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The tip of the iceberg

Skye, Chris Baker, gouache, detail.

About 200 hundred pages into the Kilmartin translation of Swann’s Way—I came back to this passage after finding a similar observation in the second book—Proust talks about how his fiction is non-intellectual, and that his lack of ideas originally persuaded him that he couldn’t be a writer.  A La Recherche du Temps Perdu shows how his pursuit of love and friendship and social status kept him from discovering his vocation, though ironically the story of his immersion in the illusions of society becomes the actual content of the novel he was unable to write because he was living the events of the book. He had to get lost to find himself.

Here is the passage that says so much, for me, about visual art and the lack of intellectual content or meaning in the paintings I love most (it’s appropriate that visual art was one of the primary inspirations for Proust’s novel and for his style of writing):

Then, quite independently of these literary preoccupations and in no way connected with them, suddenly a roof, a gleam of sunlight on a stone, the smell of a path would make me stop still, to enjoy the pleasure that each of them gave me, and also because they appeared to be concealing, beyond what my eyes could see, something which they invited me to come and take but which despite all my efforts I never managed to discover. Since I felt that this something was to be found in them, I would stand there motionless, looking, breathing, endeavoring to penetrate with my mind beyond the thing seen or smelt . . . It was certainly not impressions of this kind that could restore the hope I had lost of succeeding one day in becoming an author and poet, for each of them was associated with some material object devoid of intellectual value and suggested no abstract truth.

He ignores these intimations for years because they offer him no ideas. He spends years believing he had no talent, no creative virtues, as a result of this lack of intellectual originality. By the end of the novel, the elimination of ideas in favor of the raw phenomena of life, the matrix of felt experience, becomes his sextant, enabling him to bring to life a complex and beautifully superficial world, saturated with a reality to which its inhabitants remain deaf and blind, except in brief, revelatory moments—and those simple moments are what his art is dedicated to triggering, the opening up of a world, intensely familiar but also fresh, surprising, and new. In other words, alive. And through all of it runs the Platonic suggestion that these glimpses are also glimpses of something incorruptible and timeless, hints that the material world is merely the tip of an iceberg invisible to conscious thought.

Four Keys to Building a Global Movement in 14 Days

How do you build a global movement in 14 days?

On March 13th, we began a meeting with a huge question; what the heck can we do in the face of the coronavirus? 14 days later, we were hosting a live, online information session for a new program. Over 475 people from more than 27 countries signed up to attend, learning how to get involved in our campaign: Free the Vaccine for COVID-19. The campaign aims to ensure that publicly-funded diagnostic tools, treatment, and the COVID-19 vaccine will be sustainably priced, available to all and free at the point-of-delivery. In the past few weeks, the landscape has shifted, so in order to achieve this goal we’ve quickly formed a global “Advocacy Innovation Lab” to research and develop new strategies and tactics and win this campaign.

Even we were surprised at the numbers who turned out. But as we analyzed it, we realized that this incredibly fast and global response wasn’t just because many people are sitting at home with an infuriating sense of powerlessness and frustration (though certainly those are factors). In fact, the way we’ve built our organization over the last few years also made this possible. 

We want to share some of these ideas with you, because they might help other nonprofits who strive to be responsive, creative, and strategic in the face of rapidly changing landscapes.

1. Relationships First

We and our partner on this campaign, Merith Basey and Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), deeply value our members, alumni and networks, and we spend time nurturing those relationships. We made some structural choices along the way – like investing in a special members-only online forum with a global reach to support our community and cultivating great conversations there. We also host periodic, small, in-person social gatherings, purposely with no particular agenda. These gatherings simply bring together creative people who care about social change for a few hours or a weekend to enjoy time spent with peers who understand and discuss whatever comes up. It was at one of these gatherings a few months ago that we – Steve Lambert and Rebecca Bray – had a chance to catch up with our old pal Merith from UAEM, and begin discussing the challenges we were facing and ideas we were tossing around to solve them. 

…host periodic, small, in-person social gatherings, purposely with no particular agenda.

Building relationships often leads to trust and within our organization, we’re very small, fairly autonomous, and strive to maintain high levels of trust in each other. More than once we’ve responded to current events and made big changes in our programming for the year (or more). Believe it or not, we can do this quickly and relatively informally over a short phone call because of the trust we have in each other.

