Slowing the spread of COVID-19 and flattening the curve are deeply important to protect ourselves, or friends, and our family from an overwhelmed medical system. However, that doesn’t mean our efforts to fight for social and economic justice are no longer relevant or important. In fact many of our efforts are related or interconnected with this current health crisis. Specific events may need to be cancelled or postponed, but your advocacy and your campaigns may need to continue. It’s simply time to adapt. So don’t cancel, instead let’s focus on how it can be done. Now’s the time for us to make the seemingly impossible possible.
Resist your feelings of discouragement. Don’t call off your plans just yet. As artistic activists, the world has always tossed the unexpected into our well made plans. This is why we rely on our creativity to begin with, and the current array of recommendations, requirements, and limitations to our social interactions are also a test of our creative thinking.
The following is a list of ideas, possibilities and starting points to inspire you in how you can continue doing your important work in ways that are safe given our current situation. They are not all appropriate for the present moment, nor will they work for every effort in every context, but using these as a starting point for some creative thinking may help you move forward.
Leverage the moment to get press
Everyday the newspaper starts empty and needs to be filled with news. Yes, there’s a lot of public health related news, but right now there are fewer, if any, sports events, cultural events, and other gatherings and functions in which to report on.
The press needs content. By creating newsworthy events, in this time, we have opportunities to get our messages out into the world.
Also, reporters are always looking for clever angles that connect to current events, and we can provide them. For example, read the following in a newscaster voice: “How do you organize a protest when no one can come? One local activist is determined to find a way.”
Revealed today by Center for Artistic Activism alumni in Skopje, Macedonia, “Keep Away” reminds citizens to follow the recommendations of the health department. But in announcing the project, they made special note that “no direct contact between the members of the group [was made] during the preparation of this action – we worked in phases and sequentially. Each artist worked on a different stage in order to avoid direct contact, but also to prove that although it is difficult, it is not impossible to get things done this way.”
Save the Rivers (at the river)
Center for Artistic Activism alumnus, Vanja Lazić, had planned to launch this collaborative, community mosaic/mural about saving rivers in the Balkans with a large public event this week. Because of COVID-19, she had to shift her strategy away from a public gathering to a press event. Instead of displaying the mural in the town center, she brought it to a beautiful river and created a spectacular photo opportunity for the press.
Phone It In
Are there ways you can make your actions and projects more digital and less live and in public in the next month?
Can you use the phone system or conference calls to gather people or discuss issues in other formats?
Can you use social media to encourage interaction and audience participation?
Here’s some examples:
A very successful site that connects people with issues they care about and then connects them directly with their representatives.
An online pressure campaign around drug user health in Seattle the Center for Artistic Activism created in 2018. Visitors to the site can participate by writing memorials for friends who have died and/or contacting Seattle’s Mayor to demand changes.
Virtual sit-in tool initially developed in support of the Mexican insurgent group the Zapatistas.
Courage Score grade California state legislators on their political courage, revealing how well they stand up for their constituents over corporations or interest groups that exploit Californians, particularly the poor, disadvantaged, or communities of color.
Help lower the barriers to participation
Figuring out how to lower the barriers and make participation easy and accessible will help people take part whether they are on lock-down, sick in bed, or their schedule is impacted by caring for friends, neighbors or loved ones.
Start by acknowledging the current costs (financial, social, perceived costs, fears and risks, etc) and where people are. “Look, we’re all stuck at home and our lives have been disrupted, but let’s remember that we are in this together and we can help each other. Here’s an easy way…”
Make participating simpler – ask people to share their experiences with the issue or topic you’re working on. Remind them that we will overcome the current obstacles, and ask them to contribute the traditions they love from the past or visions of what they’d like to see in the world once we’re past this.
Here’s a great example:
Partido de la Red, Argentina’s Internet Party
Give people some agency and community
People are stuck at home. They are desperate to hear good news and positive things. They also need a sense of agency – when the world feels out of control, it feels good to contribute to something and see the effect of that contribution.
You can build community also. If you’re doing online meetings or phone meetings, give some time for people to connect socially at the beginning and end. Put them into smaller “breakout rooms” or do a round of introductions that include some human, social element “unrelated” to the topic so everyone gets a chance to connect on a more human level.
Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon
This edit-a-thon’s goal is to increase the presence of women artists on Wikipedia. Originally done together in physical spaces, but there’s no reason it can’t be done together online. And when you make an edit, it’s immediately part of wikipedia – the largest ever encyclopedia in the world.
Family Pictures USA
On this public television show, artist Thomas Allen Harris goes through the family photos and stories of participants “as they are reacquainted with relatives and old friends, introducing fascinating characters to our collective consciousness and discovering surprising connections along the journey.” It’s really wonderful.
Run events that don’t require close contact
Can you run an event that doesn’t require crowds and touching of common surfaces? Maybe “Appointment only” events and call it “VIP” treatment.
Can you create an audio tour or low power radio broadcasts so people can have a guided, solo experience?
Center for Artistic Activism pal, Tod Brilliant brought up that more people are out taking walks “so, good old-fashioned telephone pole flyers are suddenly powerful again. At walking speed, they’re seen. As part of a ‘real world’ that too many people have missed, they’re likely to be received with a dose of nostalgia and gratitude, especially if they’re more about community building than protest… and, of course, link to an (yawn) online platform.”
508 Memorial in Seattle
Another Center for Artistic Activism from last year in Seattle. These numbers represented overdose deaths in the city. The memorial had an interactive element, but didn’t require large crowds to be effective. The flowers, notes, and photos they left became a way to mark their presence, even after they were gone.
Spanish Hologram Protest
Spanish citizens hold the first hologram protest in history in order to protest without violating the new draconian guidelines of the National Security Act
“Pamparadio” was a radio show run by two adolescents from the community of Iquitos, a jungle province. Armed with a gigantic speaker on the top of a community center and an AM radio frequency, Marco Jhastin Anchec and Cledy del Aguila Mozombite single-handedly ran “Pamparadio” as a celebration of potable water, how to make it, and how to take care of it.
Stage it for Video
Most of your audience for your live actions actually end up being those who see it on video or through photos afterwards anyway, right? Make your documentation amazing. Some projects you can stage without people or with very few people.
There are ways to use live video and interactivity to make it even better.
In Domestic Tension, Iraqi-born Wafaa Bilal lived alone in a prison cell-sized room in the line of fire of a remote-controlled paintball gun and a camera that connected him to internet viewers around the world where they could shoot at him, or not, 24 hours a day.
Xuman and Keyti (Center for Artistic Activism Trainers) created a local, in-depth news program, but with a twist. The whole show is a hip-hop mix tape. One of our favorite projects!
Does this inspire any ideas? Is there a project we should be sharing? We’d sincerely like to know. Get in touch or leave a comment below.