In 2009, the Center for Artistic Activism saw artists struggling to affect change, but without the skills to articulate their visions. Elsewhere we saw frustrated activists, repeating their traditional marches, petition drives, and vigils until they became frustrated and moved on. We saw movements for social change stagnating with wins coming more by luck than planning. The Center for Artistic Activism started to bring these practitioners together to transform the practices of art and activism, using the best of each to leverage creativity and culture and successfully bring about social change.
From our very beginning we identified the fields of culture, art and creativity as key to social justice work because these elements create opportunities for people marginalized from other spheres of influence such as law, politics and business to use their own unique perspectives to gain power, representation and real political change. But we knew creativity wasn’t enough. Training and organization is key. Our decade of experience and research has evolved into theory, curricula, and programs for activists and artists to fully understand how to effectively deploy artistic activism methodologies and win campaigns.
We aim to work where we’re needed most and ten years later we have trained and mentored over 1400 artists and activists around the world across a range of issues. We’ve worked with avant-garde artists in Russia and art students in public High Schools in NYC, undocumented youth immigration activists in South Texas and Sex Work advocates in South Africa, Muslim-American activists in New York, Iraq War Veterans in Chicago, and mothers of incarcerated youth in Houston. We’ve worked on state corruption with artists from the Western Balkins and West Africa, making tax laws more just in Massachusetts, and expanding access to healthcare for marginalized communities in East Africa and across Eastern Europe. And more.
We’ve advised and trained arts and social justice organizations and the supporting funders on the best practices of combining arts and activism. We help staff and members of organizations like Open Society Foundation, Greenpeace, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philanthropy New York, and others understand how to promote and support high-quality artistic activism projects, artworks and campaigns.
Through innovative research and providing free resources we’ve helped build, sustain, and develop the field of artistic activism. We’ve built a user-generated database of case studies (at actipedia.org), produced a podcast on using pop culture for progressive politics, provided a webinar series, published interviews with artistic activists, staged street experiments, developed interactive assessment tools, given lectures and served as experts on artistic activism for press, governmental and non-governmental bodies, and published widely on artistic activism theory and practice. We have built a global network of practitioners and researchers in the field of artistic activism and work to institute and sustain the study of artistic activism as an effective and affective practice.
It is our dream to reach every artist in such a way that they instinctively ask: How can I make my work more effective in creating the change I want to see? And to reach every activist, so that they ask: How can I make my action more creative so that it can more profoundly affect my audience? And then provide the resources so these artistic activists can answer their questions for themselves and know how to use their creativity and passion to make lasting impact.
“This is the training I’ve been wanting to take but didn’t know existed.”School for Creative Activism participant
“This training is life-affirming, it insists that artists can affect actual change, and gives us the tools.”Art Action Academy participant
“Thank you. I have watched every episode… Grateful for what you are teaching. Better than any class I took in grad school.”C4AA Webinar viewer
Who we are
Steve Duncombe, a veteran activist, was sick of planning protests that were routine, colorless and ineffective. Steve Lambert, an accomplished artist, was frustrated by political art that few saw and impacted less. Together, they founded the Center for Artistic Activism in 2009. Rebecca Bray, former Chief of Experience Design at the Smithsonian Museum, joined the Steve’s in 2016 and today the C4AA runs training workshops, mentors artist and activist groups, and conducts research on the æfficacy of artistic activism world-wide.
Rebecca joined C4AA from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History where she was the Chief of Experience Design. Before joining the Smithsonian, for 8 years Rebecca was co-founder and technology director of Submersible Design, a New York City-based interactive design company. Her clients included the American Museum of Natural History, the Whitney Museum of Art, the Intrepid Museum of Air, Sea and Space. And Rebecca isn’t new to artistic activism. Back in 2002 she was one of the producers of “The Meatrix” an online animation about factory farming that went viral. And she’s been involved in video activism and creating environmental art installations for many years. She was also a participant in our first program (the College of Tactical Culture) before we were called the Center for Artistic Activism! Because of her exceptional work, Steve and Steve interviewed her when they were conducting field research in 2009.
Rebecca has taught media history, interaction design, and education practices to students, teachers, scientists and others, including through Harvard Extension School, at NYU, and with the Center for Artistic Activism. Rebecca’s work as an artist and interaction designer includes The Meatrix, Botanicalls, and Windowfarms – projects at the intersection of art, science, technology, and the environment, along with Silosphere and Framing Device, installation/performances. Rebecca’s work has been on the BBC, NPR, Discovery Channel, Good Morning America and ABC News as well as in the New York Times, ArtNews, and Wired, and at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney and the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum. She has a masters from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in the Interactive Telecommunications Program and an undergraduate degree from Bard College in sociology and media studies.
