A group of young people stand, kneel, and site in front of a wall bearing painted signs of activist slogans ("ABOLISH ICE," Families belong together")

Art + Activism: Using Collaborative Art for Social Transformation

– By Ana Gonzalez

This summer, the Hammer Museum's academic programs department launched the second year of Art + Activism: A Collaborative Learning Project, a multigenerational artmaking mentorship program. The program brought together eight high school students, four UCLA undergrads, and two UCLA graduate MFA students to explore the intersections of art and activism over the course of six weeks of online and in-person learning. Participants built creative and collaboration skills and deepened their knowledge of a range of artistic and activist practices. They also gained skills and strategies for navigating arts education and career pathways through mentorship cohorts and from guest speakers. Inspired by Andrea Bowers’s artistic practice, they collaborated on a culminating project that supports the work of local activist organization, Arts For LA. For the project, activists from Arts For LA shared about their arts education advocacy work and taught participants about organizing tactics and Proposition 28, an upcoming ballot measure that would significantly raise funding for arts education in K-12 public schools in California. This inspired the Art + Activism interns to create social media content, posters, a zine, and t-shirts to raise awareness around this ballot measure.

Three students in masks work at a table covered in brown paper

Week 1: Community Building

The first week of the program emphasized building community between the participants, along with encouraging self-expression and identity formation. They created community agreements, personal manifestos, and mentors gave brief talks about their artistic practices. At the museum, interns constructed a collaborative manifesto, setting a hopeful and motivated precedent for the rest of the program. Participants also toured the Andrea Bowers exhibition with curatorial assistant Nika Chilewich, further exploring the intersections of art and activism.

Overhead image of a table covered in artmaking supplies, with the hands of a few students making cyanotypes

Week 2: Personal Storytelling and the Still Image

In the second week, mentors and interns explored using still images as a tool for personal storytelling. Guest speaker Amina Cruz, a 2023 MFA candidate at UCLA, introduced participants to her photography practice. Intern Genesis Deleon reflected that Cruz never saw representation for queer people of color in art, and so “took that into her own hands,” taking away the lesson of “not waiting for anybody else to do it for you and just doing it for yourself.” Later in the week, students learned about Arts For LA, a local activist organization advocating for greater arts education opportunities and did a workshop on the foundations of equity in learning spaces with the California Conference for Equality and Justice. The week culminated with a day at UCLA. Interns and mentors toured  the campus’ art spaces. Following the tour, Cruz guided participants in creating cyanotypes, a photographic printing process produced through exposure to ultraviolet light. 

A woman holds up a colorful drawing on paper

Week 3: The Moving Image

In the third week of the program participants focused on the moving image. Interns and mentors discussed media literacy, the process of making viral videos for activism, and elements of filmmaking. Participants also learned about the best practices for interviews and filmmaking from the Hammer’s senior media producer Gabriel Noguez and filmmaker Jimmy Chorng. Gathering at Kenneth Hahn State Park, interns and mentors paired up to film interviews about their personal artmaking and activism journeys. In her interview, Isabel Soledad, a rising senior at Renaissance Arts Academy, voiced that she “didn’t know if it was possible to make money and a profession” from art, especially coming from a low-income family, but that her perspective has shifted: “Through this program I was able to see that it is possible, and I feel prepared and I have a network of artists and support to go to.”

A student stands in front of a large work on cardboard by Andrea Bowers portraying a butterfly and the phrase "MIGRATION IS BEAUTIFUL"

Week 4: Organizing 101 and Project Planning with Arts for LA

Moving into the second half of the program, Arts For LA led an Organizing 101 workshop, shaping this week’s objective of collaborative brainstorming for the interns’ culminating project. Students learned about organizing strategies, Proposition 28, and how to expand their artistic and activist vocabularies. At the Hammer, participants collaboratively developed a guiding question for their final project: How has access to arts education impacted you and your community? Students also met with guest speaker Ramon Espinosa, the Hammer’s design and production specialist, to learn about design principles and his career path. Justin Arrieta, shown above visiting the Bowers exhibition, shared that throughout the program he learned that “activism isn’t something only certain people can do. It can be anyone.” 

A group of students surround the artist Andrea Bowers, holding colorful paper fans and wearing ribbons

Week 5: Proposition 28 Project Development and Visit to Andrea Bowers' Studio

In the fifth week of the program, interns continued to work on their final project in support of access to arts education. Taking a field trip to Bowers’s studio, participants learned about her collaborative artistic practice and how her works are created. Bowers and her team also introduced interns to the silk-screening process, printing ribbons with activist phrases. Interns relayed that going to the studio was one of the most memorable experiences of the internship, commenting that it was “really inspiring and joyful to see a community of intelligent artivists” and “great to see how a working artist makes art in collaboration with a team."

Photograph of three young women kneeling in front of a wall of artworks by Andrea Bowers

Week 6: Culminating Week and Arts Advocacy Day

During the last week of the program, students focused on wrapping up the final project and celebrating the experience of collaborative education. Interns finished their social media content, posters, and zines in support of Proposition 28 and met with UCLA School of the Arts & Architecture admissions staff to discuss art education opportunities after high school. On the last day, participants screen-printed t-shirts that combined their slogans in support of Proposition 28 and hand-bound zines to be distributed. Each intern also presented their favorite work created over the course of the program, whether that be a cyanotype, Instagram Reel, interview, or poster. Following the end of the Art + Activism program, several interns shared their final project as a part of Arts Advocacy Day at CalArts, an opportunity to learn about ways of supporting arts education and to meet other young people working at the intersection of the arts and activism.

Reflecting on the program, one intern shared that they “feel ready for college and life filled with artivism.” Others echoed this sentiment, stating that “learning to work in groups and hearing other viewpoints” was especially meaningful as it helped relieve social anxiety that comes along with larger group settings. Though one student felt insecure about their artmaking at the beginning of the program, they noted that during the six weeks they learned to be confident in their abilities and that the experience had strengthened their voice. Not only did participants learn about the intersections of art and activism, they grew their self-esteem through collaboration and multimedia art education.

Interns: Ailyn Betancourt, Becky Montes, Darien Cardena, Genesis De Leon, Isabel Soledad, Justin Arrieta, Samara Watts, Valerie Chen

Undergraduate Mentors: Avery Collins-Byrd, Clue Quilala, Grace Xu, Lucia Santina Ribisi

Graduate Mentors: alea adigweme, Jahmil Eady

Hammer Staff: Hallie Scott (Associate Director, Academic Programs), Tara Burns (Specialist, Family and K-12 Audiences), Ana Gonzalez (Getty Marrow Undergraduate Intern), Jasmine Alvarez (Emerging Museum Education Fellow)

Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hammermuseum/albums/72177720301704875