In 2009, the Center for Artistic Activism saw artists struggling to affect change, but without the pratical skills to implement 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 bringing these practitices together to transform 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 1500 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.”Center for Artistic Activism Webinar viewer
Who we are
Rebecca joined Center for Artistic Activism 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, the Center for Artistic Activism interviewed her when 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.
Director and Co-Founder
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 artistic activist.
Trained in the arts, he is known for large scale, public projects that engage new audiences on difficult topics through the social science of comedy, games, theater, and democratic participation.
In 2008 Lambert, with the Yes Men, organized 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 toured it across the United States, Europe, and Australia.
As an artist, Lambert’s work has been shown both nationally and internationally, from art galleries to protest marches to Times Square, featured in four documentary films, and over two dozen books, and collected by museums and The Library of Congress. Lambert has presented at the United Nations several times. His research is included in a United Nations report on the impact of advertising on cultural rights and form the basis of a book analyzing popular understandings of capitalism. He was a Senior Fellow at New York’s Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology from 2006-2010, developed and led workshops for Creative Capital Foundation, 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 Center for Artistic Activism with Steve Duncombe in 2009.
Research Director, Co-Founder
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 Center for Artistic Activism with Steve Lambert 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.
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
- Atlantic Foundation
- Beautiful Trouble
- Center for Story Based Strategy
- Creative Time
- David Rockefeller Foundation
- Design Studio for Social Intervention
- Intelligent Mischief
- Not An Alternative
- Public Defender Association
- Treatment Action Group
- United for a Fair Economy
- Universities Allied for Essential Medicines
- The Washington Heights Corner Project
- Yes Lab