Hope for Change - ArtsPositive Magazine

In increasingly uncertain times it is easy to lose hope and to believe that individual citizens are unable to affect a nation’s, or even the planet's trajectory. But as climate advocate Al Gore stated despair ‘is just another form of denial…we don’t have time for it.’ It is this attitude of hope for change from which the ArtsPositive Magazine emerged. Instead of focusing on what can’t be changed, the magazine focuses on what people, specifically artists, are doing in order to connect with people and create a climate of sensitivity in which it is possible for change to happen.

Art can change attitudes, perceptions and ways of being through large and tiny actions. It could be that learning a new creative expression can lead to insights that change the way one sees a culture, or it could be that going to an exhibition gives new insight into the reality of climate change, which can sometimes seem distant from everyday life. Art helps to visualise large and abstract concepts, and it helps to make emotional connections in ways that facts and information sometimes can’t.

As established Indonesian artist Teguh Ostenrik explains, ‘As an artist, I’m not a decorator, my job is to make something that can provoke and inspire other people’ referring to his ARTificial Reef project, which aimed to protect the ocean through art. This capacity of art to respond to current challenges and provide an alternative voice is echoed by artists in the art-for-change space. As Hyemin Kang from the Korean cultural space Takeout Drawing, highlights: ‘We can’t make big changes in the society by ourselves, only as artists. But we can maybe expand the boundary of language. We need a new language as our current language is built on power structures. It’s impossible to make change within our current power language so we have to make the alternative.’ This capacity to speak back to power or to explore new ways of thinking is much needed when trying to make sense of an ever changing and uncertain world.

Art and culture can be embedded across a range of sectors in order to promote positive change for a more sustainable society. Numerous case studies have demonstrated the positive impact of art in a range of contexts. For example, a study at the University of Sydney investigated the effect of exposure to art for people living in nursing homes. Over a ten-week period, groups of people with dementia attended regular sessions at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) while the researchers measured how art and creativity could be used to promote brain neuroplasticity. The study found positive result of the experience, in which participants had increased ‘freedom of expression, social cohesiveness and empowerment for people with dementia, whose opinions had been deemed irrelevant’.

But it’s not just access to the arts that changes society. In Singapore a programme encouraged migrant workers to express their social and emotional challenges through poetry with the aim of breaking down barriers between foreign workers and Singaporean society through literature. Through expressing their experiences through their own words, migrants were able to feel heard in a context where their contribution can be largely overlooked. One migrant, domestic worker Deni Apriyani from Indonesia, explained that ‘When I write, I am happy. When people read our work and accept us as human beings, we are happy’. Bangladeshi construction worker Md Sharif Uddin has become an award-winning writer with his nonfiction work Stranger to Myself, which started as a way to express his frustrations and challenges of working in Singapore.

On a wider scale, cultural participation has the capacity to promote social cohesion in even the most challenging of contexts. Medellin in Colombia was once considered to be the most violent city in the world. Since then the number of violent deaths has dropped to 10% of what it was in 1991 and the city has one of the highest levels of quality of life in Colombia. This transformation was due to an innovative “social urbanism” approach that put education and culture at the heart of its policies, dramatically increasing funding for both. More open access to cultural institutions has led to a significant increase in attendance and more regular engagement with culture in the city. A wide range of groups and individuals – including artists, communities, cultural centres, youth groups and schools – helped facilitate this large-scale change, demonstrating that no contribution is too small to make a difference.

Experiencing art, whether as an audience member, as an expression of daily life or as a professional artist, has the potential to transform lives.

In the context of art-for-change, there has been a range of approaches, such as movements like public art, community art, activist art, social turn and ecological art. Each of these strands has developed its own community and conversation around the ways in which art can evoke change. For example, the Guatemala cultural collective Caja Lúdica (which promotes peace in neighbourhoods impacted by violence through art and play) believe in fostering change first from within people’s hearts. As Doryan Bedoya explains, ‘We propose a methodology that allows for self-knowledge, healing, gaining self-confidence and more. The impact is not only political; peace is born first in your heart, in your conscience.’ Understandably, this kind of change doesn’t happen overnight. As artist Rick Lowe observes about socially engaged art, ‘You have to spend years developing relationships…It’d be an arrogant disregard of a community to come in and think you can grasp all the complexities of a place in a short time’.

At ArtsPositive we are dedicated to investing in a sustained way in art for social change because we believe that it is the way forward for a positive and sustainable future. ArtsPositive defines art-for-change in a broad way. Some ways of working in art-for-change include: changing attitudes through emotional and experiential connections; bringing people together to share experiences; bringing audiences closer to the unknown through a safe and creative space; challenging preconceived ideas through interventions; providing a platform for marginalised voices; and providing a space to discuss wellbeing.

ArtsPositive, founded by artist Debasmita Dasgupta and comprising a team of creative art-for-change advocates, believes in the importance of creative storytelling. After encountering a large number of artists working in this space, ArtsPositive decided to provide a platform for sharing these great initiatives. Focusing on illustrators, visual artists, comic artists, photographers, designers and craft practitioners, the platform will bring together practitioners working in this field in order to share knowledge, skills, experiences and tips. Intended as space to connect aspiring artists, promote emerging artists and connect artists with art-for-change enablers, the platform hopes to inspire social change through positive stories, information and resources.

The platform will explore a range of themes, such as issues related to women’s rights, equality, environment, health, education and more. The platform will explore themes, opportunities and challenges related to working as an artist-for-change and will provide information and resources on a quarterly basis to emerging artists who want to become art-for-change advocates.

ArtPositive Magazine doesn’t choose one definition of art-for-change over another, but rather explores a cross-section of approaches, highlighting the diverse ways of using art to challenge and change society. The stand is positive, since the world needs to hear more positive stories to demonstrate people’s capacity for constructive change. As Basma El Husseiny, cultural manager who founded the Lebanese-based Action for Hope to empower vulnerable populations through culture, states, ‘Culture is a catalyst to connect people.’ Let’s celebrate the creative stories that connect.
Story by: Claire Rosslyn Wilson for ArtsPositive