It’s difficult to imagine, but when I started my career as an artist consultant, most artists suffered from being subservient to the power brokers of the art world. Many artists outside the “elite circle”, felt like outcasts in an impenetrable system. However, the roles of artists and arts advocates have changed dramatically. There are many art pioneers who are changing the world and developing their own circles. They are not only impacting their communities but their actions are affecting the entire global landscape.
Hooray! Empowered and savvy artists are breaking the old rules, taking hold of the reigns, knocking down walls, pushing against boundaries, stepping onto center stage, and raising their voices with confident leadership in many new directions.
Breaking Away From Traditional Roles and Identities
It is refreshing to see art pioneers shedding traditional outworn identities and adorning new roles. The artist who is also a curator, the former curator who is the founder of a non-profit organization, an eco-artist who is a influential blogger… the list goes on. They are powerful activists, self-sufficient “Artrepreneurs”, founders of international foundations, and even TED speakers with millions of hits on YouTube.
Widespread Changes in Perception
Certainly, we can attribute much of the change to the advent of social media. But, there is also a transformation in consciousness that is perpetuating this change. Leaders in corporate America and the media are applauding individuals who possess creative traits. Scientific research on brain activity and the advantages of strengthening “right brain” attributes are causing major shifts in perception. Medical facilities are bringing art into their spaces to promote healing. The scientific community is inviting artists to collaborate with them in their communication efforts.
Artists Forging New Territories
We don’t need to look far to find many artists who have stepped outside their comfort zones and the four walls of their studios to embark on new territories.
An inspiring example of an artist as a pioneer who is changing the world is Lily Yeh. As founder of Barefoot Artists Organization www.barefootartists.org, she travels to impoverished areas worldwide to bring people together through community art projects. She states, “It’s possible to transform the violent energy of our time into a culture of kindness. All things are possible through the openness of our mind, the gentleness of our spirit, and the act of understanding and embracing.”
Barefoot Artists is a volunteer-based organization. Lily Yeh raises funds for specific projects that pair volunteer expertise with local people “to improve environments, and to advance health, education, and economic development. When funds are raised for a project, a call for volunteers is held and some paid staff are organized.”
Arts & Healing Network
Artists are increasingly given positive reinforcement in the form of publicity and accolades for serving as catalysts for active roles in positive change. The Arts & Healing Network (AHN) www.artheals.org/ is the most comprehensive online resource where you will find many artists, organizations, and projects that highlight activism/art for change. From 1998-2015 AHN awarded artists “who are truly making a difference in the world.” They proclaimed, “Our hope is that these awards offer the recipients encouragement and support to continue and expand their outstanding work.”
In a discussion with Tristy Taylor, AHN’s Director of Communication & Outreach, in 2015, she shared this with me: “Over the past 18 years of the Arts & Healing Network, we have always seen artists using art to heal and transform the world. For us, this is nothing new. But we have noticed that art as activism is finally getting the recognition it deserves. There is more media coverage and support and possibly a deeper understanding of the power art and creativity has to heal and transform individuals, communities, the healthcare system, the environment, the political climate, etc.”
One of the recipients in 2015 is Megan Smith, an artist, activist, and social worker from Massachusetts. In 2011, she founded the Repeal Hyde Art Project www.repealhydeartproject.org/ which uses art installations “to raise awareness and create dialogue about the Hyde Amendment, which prevents people from using Medicaid to pay for abortions.”
Forge Your Own Path
It requires boldness and conviction to turn left when everyone else is going right. However, the true creative spirit yearns to be a contrarian. Pioneers can relate to the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Nineteenth century German writer John Wolfgang von Goethe might have been speaking to the creative spirit when he said, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: That the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too … Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
Current conditions require brave actions for change, so step outside the box, color outside the lines, and join the growing number of pioneering creative spirits who are changing the world.