These Philly arts organizations are illustrating the many paths to activism - Generocity Philly

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Feb. 22, 2017 1:00 pm

These Philly arts organizations are illustrating the many paths to activism

Spiral Q and Asian Arts Initiative both use arts programming to share that protest isn't limited to marching.

"Birds, Not Borders" at Spiral Q.

(Photo by Donte Kirby)

The current presidential administration has a 41 percent approval rating according to Gallup polls — the lowest of any new president. From the Women’s March in January to the ‘Not My Presidents’ Day’ March on Monday, people are taking to Philly’s streets in protest at rates that are in tune with those ratings.

There are other ways to make change, though.

Art can be a powerful form of protest, and organizations like Spiral Q and Asian Arts Initiative make it their mission to use art as a vehicle for social justice.

Spiral Q recently gathered community members at the Art on the Avenue Gallery on 38th and Lancaster for its “Birds, Not Borders” event, where participants created 100 paper birds for protest and demonstrations about immigration.

The colorful birds, created with recycled file folders, were crafted for organizations that mobilize and empower the immigrant community such as Juntos and New Sanctuary Movement.

“The world has reared its discriminatory and marginalizing head,” said Jennifer Turnbull, executive artistic director of Spiral Q. “More and more people are awake, willing and wanting to participate in writing the future of their lives.”

Asian Arts Initiative (AAI) has been responding to the current political environment with programming, too, including its Loving Blackness” exhibit and  Sanctuary” poetry showcase, the latter of which is meant to spark a dialogue about systemic oppression and immigrant experiences.

AAI Executive Director Isa Gayle said arts organizations like AAI and Spiral Q can also serve as places for activists to recharge their batteries and avoid burning out.

“I think that one of the most important strategies for self-care and community care is to be able to tap into our creative energies,” Gayle said. Artists can “nourish ourselves by seeing artwork that speaks to our community experiences as well as create an opportunity for people to come together and connect.”

Gayle said that as a director she tries to produce exhibits and programming that “goes hand in hand with those direct actions” like protesting and creating action plans with local politicians.

“I definitely believe in a range of strategies that are going to be necessary for resistance or survival,” she said.

finished bird- Donte Kirby

Finished birds. (Photo by Donte Kirby)

Spiral Q is in the midst of a residency at Art on the Avenue and will continue to host events at the space that make art accessible and create room for intersectional conversations about social justice.

The organization is looking to hold community dialogues to discuss the many ways of participating in social change — whether it’s crafting art in the gallery, protesting on the streets or volunteering as a teacher for Spiral Q’s programing.

“There’s a lot of ways to be on the ground,” said Turnbull. In Spiral Q’s classrooms, “we hold space for voices that are often silenced to be heard through the art-making process.”

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