Stephen has three decades of experience as both a educator and an activist. With a PhD in Sociology from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, he has taught in the City and State University’s of New York and is currently a Professor of Media and Culture at New York University. He received the Chancellor’s Award for Teaching while at SUNY and the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching at NYU.
An activist his entire adult life, he co-founded a multi-issue community activist group in the mid 1990s, the Lower East Side Collective, which won an award for “Creative Activism” from the Abbie Hoffman foundation. He was also a lead organizer in the international direct action group Reclaim the Streets.
Stephen is the author and editor of six books, including Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy and the Cultural Resistance Reader, writes on culture and politics for a wide range of scholarly and popular publications, and is the creator of an open-access, open-source, web-based edition of Thomas More’s Utopia. His scholarly and activist work has been supported by, among others, the Open Society and Fulbright foundations and the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts, and he is currently working on a book on effective affect or, perhaps, affective effect.
Steve Duncombe co-founded the C4AA with Steve Lambert in 2009.
Steve’s father, a former Franciscan monk, and mother, an ex-Dominican nun, imbued the values of dedication, study, poverty, and service to others – qualities which prepared him for life as an artist.
For Lambert, art is a bridge that connects uncommon, idealistic, or even radical ideas with everyday life. In 2008 Lambert worked with hundreds of people on “The New York Times Special Edition,” a utopian version of the paper announcing the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other good news. In 2011 he built a 20 x 9 foot sign that reads CAPITALISM WORKS FOR ME!, allows passers by to vote true or false, and has touried it across the United States, Europe, and Australia.
His work has been shown everywhere from marches to museums both nationally and internationally, has appeared in over fourteen books, and four documentary films. He was invited to the U.N. to speak about his research on advertising’s effect on cultural rights, he was a Senior Fellow at New York’s Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology from 2006-2010, developed and leads workshops for Creative Capital Foundation, taught at Parsons/The New School, CUNY Hunter College, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and is currently Associate Professor of New Media at SUNY Purchase. Steve has advanced degrees from a reputable art school and respected state university. He dropped out of high school in 1993.
Steve Lambert co-founded the C4AA with Steve Duncombe in 2009.
Jo Nelson is a project manager, 3D modeler, and urban gardener with a background in community based public art. When she isn’t growing food as close to the table as possible she’s helping to conserve and remediate green spaces in New York. She has a MFA in Combined Media from CUNY Hunter College, a MA from Kent State University in Jewelry/Metalsmithing, and a BA in Arts & Ideas in the Humanities from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Since 2003, Patricia Jerido has worked as an independent consultant, assisting nonprofit organizations in fundraising, communications, board and program development, evaluation, executive coaching, and organizing. Her clients included the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Association of Black Foundation Executives, the Ford Foundation, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center, the Racial Justice Collaborative, the Women’s Funding Network, and many others. Until 2015 , Jerido was a program officer with the Special Special Initiatives and Partnerships Unit of U.S. Programs. Her prior experience includes eight years as a social worker and community organizer on human rights issues in the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, and as co-director for Client Services at the Minority Taskforce on AIDS, where she worked with women incarcerated at Rikers Island.
Since 1999, Jerido has worked as a program officer and consultant to foundations and nonprofits working on economic, health, and leadership development issues. As a program officer for health and safety at the Ms. Foundation for Women, she managed three funds covering reproductive rights, women and AIDS, and sexuality education. Jerido has also explored the intersections between popular culture and progressive politics through GoLeft.org, a web-based nonprofit that she founded. Jerido is a graduate of Rutgers University and Hunter College Graduate School of Social Work.
Associate Professor of Art, NYU
Dipti Desai is Professor of Art and Art Education and Director of the Graduate Art + Education Programs at New York University, USA. As a scholar, artist-educator, and activist her work addresses the intersection between visual art, activism, and critical pedagogy. She has published widely in the area of critical multiculturalism/critical race theory in art education, contemporary art as a pedagogical site, critical pedagogy and artistic activism. She is the co-editor of Social Justice and the Arts book published by Taylor and Francis and her co-authored book History as Art, Art as History: Contemporary Art and Social Studies Educationreceived an Honorable mention for Curriculum Practice Category of American Education and Research Association (AERA). Among her awards, she received the Studies Lecture Award for scholarly contribution to art education, Specialist Fulbright Award and the Ziegfield Service Award for contribution to International Art Education. Her most recent project entailed curating a special issue on artistic activism for the journal, Visual Inquiry: Learning and Teaching Art (2017).
