LivingArts: Pump Up the Volume

“Once you allow yourself to identify with the people in a story, then you might begin to see yourself in that story even if on the surface it's far removed from your situation.” - Chinua Achebe

I consider myself a critical thinker, and I’m pretty outspoken about my views on social justice, civil rights, and equity issues. Depending on the day, I might be described as ‘very opinionated.’ I’ve also been told I have a ‘bleeding heart’ – a phrase somehow meant as an insult, though I’ve never understood why having empathy for others would be seen this way. Needless to say, I don’t think having strong opinions is a bad thing – I’m open-minded and receptive to other ideas, and like most people, as time passes and new information comes in, my views evolve.

In my work as a media artist, personal politics are a large motivating factor for the art I create. Hot Air, an installation I’m mounting in September, focuses on sexism, misogyny, and gendered oppression. This work uses ‘found’ audio from popular culture and news sources to highlight how politicians, athletes, and other media personalities talk about women in North American society. It’s probably fairly obvious that my feminist perspective is informing this project.

As an Arts-Educator, overtly sharing my personal political viewpoints is not really appropriate. I meet hundreds of new students a year, and though I don’t usually express political opinions, they do get a glimpse of the world through my lens while I’m visiting. Though it’s subtle, students might understand my feelings about social issues through the activities that I bring into the classroom. And, when it comes to community art initiatives, personal ideologies have definitely been behind my attempt to create projects that bring media and visual art experiences to children, youth, and adults who are marginalized – people born in Canada or elsewhere, from different cultures, races, genders, religions, orientations, or those with low socio-economic status, or mental health issues. It’s a conscious effort and a constant goal to share creative space and time with others who might benefit from arts programs but don’t have regular access.

One of those strong opinions I mentioned above is that humans should help one another and actively make space for others. I believe we should find ways to unify and bring people together, rather than engendering division. I’m very privileged in my life, and feel a responsibility to create opportunities for folks who aren’t – especially those facing multiple layers of discrimination and massive structural inequalities. Specialized arts programming isn’t going to solve these problems, but those of us who are part of this country’s dominant cultural narrative need to listen to these voices, hear their points of view, and recognize that the ideas and experiences of others are just as important as our own – and at times they’re even more important.

Engaging with people, learning about them, and offering tools that encourage self-expression is a pretty great way to spend a day. I don’t want to speak for anyone else; I aim to give people the means to tell their own stories on their own terms. Let’s find ways to build platforms, supply megaphones, and create opportunities for people to amplify their own voices, and then, let’s stop for a moment and really listen. I’m curious about what they have to say – and in my opinion, you should be too.