In honor of National Arts In Education Week Coming Up September 9 – 15; Guest post from Walter Belcher, Director of Camp Up with People, Co-Director of Up with People Jr. and Show Director of Up with People
As a professional actor, singer, and director – coupled with being an alumnus of Up with People and working with AmeriCorps – an ‘artist activist’ is a large part of who I am.
While the concept of using the arts as a tool for social justice is not a new concept, using the arts to address injustice that spans the globe is a major part of my life today.
When we think of ways to spark social change, we normally think of legislative changes, laws, petitions, etc. We think of political activism as the primary method. We also use community service to make a dent in the numerous social challenges our society faces, often overlooking the value of the arts.
We forget that the arts can spark these changes as well.
“The arts can unassumingly provide us with new ways of thinking without making us defensive.”
The arts can be used as a way for us to interrogate our current beliefs, 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 have been an agent for change in many ways.
An inspirational anthem of the civil rights movement in the 60’s, “We Shall Overcome” continues to fuel a movement against discrimination. Broadway continues to artistically use the theatre to address unpopular subjects head on. Sitcoms such as Will and Grace, and reality shows like 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, Hollywood blockbusters such as Black Panther and The Greatest Showman poignantly demonstrate the power of art in pride, affirmation, representation and belonging. The arts have always given us permission to laugh, to cry, to look inward and to begin to discuss outwardly. Maya Angelou left us with literary art that challenges and inspires. Whether visual arts or performing arts, the arts allow us to have difficult conversations that may not be easy or popular.
As seen through the Up with People show, the arts transcend language, unify cultures, build communities, and create connections on an emotional level. The arts communicate 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”