2. Flexibility and Creativity as Core Principles

We’re a method-centered organization not an issue-centered organization. We’ve worked on topics from drug user health to the tax system, and with communities from Texas, to Bosnia, to South Africa. Our methodology helps people use their creativity and culture to effect power – and because it involves collaboration and incorporating local contexts, we can successfully apply it across all those issues, communities, and regions. While there are advantages to this approach in practice, being so flexible can sometimes feel like a liability when competing for funding with organizations who articulate a specific problem they address in one region or community and have been committed to for years. 

We’re a method-centered organization not an issue-centered organization.

That dedicated, single issue work is necessary – we know because we work alongside organizations that do it to help them win their campaigns. We, on the other hand, analyze what works best across issues, and develop innovative solutions through a creative process, figure out how they can be adapted, and then find opportunities to put them into action. This approach is just as necessary.

Flexibility and creativity are key components of the trainings, consulting and mentoring we do with advocacy groups, artists and others, and we do our best to practice what we preach. In practice, this means we reflect, refine, question, and actively make sure to stay out of ruts or old ways of doing things. We help each other remember to approach new ideas and methods with excitement rather than trepidation.

3. Innovate Before You Need To

The joke in the name The Center for Artistic Activism is that there is no “Center” with big steps leading into a spacious lobby. In fact, we don’t have a building to maintain and operate from our homes, offices, studios, or the occasional hotel room, train, or coffee shop. For years we’ve experimented with all kinds of online tools for connecting and collaborating – at least five different video conferencing tools, multiple chat platforms, wikis, and so on. We do this even when the tools we have seem to be working well. 

Many in our organization are experienced classroom teachers, so we were naturally skeptical of moving any training online. But over the years we tried it anyway and found certain lessons and styles of teaching that we could make successful online. 

We have experimented with many ways of connecting our alumni and challenged ourselves to make our online communities viable (all while sticking to our principles and refusing to run towards Facebook as a solution!). This meant we already had a good system developed for large groups of people to connect with each other online. 

The structure upon which we quickly built our Free the Vaccine program began as an idea we started developing years earlier to pressure congress to begin (what became) the Mueller Investigation. At the time we were looking for a way to further engage the audiences for our webinar series who were spread across the country, some in isolated regions, but told us they wanted to work with the other attendees on a larger project. We developed a structure for a distributed, “Advocacy Innovation Lab” that can involve hundreds of people spread out around the world. Because we had done that work years ago and piloted versions of it, we were ready to jump into a much bigger version.

4. Pursue Unrestricted Funding

We were fortunate to have some unrestricted funding this year. We know this isn’t easy. There have been years in the past when making changes like we have would not have been possible, but thanks to Open Society Foundations and their wonderful program officers who recognize the importance of unrestricted funding, this happens to be a window of time when we have the capacity to jump into a major campaign without needing to craft a proposal, navigate a lengthy grant process, and be approved to get it off the ground. It means we could take a risk by starting the Free the Vaccine campaign. 

We still need to find funding for us to continue past the initial months of work, but without that unrestricted funding, we couldn’t have begun at all. In our experience, more funders are beginning to open up to unrestricted funds. We hope that trend continues so we can all be responsive and creative in our work during this crisis.

Stay healthy

Of course, we’ve been fortunate to personally be healthy enough to do this work, not having to uproot from a home or office to move into quarantine, and not have someone in our immediate family sick we need to care for, so far. Last, we’re especially grateful to our collaborators in this campaign, Merith, Anmol, Sernah, and others at Universities Allied for Essential Medicines who helped develop the program, joining us in late night video conference meetings, and getting this off the ground. We’re also humbled by the over 300 of volunteers who have signed up to join in the huge (but achievable!) effort we’re undertaking together. These other types of very flexible and unrestricted support can never be quantified.

Read more about the Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 project, donate to keep it going, or contact us to learn more.

April Fool’s for Big Pharma

Pharmaceutical companies pay accountants, attorneys, and even ombudsmen to make sure they are held accountable to their finances, the law, and ethics. So this April Fool’s we wondered, why are we holding them accountable for free?

Today we sent invoices to companies like Gilead Sciences, Johnson & Johnson, and Purdue Pharmaceuticals for our work to make COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccines available to all.

Our invoice describes our project and includes a small (very modest, really) first installment payment for our work to “to ensure publicly-funded diagnostic tools, treatment, and the COVID-19 vaccine will be sustainably priced, available to all and free at the point of delivery.”

To make sure there was no real confusion, we were let them know they were making a donation:

“We appreciate your timely payment. It’s a pleasure to work with you on this project. As always, your donation is tax-deductible.”


