Illustration by Amelia Madarang

Art for Social Change Seeks to enact antiracism

Every Tuesday at noon, members of Art for Social Change gather over Zoom. Membership spans across all three campuses and is composed of faculty, staff and students. The meetings begin with an oral reaffirmation of the organization’s community guidelines. According to Lewis & Clark Communications Specialist and Organization Co-Chair Lawrence Siulagi, this practice ensures cohesion and harmony amongst the members. 

“It’s … super important (that) we are on the same wavelength and vibration by the time we start,” Lawrence Siulagi said. 

The opening statements reflect the organization’s dedication to providing a safe space for all community members, from an acknowledgment of the Native lands LC occupies to a set of guidelines for the meetings. 

Art for Social Change first formed as a response to the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent summer of racial reckoning. Liv Siulagi ’19 reached out to Assistant Professor and Counseling Program Director Mary Andrus in order to change her senior project to one that examined anti-racism in art and activism. It was out of this interaction that Art for Social Change was born. 

“Mary was really struck by the idea and wanted to start the group right away,” Liv Siulagi said. 

Liv Siulagi then reached out to her father, Lawrence Siulagi, who was immediately interested due to his background in theatre and interest in the arts.

The group chose to center art in the organization partly due to their backgrounds, but also their strong beliefs in the healing power of art. 

“I think we have all seen how art can help people develop a greater understanding of their lives, and how it creates something that words can’t, that brings people together in a way that words sometimes can’t,” Liv Siulagi said. 

According to Andrus, the group intends to promote anti-racism through art by elevating the critical consciousness of participants. Perhaps their most unique aspect is their emphasis on non-colonial timelines and a lack of a hierarchy. 

“Part of (white colonialism) is this sense of urgency and deadlines and milestones and meeting projections,” Lawrence Siulagi said.

Instead, the group focuses on moving at the speed of trust and intention. Meeting agendas are purposefully flexible in order to accommodate current events and “call-ins” for members to freely discuss their feelings, as well as anti-racist actions they would like to exact through art. This has allowed the organization to foster deeper relationships and become more forgiving towards one another. 

“We will make mistakes along the way, but we can own them,” Lawrence Siulagi said.

And while Andrus and Lawrence Siulagi serve as co-chairs, egalitarian principles and transparency are strictly stressed. All members have access to the documents and art proposals created, and are encouraged to make changes that they want.

According to their website, the members are united through one goal: “To create art to acknowledge, define, and dismantle racism on our campus and beyond.”

Despite COVID-19 restrictions, the group has managed to exact their mission. Last semester, Liv Siulagi, along with members Beth Ann Short and Andrus, collaborated to organize the first annual Winter Solstice ceremony. Participants were encouraged to submit responses on what they would like to leave behind in 2020. According to Liv Siulagi, the answers — which covered a wide range from breakups to political topics — were then read aloud and burned in a fire. The ceremony was streamed live on the organization’s Instagram account.

Every Thursday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Liv Siulagi, who describes herself as a devoted member of the organization, also hosts an open art therapy session over Zoom. There are different themes every week to be centered in the artwork. She intends for this space to encourage healing through art-making and discussion of current events.

“There’s so much emphasis (that) social change should have this very physical product but social change can also be a feeling of being with others,” Liv Siulagi said. “Especially in times like these.”

In an effort to bolster their connections, Art for Social Change participated in creating toe tags as part of the Ray Warren Symposium. They also regularly attended art therapy events hosted by prominent Black Lives Matter activists in Portland. In the future, Lawrence Siulagi hopes to include collaborations with various art communities at LC, from theatre to dance to studio art. 

However, it remains imperative to the organization that they remain thoughtful in their events and collaborations. 

“We’re careful about what we choose to do in having an anti-racist ideology,” Andrus said. “We’re trying to do it in a thoughtful way that’s not performative.”

The weekly planning meetings end with a closing statement of appreciation for all attendees. Participants also select one person to highlight their appreciation for. 

“Adding that little closing tradition has really helped us find a way to … shine a light on how important our community is,” Liv Siulagi said. 

If you are interested in attending the weekly planning meetings or art therapy sessions, contact Art for Social Change at artforsocialchange@lclark.edu or on Instagram @lcartforsocialchange.

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