A major challenge in starting and maintaining social movements—political, environmental, humanitarian, or any combination thereof—is engaging people to get involved, as well as staying motivated. Successful social activism rests on the ability to provoke people’s perceptions, thoughts, and actions in positive and innovative ways. By joining with artistic and activist communities, social movements are able to overcome many adversities. The issue is given the ability to create a new visual landscape and language, form new collective identities, and redefine meaningful citizenship.
This collaborative endeavour has a long history and bright future of success in furthering the general awareness of controversial issues. Ranging from fine arts to street arts, graphic designers to performance artists and musicians, these artists are inspired to create something beautiful and moving by social injustice, natural degradation, and the other harsh realities of our contemporary existence. Coupled with the power of the political and scientific voice behind most activist movements, art provides a new way to encourage the public to participate.
I personally have a special interest in the global environmental crisis and wildlife issues (habitat fragmentation and decreasing population) that are attached to it. When looking at the science-based facts of the issue, the statistics come like body blows—they are staggering and bleak. Sometimes it’s hard to see beyond them to a solution that the entire planet, or even a local community, can get on board with. Data alone will very rarely influence a person to make big changes in their life; most often they leave people feeling overwhelmed or defensive. By creating a new language of information through music and art—presented through humour, colour, representation, poetry, or song—the general public can be engaged in a new way, through the heart. By connecting to human emotions, the data transcends itself into a new realm of meaning that can inspire real change.
Art has been a way for humanity to express individual and community identity, articulating who we are, where we come from, and where we are going, since primitive man put charcoal to wall. In today’s social environment, this kind of expression has an indisputable place in social activism. Using the many aspects of the arts allows for emotional connection, and also provides a new way to transmit information, ideology, and communication, reduce fear or anxiety, or provide a rallying point of solidarity. It is powerful.
Solutions, a VIU club dedicated to bringing information on the issue of sustainability to campus, are tapping into this power with their Love-a-Mug campaign, which focuses on human consumption habits. Sacia Burton, facilitator of Solutions, understands the importance of utilizing the artistic side of activism to make changes. “I think art and activism both come from the same place inside somebody, the part that isn’t satisfied with what’s going on in the world and wants to stir things up. Marrying activism and art enriches the conversations we want to have. It engages all the senses and gives people the opportunity to participate in a discussion about what’s good and what’s worth making a fuss about.”
At tabling events over the past month, Solutions has given away over 70 donated mugs, coffee shop gift cards, and new VIU travel mugs to raise awareness of Love-a-Mug. Recognizing the positive impacts of art in social movement, members are collaborating with students in VIU’s art program, friends, frequenters of the Vault Cafe, children, and anyone else who’s willing to join them in the creation of an installation for the campus.
This installation will speak to the habitual use of paper cups and how this leads directly to the disposal of 58 million cups per year worldwide. Disposed-of cups gleaned from bins (and even friends’ hands) will be washed and given to the artistic community to be painted, written on, spray painted, or drawn on in any way the creator sees fit.
The project kicked off on Sunday, February 8 at the Vault Cafe, where Solutions members handed out cups to willing participants, turning it into a fun and motivating event which will continue every weekend at the café, as well as student residences.
The collaboration will continue until the end of March, when all the cups will be gathered and strung with lights for display in different areas on campus. The group hopes to mount installations in the cafeteria or library for maximum visibility.