We know: invoicing pharma is not a sustainable fundraising model.

That’s why we so appreciate those of you who can chip in. Because of these donations that aren’t tied to contracts or specific programs we can make rapid, necessary changes to take on this crisis that other organizations can’t.

We created a global program with hundreds of participants in 10 days.

We couldn’t have done that with out you. You can help make sure testing, treatment, and the vaccine for COVID-19 is available to everyone:

Can you support our COVID-19 work?

Help make this happen.
We understand not everyone is able to participate in the same ways. Your donations will help get this program up an running; building infrastructure, materials for producing actions around the world, and creating, translating, and distributing teaching materials.



Select Payment Method

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Calls to Artists – Some with Short Deadlines

Calls to Artists

Well, we might all be grounded from any art activities outside our homes and studios, but that doesn’t mean we can’t answer some calls to artists! Here is a list of active calls, some with deadlines as early as Friday, March 27, others with more time to prepare. We have not culled any artist calls for which Oregon artists might not be eligible, so be sure to do your own due diligence! Good luck to you all!


Deadline Extended : AcrylicWorks 8–with Special Guest Judge Stephen Quiller! Showcases the best of the best of acrylic painting in a variety of styles and subjects. Win prizes and publication! For the AcrylicWorks 8 competition, we are looking for excellence in acrylic painting in a variety of styles and subjects. The dominant medium must be acrylic, but some minor use of other media is acceptable. Entry Fee. Details:


Contemporary Art Gallery Online is proud to announce their 2nd Annual “ALL Planet Earth Theme” Online Art Competition for 2020. Contemporary Art Gallery Online encourages entries from all 2D and 3D artists regardless of their experience,education in the art field or where they may reside. This is an international competition and everyone is encouraged to participate. Entry Fee. Details: 844-210-7722 OR OR [email protected]


The subject of this exhibition is every aspect of the MELTDOWN crisis, be it political, global, personal, environmental, financial, psychological, scientific and/or spiritual. Entry is open to all artists working in any media. Entry Fee. Details:


Juried all media exhibit in gallery setting. Entry Fee. Details: 540-760-6928 OR OR [email protected]


The Merced County Arts Council is now accepting entries for its 14th Annual California Centered: Printmaking Exhibition, to be displayed in the Merced Multicultural Arts Center main gallery from April 21st – June 6th, 2020. This juried group show is open to all printmakers residing in California. Best in Show awards given; winners will receive prize money of $150 and a solo exhibition next year. Juror: Matthew Hopson-Walker” the following: Assistant Professor of Printmaking, CSU Fresno. Entry Fee. Details: OR [email protected]


Call for artists! Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center invites artists working in all media to apply to our festival of the arts. It’s our 27th year and we are ready to showcase an exceptional line up of visual artists.You can expect a well run show with great staff and volunteers. Annmarie is a spectacular backdrop for a festival, with convenient load-in and parking. We hope you will apply! Application Fee. Details: 410-326-4640 OR OR [email protected]


The contest is organised by The Caterpillar, a magazine of art for grown-ups.The prize is for a single unpublished poem written by an adult for children (aged 7–11). The poem can be on any subject, and there’s no line limit. Entries must be entirely the work of the entrant and must never have been published, self-published, published online or broadcast. Entries must be in English. Entry Fee. Details:


Artwork needed to showcase a one day art expo, in June 13th, at the Marriott Courtyard Hotel cosponsored by East County Art Association. Hotel management will select the art for posters/advertisement in all San Diego. Fist price $300.00 and live interview with the hotel management. Entry fee. Entry Fee. Details: OR [email protected]


The sculptor’s residency will be at Chesterwood, the former studio of Daniel Chester French, located in Stockbridge, MA. The residency will be from June 1 – June 30, 2020. Sculptors born between 1980 – 2001 may apply. Candidates must be citizens of or residents in the United States with a social security number. No Entry Fee. Details: 212-764-5645 OR OR [email protected]

March 31, 2020 – THE COSMOS PRIZE

Cosmos was an ambitious serial novel orchestrated by the staff of Science Fiction Digest (later Fantasy Magazine) beginning in June 1933. The story of Cosmos spanned 17 chapters written by 16 different authors. Raymond A. Palmer drafted the plot outline and coordinated the work of the writers. The young fanzine editor was able to convince many of the prominent professionals of the day to participate. A No Entry Fee. Details:


