Several months ago, I attended the NEA Summer of Justice Series Conference (by Zoom, of course!). One of the sessions that I found quite interesting was about the influence of art as a part of social and civil movements throughout history.

Artistic expression draws from different cultures. Drawings, murals and paintings show us visually how much people are alike and how much we have contributed to one another’s culture. We should not underestimate the vital role that muralists, musicians, illustrators, sculptors, and writers have played as activists. Artists from various ethnic backgrounds expose us to points of view and perspectives different from our own. Many artists (such as Orozco and Siqueiros, among others) throughout history have utilized art to develop connections with social issues. Art transcends time; it is created for all time.  Through the art they are creating, artists portray history:  the narrative from their point of view at the present moment. As artists reflect the times, they carry out cultural change. Every time we sit down with our paintbrushes, a pen, a camera, a computer, we may be reflecting the present, but we are actually speaking to a time in the future.

Some panelists mentioned how they used art to raise social awareness and how important the intersectionality piece is: artists painting murals, working with social scientists and environmentalists, for example. They also spoke about how essential art is as a tool for mental health. A painting, a drawing, a piece of writing can be very therapeutic; in creation, there is meditation.

Communities should encourage local artists to work with local groups and youth organizations. But how do we change policies to allow artists to express themselves on buildings and areas in the community, to be able to channel the community as a gallery where local art is taking place?

Art and creative writing classes need to be preserved in the curriculum. We must inspire students to build from within, to imagine. Unfortunately, art programs seem to be one of the first ones to be cut in school systems when funding is low. However, many of us as parents and educators have witnessed how important personal artistic expression is to a child’s development, and now more than ever, we should realize the value of artistic expression as a component of social change.


Alicia D. Bata

ND United Vice President for Education