As an artist, AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, and Director of Camp Up with People, an activist has always been a large part of who I am.
So while the concept of using the arts as a tool for social justice is not a new concept, it has become a major part of my life today, using the arts to address the injustice that spans the globe.
When we think of ways to spark social change, we normally think of legislative changes, laws, petitions, etc. We associate political activism as the primary method for change, often overlooking the heart in the art and how the arts continue to promote and advance global equality.
The arts can unassumingly provide us with new ways of thinking without making us defensive. The arts can be used as means for us to interrogate our current beliefs, and spark new ideas and critically examine ourselves and the world we live in. We seldom think about the arts and the invaluable role they can play in breaking social barriers and bridging socially constructed differences. Using the arts as a tool for social justice encompasses a wide range of visual and performing arts that are specifically created to raise critical consciousness, build community, and motivate individuals to promote social change. The arts serve as a nonviolent form of protest and provide a needed voice of change in many ways.
With lyrics first published in 1901, “We Shall Overcome” became an anthem for the civil rights movement of the United States and it continues to fuel protests. Broadway continues to artistically use the stage as a theatrical platform to address controversial subjects head-on. Sit-coms such as Will and Grace and Ru Paul’s Drag Race have been raising awareness and promoting healthy family dinner debates since they first aired. Flashy flash mobs have been choreographed to interrupt “business as usual. The arts allow us to be entertained while being informed. Even globally, Bollywood to Hollywood blockbusters such as Mother India, Every Child Is Special, Black Panther, and The Greatest Showman, each a poignant demonstration of the power of art in dismantling injustice. The arts have always given us permission to laugh, to cry, to look inward, and to begin to discuss outwardly. Young Amanda Gorman, powerful and poetic, seeks justice on issues of oppression, feminism, race, and marginalization, as well as the African diaspora. Even visual artists are working to open our eyes to righting global wrongs, as seen in the virtual gallery entitled, “In Pursuit of Freedom; A Collection of Global Protest Art,” a collective work in over 16 countries featuring paintings, photography, and various artistic forms. Whether visual arts, literature, or performing arts, the arts allow us to have difficult conversations that may not be easy or popular.
Camp Up with People is working to use the arts as a catalyst for active change. Every summer our diverse group of campers discover how the arts transcend language, unifies cultures, builds community, creates connections on an emotional level and communicates to our shared humanity while challenging us to evaluate our normative behaviors. The arts bring us together, yet challenge us, our community, and even the world.
“If more people were for people…There’d be a lot less people to worry about and a lot more people who care”
Walter Belcher is originally from Cleveland Ohio, by way of Arizona. He is a proud UWP alumnus of Cast C 89-90. Walter joined AmeriCorps, becoming a VISTA volunteer and working to improve the quality of life for impoverished families throughout Arizona. As a professional vocalist and advocate for youth, Walter values combining the arts with service learning and the cross-cultural components that create this unique experience known as Camp Up with People.
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