The contest is organized by Winning Writers. You may submit one humor poem, in English. Your poem should not exceed 250 lines in length. You may submit published or unpublished work. No Entry Fee. Details:

April 02, 2020 – 2020 WE ART WATER FILM FESTIVAL

This year’s theme is Climate Crisis. All short films need to address the topics: Climate Crisis, water and sustainability, linking it to the global problem of water and sanitation and its relation to hygiene, pollution, agriculture, diseases, nutrition, education, etc. There are three categories: Micro-documentary, Micro-fiction and Micro-animation. No Entry Fee. Details:


Deadline: April 5, 2020. Waterloo Arts invites all artists residing in the US or Canada to submit artwork for the 2020 Waterloo Arts Juried Exhibition. This is a unique opportunity for artists to exhibit work in Cleveland, Ohio. Over $2,500 in cash prizes. . Entry Fee. Details: OR [email protected]


$4500.00 in awards $1000.00 for 1st Place The National Oil & Acrylic Painters’ Society (NOAPS) invites oil and acrylic painters from all across North America and International Artists 18 years old and older to apply to our exhibit honoring the Best in oil and acrylic painting. NOAPS has been showcasing the talents of oil and acrylic painters since 1991. Membership to NOAPS not required Entry Fee. Details:


Bloom & Grow is a lush, colorful, and wide-ranging celebration of floral and botanical art. Bloom & Grow seeks works that continue these traditions, as well as works that explore the environmental and personal connections we have with flowers & plants. All media welcome; small to large-scale works; indoor and outdoor works; cash awards will be presented. Application Fee. Details: 410-326-4640 OR OR [email protected]


Woodson Art Museum, Wausau, WI, invites two- and three-dimensional artists working in all mediums other than crafts and photography to submit original artworks to the annual juried Birds in Art exhibition, Sept 12–Nov 29, 2020. All artworks must interpret birds and related subject matter. Processing fee: $55 for one entry; $65 for two entries. Entry Fee. Details: 715-845-7010 OR OR [email protected]


Mills Pond Gallery invites artists to submit works for a juried Contemporary Realism Exhibition July 11 – August 8, 2020. Juror: Max Ginsburg. The subject matter is open and can range from portrait, landscapes, still life, etc. Paintings should be representational, ranging from impressionistic in style to highly rendered paintings. Entry Fee $45/3 images Awards: $2400 Entry Fee. Details: 631-862-6575 OR OR [email protected]


The Nikon Small World Competition is open to anyone with an interest in photography through the microscope. There are two competitions: * Nikon Small World Contest * Nikon Small World In Motion Contest Photomicrographs must be taken using a light microscope. All types of light microscopy and specimens are acceptable. The use of Nikon equipment is not required. No Entry Fee. Details:
Large mural grant for Towson Maryland public library. Open to all artists internationally. Open to all concepts and styles, that works with the challenging architectural facade on the main side of the building. The building is considered the gateway to this up and coming arts and entertainment area, and the keystone for future projects. This is a huge opportunity for any passionate muralist! Application Fee. Details: 667-206-2125 OR OR [email protected]


Innovate Grant is now accepting submissions for the Spring 2020 Cycle. Innovate Grant awards (2) $550.00 grants each quarter, to one Visual Artist and one Photographer. In addition to receiving a grant award, winners will be featured and recognized on our website and join a growing community of vibrant and talented artists. Entry Fee. Details:


The Lange-Taylor Prize is intended to support artists, working alone or in teams, who are engaged in extended, ongoing fieldwork projects that fully exploit the relationship of words and images in the powerful, persuasive representation of a subject. The prize is not awarded for completed projects or to support the production of a book, exhibit, website, or other outcomes. Application Fee. Details:


The Hopper Prize is offering 5 individual artist grants of $1,000. This is an open call, all media eligible. Grant submissions will be juried by leading curators: Amber Esseiva, Associate Curator, Institute for Contemporary Art VCU, and Leila Groth, Associate Curator for Contemporary Art, Baltimore Museum of Art. In addition to grants, 30 artists will be selected for a shortlist. Entry Fee. Details:

Draw or Sketch? What is the Difference?

Sketch Or Drawing: Just A Cup

To Draw, To Sketch, Drawing, Sketching, A Drawing, A Sketch.

I’ve been thinking about the difference between the act of drawing and sketching.  And, I’ve been considering the finished products: a sketch and a drawing.

Defining the Difference Between Sketch & Draw.