Founder/Executive Director, A Blade of Grass
An artist, administrator and entrepreneur, Fisher has worked as an arts and philanthropic advisor to Shelley and Donald Rubin, studio manager of Socrates Sculpture Park, as an educator and curriculum developer for the Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment, and has taught studio and art appreciation classes at New York University, St. John’s University, and Nassau Community College.
Founder, Intelligent Mischief
Terry Marshall has been involved in youth and social justice struggles for over 15 years. In 2008 Terry became the Lead Youth Organizer of the Healthcare Education Project, an initiative of 1199 SEIU in New York City. While there he led the innovative “Young Voices For Healthcare” campaign to involve young people in the healthcare reform struggle. He also is a culture channel editor of the blog www.organizingupgrade.com. Today Terry is the Co-Founder and Coeditor of Occupy Comix, a bimonthly comic book that depicts the stories of the 99% and is working on a book presented by his young voices nation project depicting creative activist of color.
Global CEO Ipsos MarketQuest
Douwe Rademaker is global CEO of the MarketQuest division at Ipsos, responsible for foundational market and category research, strategic brand research, and Marketing growth consultancy. Douwe has worked on the agency side for over 25 years. He has lived and worked in various senior management roles at global research firms (Research International, TNS and Kantar) and strategic consultancy firms (McKinsey&Company) in Amsterdam, Tokyo, Paris and New York. He has advised many of the Fortune 500 companies on brand growth and innovation strategies. Douwe has written several articles on brands and consumer trends and is a graduate of the University of Groningen and UCLA. He lives and works in New York with his wife and two kids.
Former Executive director, Queens Museum
Raicovich was Executive Director of the Queens Museum, and before that was director of global initiatives at Creative Time. Prior posts include the Dia Art Foundation, where she was deputy director for ten years, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Public Art Fund and the Department of Parks and Recreation, all in Nzew York. She is also the author of ‘At The Lightning Field’, a lyric essay and parallel text to Walter De Maria’s renowned artwork.
Kenneth Bailey started the Design Studio for Social Intervention (ds4si) in 2007 thanks to the support of Stone Circles Fellows and MIT Department of Urban Planning Community Fellows Program. Since its inception, ds4si has helped frame the need for design thinking and artistic research and development within the social justice sector. Ds4si currently works with large coalitions of social justice organizations like Praxis Project’s Communities Creating Healthy Environments (CCHE) and Project South’s Southern Movement Alliance which a cohort of organizing groups in the south. The most recent publication Kenneth participated in producing for ds4si is Spatial Justice: A Frame for Reclaiming our Rights To Be, Thrive Express and Connect. Prior to starting ds4si, Kenneth worked at Third Sector New England developing and testing knowledge management processes. While at Third Sector New England, he published Brave Leadership and Organizational Conflict.
Named one of the “world’s ten most influential intellectuals” by MIT, Douglas Rushkoff is an author and documentarian who studies human autonomy in a digital age. Rushkoff’s work explores how different technological environments change our relationship to narrative, money, power, and one another. He coined such concepts as “viral media,” “screenagers,” and social currency,” and has been a leading voice for applying digital media toward social and economic justice. He is a research fellow of the Institute for the Future and founder of the Laboratory for Digital Humanism at CUNY/Queens, where he is a Professor of Media Theory and Digital Economics. His book Coercion won the Marshall McLuhan Award, and the Media Ecology Association honored him with the first Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity.
Marisa Mazria Katz
Marisa is a New York based writer who has covered culture and politics in cities that include Casablanca, Kabul, Port-au-Prince and Istanbul. Her work has been featured in several publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Time, Vogue and the New York Times. In addition to her writing, she ran a U.S. State Department-sponsored program in Casablanca that taught journalism and blogging to marginalized youth. Marisa was the founding editor of Creative Times Reports, a website from the public art non-profit Creative Time, which co-published artists’ work with The Guardian, Al Jazeera America, Foreign Policy, The New Yorker, Slate, Salon, The Intercept, and many more. Today, Marisa is the Editorial Producer for Eyebeam’s new R&D Program for the Future of Journalism, a new pilot program that takes an artist-led approach to fighting misinformation and fake news. The program is funded in part by Craig Newmark Philanthropies and implemented in partnership with The Brown Institute at the Columbia School of Journalism.
