Promoting Activism through Art

Minneapolis artists inspire social change

Minneapolis-based artist Ricardo Levins Morales is well acquainted with the strong relationship between activism and art. His studio overflows with prints, buttons, and greeting cards, all emblazoned with rousing calls to action—his reputation as an “activist-artist” is well-earned. Morales reflects on the harmony between his two passions:

Illustrator: Taylor Daniels

Illustrator: Taylor Daniels

“I’ve always liked to draw, and I’ve always drawn what’s important to me… Now it’s fighting oppression and promoting resilience. It changes a bit, but the key is it’s always what matters to me. So I never went through that process of saying ‘I love doing art, I’m interested in activism, how do I meld them?’ It’s just been organic.”

He views his work as medicinal in function, prescribed to treat social maladies.

“Some posters are meant to polarize the situation, some to calm it down, some to stimulate memory, some to warn about danger; they’re different diagnoses. The diagnoses are different, but there is an underlying condition. In my opinion, the systemic inflammation that is an epidemic in our consciousness is hopelessness. So that means, no matter what story I’m telling, I have a responsibility to treat the underlying condition of hopelessness.”

And his medicine works. Holding up a poster speckled with bunnies that reads “Bosses beware; when we’re screwed, we multiply,” Morales recalls how the Connecticut chapter of the Postal Workers Union used this design to force administration to locate promised jobs for droves of recently terminated employees.

Nathan Ehrlich, a University of Minnesota student, has adopted a similar role, as administrator of ‘medicinal’ art. Ehrlich organized a politically-fueled art exhibit and concert based out of his home and decided with the artists to further the impact of the event by donating the proceeds to Planned Parenthood.

“We decided to donate as opposed to make a profit because we all wanted to make an impact on the what the election results were. This was our way of impacting change in a positive way,” he explained.

Morales and Ehrlich’s stories are testaments the the real world impact that artistic work can have when it is administered purposefully and intelligently, and serve as reminder that social change is brought about by those who act thusly.