Truthfully, I find it a struggle to come up with an easy way to describe the difference between the two that fits all cases.  Or even most cases.  Even still, a definition that might give me a “litmus” type test for what is a drawing and what is a sketch.

Drawing Or Sketch Broken Seashell with Knotted Napkin

Shades of Gray.

You see, I tend to find myself thinking of exceptions.  That is, I think the terms shades of gray.  This is not a particularly helpful approach, however, when one wants to define something.

Drawing Or Sketch: A Page From My Sketchbook


An Analogy.

But, I did think of analogy that may shed some light.  Perhaps sketching is like writing short notes.  Taking the analogy further, perhaps a finished drawing is more like a novel or a biography.  It was the notes that you did during the research process that enabled you to write the novel or biography.  Therefore, the act of drawing is like more in-depth drafts and finished writings of poetry, novels, biographies and so forth.  Whereas, sketches are a type of research for that in-depth study or finished piece of art.


Another difference one might consider is time needed to produce the work.  Sketches may be thought of as faster types of drawings.  One works in haste to capture the essentials of the subject in a few minutes.  On the other hand,  a drawing might be a slower, more deliberate type of drawing.  It might take hours, days or weeks to complete.

To Draw – Umbrella Term?

To my mind, I see the verb “to draw” as the umbrella term because it means to pull a mark across the surface.  The result then is a drawing.  To sketch, and the resultant sketch, would be  a subset or specific type of drawing.  Again, a faster, less developed type of a drawing.   So, when a person draws to create a detailed, more finished work, then it would not be a sketch; instead a drawing.

Vague and Convoluted.

Do you see how easy it is to get vague and convoluted when considering the differences?   

I think there is certainly a difference between the types of drawings.  But, perhaps, types of drawings can be considered on a sketching/drawing continuum, with quick sketch at one end and finished drawing on the other end.

Clarity of Meaning.

So, why all this struggle to define?  Clarity in communication might be one desired result.  When I say “I draw out my design before I paint it“, I do mean a more deliberate preparatory drawing.  A fair amount of thought and consideration has gone into the composition before I paint it.

Drawing Or Sketch? Concept Drawing Tea For Two With Milk

On the other hand, sometimes I sketch rather than draw before paintings.  That is, I note on the surface the boundaries or critical lines of the subject in a more simple manner.  I leave the painting part of the process to develop the composition and design.

Ask The Artists or Draftsperson.

I do have one more thought.  In some ways, it seems to me more appropriate for the artist to determine if their own work is a sketch or a drawing.  Because the amount and type of work would be relative to the artist’s needs.  That is, can you tell by a finished sketch or drawing the amount of work done beforehand?  Maybe the answer is we think so, but may easily be deceived!

Sketch or Drawing Blind Contour Drawing: Santa Cat

Still Thinking.

Incidentally,  I still haven’t solved my own problem of writing about sketches or drawings.   If I use only the words “sketch” or “draw” based on the work, then the writing becomes too stilted.  That is to say, the same word gets used too often.  So, how to solve this problem?  I am not sure yet.

In the meantime, perhaps I’ll go work on a sketch or drawing.

Articles That Shed Light On The Subject.

Here is a list of four articles about the difference between drawing and sketching.  You might find them helpful. Note, this particular link has a nice table that highlights the difference between the words draw and sketch.


The post Draw or Sketch? What is the Difference? appeared first on Margaret Stermer-Cox.

Join us & Free the Vaccine for COVID-19

We’re forming a global, advocacy innovation lab to Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 and you can take part.


Our initial round has begun with roughly 300 participants from 27 countries! If you are interested in the campaign, sign up here to get on the Free the Vaccine newsletter. We’ll send you updates and opportunities to participate.

Success! You're on the list.

Around the globe we are taking rapid, drastic action to slow the spread of COVID-19. As we come to terms with the daunting path forward, it’s hard to imagine the day we read the headline “COVID-19 Immunizations Begin.” But our experience with our amazing global scientific community teaches us that it’s only a matter of time until we have a vaccine for COVID-19. This day will arrive. And in that there is hope.

But when we do have a vaccine, will everyone have access to it? Herd immunity only works if the vast majority of the herd is immune. Without affordable access for everyone, across the globe, the vaccine can’t really do it’s job. Already governments around the world are investing billions in tax-payer funds into the research and development of diagnostic tools, treatments, and a vaccine for Covid-19. Since SARS outbreak, the National Institutes of Health alone has spent nearly $700 million on coronavirus research and development. This virus is now a global pandemic, yet experience tells us once the vaccine is discovered, pharmaceutical corporations will want us to pay again to acquire it. How do we make sure pharmaceutical companies profits don’t interfere with doctors, public health officials, and our access to tests, treatments, and the vaccine? How do we make this life saving medicine accessible to our family and friends around the globe and reduce infection?