Linda Sarsour is a Palestinian-American community activist, born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She is currently working as the Advocacy and Civic Engagement Coordinator for the National Network for Arab American Communities and ACCESS and locally serving as the Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York, a social service agency serving the Arab community in NYC. Sarsour was a 2005 COROS New American Leaders fellow, 2009 graduate of the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute housed at USC, named Extraordinary Woman by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes and received the 2010 Brooklyn Do-Gooder Award from the Brooklyn Community Foundation. Sarsour is also a board member of the New York Immigration Coalition, a coalition of over 250 nonprofit agencies serving the diverse immigrant communities of New York State. In the 2008 elections, Sarsour coordinated the largest and most successful get out the vote effort in the Arab American community in Brooklyn, with over 130 canvassers and 8000 doors knocked. She has been featured in local, national, and international media speaking on topics ranging from women’s issues, Islam, domestic policy and political discussions on the Middle East conflict. In 2017, she worked as co-chair and organizer of the Women’s March. (She’s also an alumni of the C4AA’s School for Creative Activism.)
On January 30, 2003 Aaron was pulled out of the University of Illinois and called to active duty with the 1244th Transportation Company Army National Guard out of North Riverside, Illinois. On April 17, 2003 his Company was deployed to Kuwait under Operation Iraqi Freedom. There he supported combat operations by transporting supplies from camps and ports in Kuwait to camps in Iraq. After three extensions, totaling one year, three months and seven days, Aaron’s Company was redeployed to home base in North Riverside Illinois on July 24, 2004. Aaron returned to the University of Illinois in the spring of 2005 as a student majoring in painting with the need to express and share his experiences with others and began to use art as a tool to confront issues of militarism and occupation. Aaron went on to receive an MFA in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University in 2009. Today Aaron is the Organizing Team Leader for Iraq Veterans Against the War where he has worked on such projects as Warrior Writers, Combat Paper, Drawing For Peace, Operation First Casualty, Winter Soldier, the Demilitarized University, the Field Organizing Program, and Operation Recovery. (He’s also an alumni of Center for Artistic Activism programs.)
Beka is the co-founder and director of “Not An Alternative,” a Brooklyn-based non-profit organization whose mission aims to integrate art, activism, technology and theory in order to affect popular understandings of events, symbols and history. She operates No-Space, a multipurpose venue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn where free artist talks, workshops, panels, film screenings, and trainings occur. She is also the Senior Strategist and VP at Fission Strategy, a boutique consulting firm. She helps non-profits and foundations leverage social media for social good.
Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento
Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento’s is an artist, writer, teacher, and lawyer interested in the analysis of property and structures, in both tangible and intangible forms, through legal and cultural discourses and practices. He received his BA in Art from the University of Texas-El Paso, an MFA in Art from the California Institute of the Arts, and was a Van Lier Fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Independent Study Program in Studio Art in 1997. Under the auspice of a conceptual art project, he received his J.D. from Cornell Law School in 2006. Sarmiento founded the The Art & Law Program in 2010 and teaches contemporary art and law at Fordham Law School.
Keri Smith is a Canadian conceptual artist and author of several bestselling books and apps about creativity including Wreck This Journal (Penguin), This is Not a Book (Penguin), How to be an Explorer of the World -the Portable Life/Art Museum,(Penguin), Mess: A Manual of Accidents and Mistakes (Penguin), The Guerrilla Art Kit (Princeton Architectural Press), Finish This Book (Penguin), and The Pocket Scavenger (Penguin).
An activist, author and performer, Bogad is a 20-year veteran of guerrilla theatre and performance art and has collaborated with some of the field’s most respected artists and activists. Currently a theatre professor at the University of California at Davis, he has worked extensively with other US universities and leads Tactical Performance workshops with activists involved in revolutionary projects, most recently in Cairo, Reykjavik, and Buenos Aires. A successful playwright, Bogad also writes widely for activist and academic journals, produced the documentary Radical Ridicule: Serious Play and the Republican National Convention, and is the author of the book, Electoral Guerrilla Theatre: Radical Ridicule and Social Movements. All his work has generated critical popular and academic discourse on the political potential of playful theatrics.
Jacques Servin / Andy Bichlbaum is a co-founder of the Yes Men, a group that has accomplished numerous high-profile media interventions serving to highlight environmental, economic and social injustices and the systemic problems that lead to them. At the Hemispheric Institute, Jacques / Andy heads the Yes Lab, which helps students and others carry out media interventions.
