Queens Open Engagement and the Power of Art Activism

On May 11th-13th, 2018, the Queens Museum held their 10th annual Open Engagement event. Hundreds of artists, activists, educators, creatives, and students alike attended the program to explore this year’s theme of Sustainability. The Open Engagement consisted of numerous activities, speakers, and various other ways for artists and activists to marry their mediums of expression to deliver a powerful message of sustainability.

There were several different interactive activity stations, based in the visual arts. One station was hosted by Mobile Print Power, a printmaking collective based in Corona, Queens. At the station, they had a printmaker on site who taught visitors how to silk-screen while going more in depth about their mission. This particular site focused on making tote bags addressing the question “What does a community of trust, compassion, and inclusion look like and how do we build relationships to make that real?” They host workshops every week, and their collective is compiled of both artists and activists who seek to unpack social and cultural issues through printmaking. You can learn more about Mobile Print Power and their workshops here.

Mobile Print Power station Photo credit: Netanel Saso

Another station was hosted by Greenspace NYC, a non-profit organization that organizes and creates free programs, workshops, and design projects to educate the public about issues surrounding sustainability in NYC and across the globe. For the past three years, they have created an event called the Civic Art Lab, which is a pop-up gallery and workshop space that takes place every October. The Civic Art Lab explores topics ranging from climate change to sustainable architecture to urban agriculture. Their station at the Open Engagement included a pop-up gallery that exhibited works covering these topics. Here you can find information about last year’s Civic Art Lab, and stay updated with information about next year’s gallery.

A company called PulpMobile hosted a station, where mixed-media artist Rejin Leys created a mobile cart that showcased how paper is made, and allowed community members to make paper as well. In this interactive station, visitors could make their own page or use a pre-made page, and even learn how to make paper out of recycled materials. You can learn more about PulpMobile here, and further explore Leys’ work here.

There was also an Open Platform that allowed various speakers to give lectures and talks on the theme of sustainability. Sculptures That Talk gave a speech on protection of public land, and specifically on the protection of the land of Oak Flat, Arizona, which is sacred to the San Carlos Apache. Sculptures That Talk is a collaborative work and public sculpture that seeks to educate and engage members of the community. Erin Turner, one of the presenters, is working to create an Oak Flat interactive sculpture that will involve both the natives and the landscape to construct this collaborative piece.  Turner discussed the history of San Carlos Apache concentration camps in the United States, as well as Native American removal practices. Her piece aims to educate the public about the protection of this sacred land, and with it the advocating for emotional and spiritual safety for the indigenous people of this area. It is a powerful project, revealing how identity and environment are so interwoven, and exhibiting this idea through a sculpture that illustrates identity and landscape through art.

The Open Platform where guest speakers presented. Photo credit: Netanel Saso

Speaker Grace Lynne Haynes came to discuss the topic of Social Impact and Design. Haynes is an LA based social impact artist, using her art to bring awareness to social justice and underrepresented communities. She is mainly an illustration artist who uses social media to promote her work. She discussed how to use art and design as a tool for the community, and mentions a community of color in LA that runs and performs in their own theater company. Haynes explains the deep run issues within the education system, and how it benefits very few people. Her work seeks to engage the community with family oriented interactive themes, like creating workshops for children that lets them channel their creativity and use the power of image to tell stories. She is also involved in travel-based projects, and had recently returned from a trip to Egypt where she created a mural. The mural was a wall painting that focused on themes of women’s empowerment, and was a collaboration project with Egyptian women artists who all currently work in Egypt. She mentioned that this experience was unusual as the area is typically a male dominated area with high rates of sexual assault, but she participated in an exclusively woman-based project.

The Queens Open Engagement is an excellent way to bring artists and activists together under a uniting theme. Witnessing the powerful projects that so many artist-activists are working on and the communities that they foster reveals how inspiring art can be, and how it can manifest in so many different areas of life. There are so many different avenues your art can make an impact on a community or an issue. Art is truly one of the most powerful vehicles to spread your message.

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