Image via For Freedoms.
For Freedoms repurposes spaces that would typically be used for advertising, delivering critical messages about democracy and human rights. Through arts, history, and community organization, For Freedoms is a platform for creative civic engagement, discourse, and direct action. We invited Claudia Peña, the organization’s Executive Director to talk about the power of art as a means of communication for social justice, and the creative process behind their campaigns.
The beauty exposed by art, even when heart-wrenching, opens up meridians in our bodies and allows for a deeper experience. And this deepens the avenues for healing.
Claudia Peña, Executive Director at For Freedoms
How have For Freedoms and your community been affected during the coronavirus pandemic?
We had just finished our 2020 Congress out in Los Angeles where 500+ people came including delegates from every state. We were on such a high after all the incredible visioning and community building and consciousness-raising. News of the pandemic hit directly after the Congress and changed *everything* we’d planned. And as a result, we ended up laying off a bunch of our staff. We had to completely regroup and reimagine our entire strategy for the year. And that’s not to mention how many people we knew who have fallen ill and even lost loved ones to COVID-19. We have been deeply heartbroken by how communities of color, especially Black people, were particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 as a result of being more likely to serve as an essential worker and health/healthcare disparities.
Images via For Freedoms.
What are the main civic engagement campaigns that the organization is currently working on?
The four new freedoms, which make up the theme of our 2020 Awakening, are “listening, healing, justice and awakening.” We are resourcing artists to create artwork that model and inspire civic engagement through different media including billboards and digital ads. We are working with a GOTV firm to access our network and ensure that everyone who is eligible has all the information they need to vote and to receive reminders/nudges to actually submit their vote. We will be participating and facilitating town halls in collaboration with our institutional partners and we are creating interactive art pieces that promote dialogue around civic engagement. Through the work of the Wide Awakes, and promoting joy as a form of resistance, we are hosting/sponsoring events where the importance of voting is the main theme.
Could you describe the creative process of one of these campaigns? What is developing the message and working with the artists like?
The creative process is always one of a kind! It never looks the same, especially because at For freedoms, everything is a collaboration. We think about the themes of our campaign - listening, healing, justice, and awakening. In thinking about those, one team member/artist who is really motivated by the idea of deep listening connected it to her own spiritual practices and after meditating on it numerous times, brought it back to the team at what we call a Creatives Meeting. Once talking it through, some ideas were born on how to creatively express the concept of deep listening. Ideas ranged from an audio quilt to a global meditation, to a mural based on mantras.
Claudia Peña, For Freedoms’ Executive Director. Photo by © Khatira Rafiqzada.
Claudia Peña serves as the Executive Director of For Freedoms which is an artist-led platform for civic engagement, discourse, and direct action for artists in the United States. She is on faculty at UCLA School of Law and in the Gender Studies department and also affiliated with the Prison Education Program which creates innovative courses that enable faculty and students to learn from, and alongside, participants who are currently incarcerated. She's a member, and also on staff, of the Guild of Future Architects which is a home, refuge, and resource for people collaboratively shaping a kind, just, inclusive, and prosperous world. Claudia is the Co-Founder of Repair, a Los Angeles-based organization focused on the health and the disabling effects of inequity, violence, exploitation.
Is the organization currently partnering with specific activists, artists, educators, and or organizations for new projects that you would like to highlight?
The heart and soul of For Freedoms is collaboration. So we partner with individual artists such as Muna Malik, Jose Parla, and Ebony Brown. We also work with institutions such as the Guggenheim and their “Summer of Know” programming which focused on “Awakening, Reckoning, Imagining and a Call to Action.” We collaborate with sister organizations such as the Guild of Future Architects, In Plain Site, Amplifier, and Sankofa.org.
What do you think is the impact or need for arts and culture in these difficult times?
Artists are truth-tellers and storytellers and that’s what we need to give us hope to prevail through these difficult times. They also offer an imagination beyond what people can see right now thus opening up a portal to new tomorrows. Solving issues requires creativity and the changing of hearts and minds. On top of which, art is healing. Creating art and being exposed to it can be cathartic and a form of release. Or it can serve as a revelation or perhaps just a confirmation of something you already know. The beauty exposed by art, even when heart-wrenching, opens up meridians in our bodies and allows for a deeper experience. And this deepens the avenues for healing.
What is your favorite For Freedoms campaign so far and why is it so meaningful to you?
My favorite campaign so far was the Four Freedoms photos that we did in 2018 based on Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms images: Freedom of Worship, Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. The reason why I loved it so much was because it was a nod to the past with regard to the present, and looking to the future. Remixing those images so that they reflect the nation today was so meaningful especially because we conducted an impact assessment and discovered that people were more motivated to engage civically after viewing them.
Would you like to add anything additional?
Yes, I would…we believe citizenship is about participation not ideology. Participation defined broadly which means voting if you are eligible and also having conversations about things you care about, attending community meetings, engaging in discourse online (if done respectfully), or you can make art. As long as it starts a conversation in some way, your civic duties are manifested because there is power in inspiring debate.
With Amnesty International USA and Animal Outlook on the power of marching with determination - WASHINGTON
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