Rev. Michael Ellick
Rev. Michael Ellick is currently the Minister of the First Congregational Church of Portland. Raised in a Conservative Baptist church in Washington State, Ellick studied Comparative Religion and Philosophy at the University of Washington before earning his M.Div. at Union Theological Seminary in the year 2000. There he grew frustrated with contemporary theological thinking, and looking for new ways to understand the Gospel, and real world practices for embodying it, he studied closely under a Tibetan Buddhist teacher for the next seven years. Over the course of his life, he has also worked as a courier, a fast-food cook, a fact-checker, a fresh juice delivery person, a copy-editor, an event planner, a barista, a financial analyst, an internet help desk, a community organizer, and even as an assistant at a Marine Biology lab. Ellick was ordained for Ministry in 2008, and so far has held on to the job.
Andrew Boyd is an author, humorist and veteran of creative campaigns for social change. He led the decade-long satirical media campaign “Billionaires for Bush.” He co-founded Agit-Pop Communications, an award-winning “subvertising” agency, as well as the netroots social justice movement The Other 98%. He’s the author of three books: Beautiful Trouble, Daily Afflictions and Life’s Little Deconstruction Book. Unable to come up with with his own lifelong ambition, he’s been cribbing from Milan Kundera: “to unite the utmost seriousness of question with the utmost lightness of form.” You can find him at andrewboyd.com.
Marlène Ramírez-Cancio is Associate Director, Arts & Media, at the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics. Housed at NYU, Hemi connects artists, scholars, and activists from across the Americas and creates new avenues for inquiry, collaboration, and action. Focusing on social justice, we research politically engaged performance and amplify it through gatherings, courses, publications, and archives. Marlène is also co-founder and co-director of Fulana, a Latina satire collective a Latina satire collective that whose videos have been shown internationally at film festivals, museums, and universities, and whose members lead satire and parody workshops for emerging artists.
Phineas Baxandall is an activist and former academic who has spent years thinking about how to explain denseeconomic and policy issues in accessible ways. He spent eight years as a teaching fellow in political economy and political philosophy at Harvard’s undergraduate honors program in Social Studies, and three years working at Harvard’s Kennedy School for the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, where he conducted research, translated others’ arcane academic studies into accessible research briefs, served on a government study of local aid, and worked with mayors to improve services for their constituents. Since 2006, Baxandall has directed advocacy programs on tax and budget issues and transportation for the national network of Public Interest Research Groups. His recent campaigns include: preventing companies that commit misdeeds from using their out-of-court settlements as a tax deduction, increasing transparency of public subsidies to corporations, closing loopholes that allow offshore tax dodges, and promoting investment in public transportation. Baxandall received his doctorate in Political Science from MIT.
Salette is a transatlantican arts manager with a focus on contemporary artists working in hybrid and indeterminate forms including Live Art, interdisciplinary and social practices. She was recently Head of Arts for the British Council USA based in NYC where she built out a multi-disciplinary program supporting over 200 artists and developed public programming, a Culture & Conflict initiative, cross-border projects with Canada, and a US/UK Arts & Social Practice Fellowship. She previously was appointed at Arts Council England as the designated officer working across Visual Arts, Theatre, Dance and Combined Arts to support artists and curators creating work including live installation, creative re-enactment and arts activism (such as Platform, and John Jordan’s Laboratory for Insurrectionary Imagination). She also managed the first all female aerial dance theatre company in London, worked in the public funding programs for the arts in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and in several artist-led venues including Highways Performance Space in LA where she worked with the founders in the formative years of this influential venue during the US culture wars of the early 1990’s.
Friends and Supporters
Organizations who have supported our work
- A Blade of Grass
- David Rockefeller Foundation
- Garcia Family Foundation
- Golden Artist Colors and it’s Employee Owners
- Hurtubise Family Fund
- Kathleen Sherrerd Charitable Trust
- LUSH Charity Pot
- Monasse Foundation
- National Endowment of the Arts
- Open Society Foundations
- Pacific Foundation
- Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation
- Satisfactory Foundation
Organizations we’ve worked with
- A Blade of Grass
- David Rockefeller Foundation
- Beautiful Trouble
- Center for Story Based Strategy
- Creative Time
- Design Studio for Social Intervention
- Intelligent Mischief
- Not An Alternative
- United for a Fair Economy
- Yes Lab