Many artists want to create social impact. Unfortunately, organizing campaigns is often excluded from a traditional artistic education. The Art Action Academy helps socially-engaged artists make moving works that win concrete victories.

What is the Art Action Academy?

Building upon the success of our other trainings like the School for Creative Activism, in which community organizers are trained in cultural tactics and creative strategies, the Art Action Academy flips this model on its head, reorienting the workshops toward artists. Instead of training grassroots change-makers to become more creative, the Arts Action Academy trains socially engaged artists to become more effective change-makers.

Since beginning in 2012, working with art students in a New York City Public School, the Arts Action Academy has gone on to train MFA students at Portland State University’s famed Art and Social Practice program, local artists at the Queens Museum in New York,  dissident artists in Russia, activists artists organizing around sex work in Ireland and South Africa, and artists combating corruption across West Africa.

The Curriculum

We approach the goal of political efficacy from the artists’ perspective and though a curriculum designed around their specific needs and goals. The curriculum of the Art Action Academy incorporates a range of formats, from lectures by the directors, to exercises undertake by the participants singularly and in small groups, to a final “exam” engaging the entire group.

Areas covered include:

The goal of the Arts Action Academy is… to access, organize and operationalize the creative, cultural and political resources possessed by the artists themselves.

  1. Idea: Why aesthetics and creativity are essential tools for effective organizing in the new millennium, and how the arts can be effectively applied to bring about change.
  2. Practice: Using contemporary examples of artistic activism, we study how art has been employed to raise awareness, build organizations, influence legislature, and even draft policy.
  3. History: Re-framing the spectacle of the Boston Tea Party to the “strategic dramaturgy” of the Civil Rights movement to the media-savvy of ACT-UP, this unit addresses what we can learn from creatively effective social movements.
  4. Theory: Everything from basic organizing strategy to social marketing, cognitive science, and the latest French aesthetic theory, presented in a way that is clear to understand and immediately applicable.
  5. Skill Share: Participants give brief lessons. What skills and experiences – cultural and professional – do people bring to the table? How can these skills, particularly those not usually considered political, be reconceptualized and mobilized for organizing? This aspect of the curriculum is critical for both mutual education and creating a sense of buy-in and ownership.
  6. Mapping: Using goal setting strategies a, participants work in small groups to create a visual map of a campaign, incorporating three different paths – known, utopian, artistic.
  7. Tests: Every school has tests, and the Arts Action Academy is no exception. The “Tests” in the Arts Action Academy are scenarios – real-life ones brought in by participants, vetted and selected by the directors – in which we collectively brainstorm artistic campaigns in actual situations.
  8. Evaluation: Application of appropriate methods and scales to evaluate the efficacy of artistic campaigns. This includes simple metrics like increased participation in actions, media coverage of campaigns, and discernable impact on campaign objectives. But we also stress the importance of recognizing the less immediately discernable: from increased flexibility in tactical thinking and improvements in organizer morale to transformations in public consciousness and cementing political gains through cultural “normalization.”
  9. Backreach: Techniques of cultivating the ideas and practices of artistic activism back home; introducing new principles and techniques to often change averse cultural institutions
  10. Creative Play: Walking the walk. The training includes time for in-depth conversation among participants and a group outing to a cultural event — part demonstration of links between art and politics, part bonding mechanism, part pure fun.


The goal of the Arts Action Academy is not merely to impart knowledge, but to access, organize and operationalize the creative, cultural and political resources possessed by the artists themselves. In brief, the goal of the Arts Action Academy is to have participants own the method so that they can continue to develop as successful artists and effective activists.

Hosting the Art Action Academy

To bring the Arts Action Academy to your community contact the Center for Artistic Activism directly.

Long Courses (3-6 Days):

2019 – Sarajevio, Bosnia
OSF West Balkan Regional Creative Hubs, October 13-19, 2019

2019 – Action Aid Denmark, Accra, Ghana, May 4-11, 2019

2018 – Skopje, Macedonia.
OSF Arts Exchange, June 5-9

2017 – Conakry, Guinea.
OSIWA. December 18-22

2017 – Queens NY.
Queens Museum, Series of weekend workshops. October 7-28.

2017 – Brooklyn NY.
OSF Arts Exchange, Brooklyn Museum. October 11-14.

2017 – Johannesburg South Africa.
Johannesburg Art Action Academy. May 20-27.

2016 – Dublin Ireland.
European sex workers and artists. December 13-17.

2016 – Queens NY.
Series of 7 Saturday Workshops. October 8 – November 20.

2016 – Brooklyn NY.
OSF Arts Exchange, Brooklyn Museum, August 10-12.

2014 – Saint Petersburg Russia.
CEC ArtsLink. June 2-6.

2013 – Portland OR.
Portland State University, Social Practice Arts Program, January 17-19.

Short Courses (2-8 Hours):

2017 – New York NY.
Creative Capital. May 4.

2016 – New York NY.
Creative Capital. May 23.

2016 – New York NY.
A Blade Of Grass Fellowship Program. January 16.

2015 – New York NY.
Creative Time Summit. November 14.

2013 – Islamabad Pakistan.
Artists and educators from Pakistan organized through the “Art For Social Change” program of the American Embassy in Islamabad. November 22.

2013 – New York NY.
PS3 Charrette Elementary School. February 21.

2012 – New York NY.
Tribeca Film Festival fellows program. March 23.

2012 – Tilburg, Netherlands.
Incubate Festival. September 14.

2012 – New York NY.
iSchool NYC Public High School. November 29, December 20, October 4, 12.

2012 – New York NY.
Creative Time Summit. October 12.

In the Fall of 2016, over seven weeks, the C4AA led an Arts Action Academy with local artists at the Queens Museum. Our final, collaborative, project took place in Queens, New York the most ethnically diverse community in the world, and birthplace of Donald Trump, a week after Trump was elected president of the US. Here is a taste:

“Thank you so much for visiting iSchool and presenting such inspiring stuff! My students were so excited about the material. When I asked them about it the next day, I could tell you really made an impression. They remembered everything, and that is definitely not always the case! They also thought you guys were really “chill” and that you seemed to really enjoy what you were doing. They were impressed that you had actually lived a lot of the experiences you shared with us. I think they are very excited to try their own ideas now!”

–Gretel Smith, New York City I-School teacher