Art as activism

There is an art to every practice, activism included. It’s what distinguishes the innovative from the routine, the elegant from the mundane. One thing that can help the art of activism is applying an artistic aesthetic tactically, strategically, and organizationally. Throughout history, the most effective political actors have married the arts with campaigns for social change. While Martin Luther King Jr is now largely remembered for his example of moral courage, social movement historian Doug McAdam’s estimation of King’s genius for strategic dramaturgy, likely better explains the success of his campaigns. The founders of also stress that creativity is essential to good organizing. It enables activists to imagine new tactics, strategies and goals to keep campaigns fresh and make them more effective. They give as example the moving performance by Iraq Veterans’ street theater for the 21st century, which captured the attention of both passersby and the media.

Artistic expression taps into an expertise that many people possess, but don’t think of applying to politics. Indeed, cultural creativity and artistic expression is often the possession of those – youth, the poor, people of color – that are most marginalized from formal spheres of politics, law, and education. The political topography of today includes the ephemeral ground of signs and symbols, images and expression, narratives and dreams. But this is precisely the terrain of artistic activism.

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