October 21, 2020

Importance of Arts in Social Movements

By Ashley Hines, Marketing Intern

Today, you have probably listened to music on the radio or saw an art graphic online or maybe you have attended a concert or watched a television show. While all of those things may seem insignificant to you in the moment, every type of art you consume has an impact on yourself and the way you view society. 

Usually, artists are seen as peripheral to social movements, providing the rugged protest sign or colorful mural. Art has the unique ability to move its audience – to inspire, invoke curiosity or anger. That doesn’t necessarily mean that watching a television show will move someone to action; however, art expands minds and allows anyone to be a visionary. Recognizing the power artists have in shaping our culture and minds is important in the fight toward a more progressive society.

“I think creating art is the most powerful motivator for change of any kind,” says Alejandra Hernandez, a junior in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. “It gives people an outlet to express difficult feelings, and when that product is shared with others it can be a really powerful tool for community building.”

About a month ago, a hate crime was committed on NIU’s campus, leaving the community feeling unsafe and divided. In face of this racist incident, the NIU Center for Black Studies and NIU College of Visual and Performing Arts collaborated to create an event where community members could come together to paint a Black Lives Matter mural while various local musicians shared their art.

Paul Kassel, Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts and producer of the event, says, “The way to combat hateful speech acts is with bigger, louder, and more vibrant acts of love. So, I thought about the large Black Lives Matter banners painted on the streets of DC and NYC and thought we could do the same on Lincoln Avenue, out in front of Altgeld Hall. The entire thing is a kind of happening or performance art, declaring our defiance of hate and demonstrating our unity as a community.”

As those in attendance swayed with the music or chatted with a stranger painting alongside them, it was clear that this event is exactly the glue the community needed. It brought people together with common grief and gave them an outlet to share emotions otherwise difficult to express.

“In the wake of a hate crime on campus, the students and faculty of NIU were able to come together and stand with our black students and faculty,” says Dr. Vernese Edghill-Walden, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer at NIU. “There’s poeticism in responding to a crime made with paint in order to spread hate, with an event using paint to spread love. I’m so thankful NIU was able to give us an opportunity to use the hurt and anger we felt into something positive, and something to unify us all. We have put our solidarity into words, now we must put them into action.”

We are obviously living through some incredibly hard times. In moments such as this, it is more important than ever that art be central to our healing, for it allows us the space to put our feelings somewhere other than our brain. Art serves as a recognition of and prescription for our collective hardship. In her piece “The Arts as a Conduit for Rediscovering our Humanity,” Josephine Ramirez impactfully states:

“When our capacities for compassion and imagination are weak, we are a lesser kind of humanity, unequipped to address our own problems or those of the world around us. Arts experiences foster our capacity to feel compassion and to imagine a different way of being, which is our link not merely to survive, but to thrive and to be fully human.”

The Egyptian Theatre stands in solidarity with the Northern Illinois University campus and students against hatred.  We too celebrate love, acceptance, and equality through the varied art platforms.