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Help Pass the Equal Rights Amendment

Turn your art into action this summer

Are you ready for lasting change? Feeling fired up to add your voice now, especially as legal protections hang in the balance and another election year approaches? Then you bring your passion and ideas, and we’ll bring our creative team to inspire and guide you. In Art and Activism: Help Pass the Equal Rights Amendment, get to work and use your art to make political change as you learn about the history, structures, and context of the women's rights movement for the last 125 years.

The ERA determines that "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Check out this article for more on the effects of the ERA — or watch John Oliver’s recent oratory. To learn more about how this relates to art and design, we reached out to Declan Van Welie, who is co-teaching the course.

SVACE: As social and political issues have roared, creative people are making and sharing their work through wide-reaching outlets. These include social media, design and printing technology, and online educational resources. Now, artists and designers can work with unprecedented independence. Has there been a better time to make politically-minded art?

DVW: While there’s never been a bad time to make political art (there’s always something to be fixed with the world), there’s definitely a special urgency to making political art now. Recent attacks on democratic ideals the world over should be a call to arms (pencils, brushes, stencils?) to create work supporting openness, inclusion, knowledge, education, science, and art. Much is at stake, and creative people, as communicators, are powerful propagators of positive change.

While it’s great that artists can work with increasing independence, resisting the urge to work alone can also be very constructive. Community-oriented work is one way we’ll approach an art world reflecting the liberal ideals most of us hold dear. I think of how Theaster Gates is using his art practice to transform Chicago’s South Side, fostering stronger community ties along the way.

SVACE: What are some examples of artists and designers playing effective roles in political movements?

DVW: There is a long history of artists and creative people participating in political causes.

Given the recent 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests and brutal Chinese government crackdown, it seems appropriate to highlight the Goddess of Democracy statue erected by students to reinvigorate the pro-Democracy protests.

The students of the Central Academy of Fine Arts who assembled the statue demonstrated incredible courage and ingenuity in defying the government’s orders. They enlisted rickshaws to transport the monument in pieces when the government banned them from using trucks to move it; forming human shields to prevent the authorities from interfering. Though the 10-meter-tall monument was temporary and hastily made (mostly patched together out of foam and plaster) some credit it with reviving the movement at a time when protester numbers had begun to dwindle. Tens of thousands flocked to watch its unveiling. Though the statue was ultimately demolished when the government’s troops massacred (some say) thousands of peaceful protestors, the monument remains a powerful symbol of art’s power in opposing oppression.

SVACE: The ERA has vast popular support — more than 90%, according to some polls — and its ratification would bring more equality to peoples’ lives. But for artists and designers in particular, what does the ERA’s passage mean?

DVW: The shocking reality is that women still do not have explicit equality of rights under the United States Constitution. The passage of the Equal Rights Amendment would correct that. The amendment reads:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Activists have been fighting for the ERA for 96 years. It was proposed by Alice Paul following the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, and we are finally one state away from having the necessary 38 states ratify it.

The ERA would help make our society more equal for everyone, artists included. The ERA would help tackle many critical gender-based issues, like making laws against sexual assault more enforceable. You can explore the slew of pressing issues the amendment would address at Equal Means Equal.

To give you just one example, the gender pay gap impacts all segments of our population. Women, and especially women of color, earn much less on average than their white male counterparts: 65 cents earned by African American women and 61 cents earned by Hispanic women for every white man’s dollar in 2018, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Our nation’s vast creative workforce is no exception in that trend. The passage of the ERA would help close the gender wage gap. That means better lives for millions of brilliant artists.

SVACE: What should students know about the creative team leading this workshop?

DVW: Where to begin?

Gail Anderson is a legendary designer, who recently won a Cooper Hewitt Lifetime Achievement Award, among her numerous other accolades from AIGA, and many others. She has left a lasting impression on the design world, and is an invaluable presence in this workshop.

Natalie White is a provocative and progressive artist fighting for equality under the law. Natalie brings her experiences fighting for the ERA in courtrooms and the halls of government along with her insights working in a male-dominated art-world, where she once was considered a muse for her male counterparts.

Eric Corriel is multimedia artist and Senior Digital Strategist at Visual Arts Press. He creates work ranging from site-specific projection art to visual manifestations of digital landscapes to protest-oriented artifacts meant to exist in the public realm.

I am an artist and a Web Designer and Developer at SVA’s Visual Arts Press. My artistic interests span from the traditional (from illustration, fine art, and photography) to the digital and interactive. As a visual communicator, I’m very interested in the impacts of media on society. This workshop, as well as the undergraduate course I teach on Art & Activism, coalesces all of my interests, and provides a forum for very rewarding action and discussion.

Art and Activism: Help Pass the Equal Rights Amendment takes place on the weekends of June 22 and June 30. Registration is open now! Follow our updates and stories on our Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram pages!

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