shayna: What got you involved in youth and student activism?

Eliana: I think what got me involved in activism was my interest in current issues and public policy. This interest opened my eyes to the injustices and failures in our world. This inspired me to spark change and led to my involvement in youth and student activism.

Shayna: What got you involved with art? Tell us about your art background.

Eliana: I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. It’s always been a passion of mine. What really helped me grow this passion and hone my skills was my participation in a Saturday art program. I was in this program throughout elementary and middle school. I’m so grateful to have been a part of it because not only was I taught by amazing artists, but also I got to work with so many different mediums. Now, at my high school, I’m an art major. This has allowed me to improve my drawing and painting skills. 

Shayna: Why did you choose to combine both art and activism?

Eliana: I love that art can reach and be understood by so many people. I’ve always seen art as a powerful medium for storytelling. Art conveys a message. I chose to combine art with activism because activism is also about conveying a message. It’s about making people’s voices heard. It’s about making people aware of issues and inspiring them to care about these issues.

Shayna: What do you think is the importance of protest art?

Eliana: Protest art conveys a strong and direct message. It also provokes thought and discussion. Sparking dialogue is key to sparking social and political change. I think protest art is valuable because of this.

Shayna: What was the response surrounding your art activism from your community and your peers? 

Eliana: I think it has been a positive response overall. I’m so lucky and grateful to live in NYC, which is such an open-minded and tolerant place. Most people here are not only willing but also excited to hear other people’s ideas, beliefs, and experiences.

Shayna: What type of mediums do you use to engage in a strong portrayal of protest art?

Eliana: I mostly use colored pencils. I also use acrylic paint and oil pastels. 

Shayna: What is your favorite type of protest art? Have you created anything specifically that represents it? If so, will you also attach an image?

Eliana: I don’t make this kind of protest art, but my favorite type is video and film. I really enjoy watching videos and films that amplify the voices of people from different walks of life and allow them to tell their stories. These films and videos make us aware of issues that we may not face ourselves, and they help us understand how public policy affects different people. I think it’s so important for us to learn about the experiences of others. This leads to a deeper understanding and more compassion. 

Shayna: What advice would you give to other young people who want to speak out and change the world?

Eliana: I would tell them to be bold. It’s definitely intimidating to go against the status quo. Sparking change is never easy. However, it is also never impossible. 

© 2019 by Meddling Kids Movement