As part of our Arts Action Academy in December 2016 in Dublin, sex workers, artists and activists created and performed this creative action to raise awareness about, and fight against, laws that criminalize sex workers. All of this was conceived and implemented by the Academy participants in 24 hours as the last day of our intensive AAA training.
What we did
We ran a five day program in Dublin teaching artists and activists how to be more effective with their work. Two “classroom” days cover the basics of artistic activism including; history, theory, organizing, creative practice, and more.
Then we collaboratively develop, rehearse, and build a collective project so we can put the ideas into practice in the world.
Why sex work? Why Dublin?
At the Center for Artistic Activism we strive to work with the most marginalized groups and the most difficult issues we can take on. Amnesty International describes sex workers as an “extremely marginalized group of people, frequently forced to live outside the law […] they face discrimination, beatings, rape and harassment [and] are often denied access to basic health or housing services.” Sex Workers Alliance Ireland has made progress in Dublin and is in the midst of making legal changes that could mean improvements in the coming years.
At the same time, the topic of sex work ignites many deeply held moral attitudes and stigma that help perpetuate these human rights issues.
This is just the kind of legal and social mess we’re not afraid to jump into.
With the combined expertise of the sex workers, artists, and the Center for Artistic Activism we got to work.
We built a peep show
The group came up with a plan for a public action with multiple components. One was this public “Peep Show” that really worked as a holiday themed spectacle, just strange enough to attract people on the street, but familiar enough that they’d understand what was happening and how it worked.
The day we held our action was December 17th, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. All kinds of people approached the booth and talked to sex workers themselves about the day and it’s purpose, invited into real conversation in a way that was playful and fun.
Then we created our own “sting operation”
Again, sort of.
We were set up in the center of Dublin at a major shopping area and tourist attraction so there were plenty of passers by. These people saw signs advertising “1 Euro Massage” and saw people getting totally innocuous hand massages under tents.
These face-to-face interactions allowed our team to talk one-on-one about purpose of the action, the day to end violence against sex workers, and the laws the exist and are being proposed in Ireland that would impact sex workers. Then the guest is told “by the way, what’s happening here would be technically illegal.” The proposed laws would make two sex workers working together in Ireland – looking out for each other, working alongside each other, or helping each other in any way – a crime.
The guest was then invited to be “arrested”…
… and “have their mugshot taken with Santa!”
Guests left with their mugshot in a fun holiday card that had further information about human rights for sex workers and the laws in Ireland.
Our group was able to take a complex, volatile issue and make it accessible, experiential, and fun. So, of course, we held a graduation for the Arts Action Academy.
We’ve known activism is more effective when it’s combined with the arts. This training provides the intellectual background as well as some practical experience so that participants have the foundations of an artistic activist practice. From there we do ongoing consultation to help participants make the most effective work possible.
This is what we’ve been working at for the past seven years at the Center for Artistic Activism.