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SVA Subway Series: Julia Rothman Says Protest Is Art [Video]

Julia Rothman loves New York. The BFA Illustration faculty member was born and raised on City Island in the Bronx, and has never left New York, save for her undergraduate years at the Rhode Island School Design (she currently lives and works out of her Park Slope apartment). Four years ago she wrote a book all about New York, "an illustrated love letter to the five boroughs" full of secret details and obscure histories called Hello NY. Her illustration work is full of bodegas, brownstones and always a bevy of what makes New York New York: the people. "I like to illustrate most the small moments of New York," she says, "something that shows what it's like to be a New Yorker."

Rothman brings this hometown pride and a keen eye for detail to bear for SVA's latest "Art Is" subway poster, now gracing the train platforms all over the city. She saw designing the poster as her "chance to do something about what everybody is doing right now, which is protesting," and the final product is entirely made up of people—New Yorkers—smiling, shouting, marching and holding signs encouraging action and engagement. In all of her work, Rothman draws from life or from photos and the New Yorkers included on the poster come from the marches and demonstrations she's attended recently. Many of the protestors have empty signs, left blank by Rothman to invite interaction; subway riders can fill in their own slogans and calls for change. If her prints, paintings and sketches communicate the visual experience of the city, this poster captures its spirit—energetic, diverse, with millions of different voices speaking out and standing up for what they believe in.

Inclusivity and diversity are central to Rothman's practice and her life as an artist; she is consistently increasing the visibility of and creating support networks for fellow illustrators, particularly women and other underrepresented groups. In 2017 she co-founded Women Who Draw, an online directory of professional female* illustrators, artists, and cartoonists available for freelance work (note: this asterisk indicates trans-inclusivity and includes women, trans and gender non-conforming illustrators). Women Who Draw currently features over 2700 international artists, publishes interviews with industry pros, and hosts collaborative and live drawing events via social media. Rothman is also active on SkillShare and co-created Ladies Drawing Night, both outlets for artists to come together and learn from one another.

Rothman is prolific, and her work is well-known, to be found in the pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post, like books, wallpaper patterns and major ad campaigns, and, this winter, on subway platforms. While this isn't her first subway poster (she's done projects for MTA Arts for Transit and the New York Transit Museum), this one sure hit close to home: "I think that art is speaking your mind, so I think protesting is art."

Check out the new video with Julia celebrating her “Art Is” poster.

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