Art as a creative mode of civic engagement

Art can provide a non-traditional platform for civic engagement, including diverse audiences and opinions through unique expression. Illustration by Ivette Pimentel.

The Center for the Study of Ethics held their annual “Ethics Awareness Week” from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1, featuring live-streamed lectures on the Ethical Dimensions of Civic Life.

Barbara Schaffer Bacon was the first speaker, covering “The Arts in American Civic Culture.” She is the co-director of Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts

Bacon has focused her work on arts and civic engagement since the mid-90s. It all started when Americans for the Arts was invited by the Ford Foundation, to engage in making connections between the arts and concerns of civil society, contributing to the start of the Animating Democracy program. 

“The arts contribute uniquely to the works of civil engagement,” said Bacon. This happens,  “by validating people’s stories and perspectives, and bringing people together around shared goals. The arts are being more consciously and continuously engaged to achieve civic goals, and make change.” 

Bacon said how art in the past two years has played a big role in promoting action throughout recent events, listing the Black Lives Matter movement, elections, and COVID-19 issues as particular examples. 

“Art has the power to animate democracy,” Bacon asserted. 

Bacon delineated how art can promote greater awareness of social issues. Referencing the Fundred Dollar Bill Project that was implemented by Mel Chin, a conceptual visual artist who is largely motivated by political, cultural, and social circumstances. His goal was to propose a funding solution for the lead contamination in the soil of New Orleans, LA. 

Chin created a safe house where people came to share stories about how they were being affected by the environmental issues in their communities through works of art. The project traveled around the country educating people in 2008. 

Bacon encouraged people to develop capacities as players in the change they want to see in the future. 

To support and understand more about the organization Americans for the Arts go to their website.
The recorded sessions for Ethics Awareness Week can be accessed through the Center for the Study of Ethics’ website, or YouTube channel.

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