The good news is that we know what needs to be done, and we – you! – have done it before. We have to fight for free access for all with creative, collaborative and convincing campaigns.

Together we will Free the Vaccine for COVID-19

Join us as we do the work, together, to make sure this vaccine does all the good it can do. We won’t win through old methods – holding up signs at a traditional crowded protest march is not an option. So together we’ll find new, better ways that work in our current context. We’ll achieve this by creating an advocacy innovation lab with teams around the world crowdsourcing new methods to achieve our objectives. These “Salk Teams” will design and test creative methods to pressure governments and pharmaceutical corporations to ensure publicly-funded diagnostic tools, treatment, and the COVID-19 vaccine will be sustainably priced, available to all and free at the point of delivery.

What we’re asking for and what will happen:

Once part of a Salk Team, you’ll connect with dozens of interested, talented and committed people from around the world! You’ll get advanced training through weekly online courses with:

  • the Center for Artistic Activism, which has worked around the world helping advocates and activists be more effective by using play, creativity, art, and humor.
  • Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, a global student-driven organization focused on ensuring that publicly-funded medicines are affordable to the public
  • Special guest collaborators – veterans in access to medicines, the arts, design, and campaigns for public health and human rights.

Together with other SALK Team members, you will create experimental actions to move the needle on affordable vaccines.

What that means:

  • A weekly total time commitment of roughly 2-4 hours over for 3-4 months.
  • Weekly inspiration to help you to prepare: video, reading or an individual action you can take from your home etc.
  • Collaboration with other participants in your area (from your home)

Why Salk Teams?

Jonas Salk (above) helped discover the polio vaccine and considered public health a “moral commitment.” His vaccine was released without a patent.

What you get:

  • A sense of agency in an uncertain time. A sense of community and belonging as well as connection to new friends collaborating with purpose. Your contributions will matter and be part of the solution to help save lives.
  • The opportunity to take action on a crisis impacting us all now.
  • Ability to take action from home.
  • Respect for your time, schedule, and changing demands in the months to come.
  • An understanding that if you need a break for illness, to support a relative, or need some for mental healthcare, then that’s OK. You’re part of a big team and together we got this.

What We Hope to Learn

We hope to learn how to make the COVID-19 vaccine accessible for all. No one knows how to do that, yet, because we can’t do that without going through an innovation process. Within a few months we’ll have created and evaluated the effectiveness of dozens, maybe hundreds, of ideas. Those successes will move forward, developing and evolving into practical methods. We’ll then implement those methods to take huge steps forward in advocacy for access to medicines. Through sharing our work, it will have already reached other regions and inspired new action. There’s no way to innovate on advocacy without a massive amount of experimentation. We hope to learn from those experiments while developing and building a grassroots movement ready to implement them.

Watch our info session

We offered two, live online information sessions on Friday, MARCH 27. You can view one here:

Can you support our COVID-19 work?

Help make this happen.
We understand not everyone is able to participate in the same ways. Your donations will help get this program up an running; building infrastructure, materials for producing actions around the world, and creating, translating, and distributing teaching materials.



Select Payment Method

Personal Info

Billing Details

Donation Total:


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{amount} donation plus {fee_amount} to help cover fees.

Contact us with any questions and thank you.

Don’t Cancel: Creative Activism and Coronavirus

During COVID-19, we can creatively adapt activism and advocacy campaigns to keep social connection while maintaining physical distance. Here’s how…

Join us Friday, April 3rd, 1pm EST on Zoom

We’ll share tips and case studies of artistic actions that demonstrate creative problem-solving in the age of physical distancing.

No registration necessary, the recording will be available on this page afterwards.

Slowing the spread of COVID-19 and flattening the curve are deeply important to protect ourselves, or friends, and our family from an overwhelmed medical system. However, that doesn’t mean our efforts to fight for social and economic justice are no longer relevant or important. In fact many of our efforts are related or interconnected with this current health crisis. Specific events may need to be cancelled or postponed, but your advocacy and your campaigns may need to continue. It’s simply time to adapt. So don’t cancel, instead let’s focus on how it can be done. Now’s the time for us to make the seemingly impossible possible.

Resist your feelings of discouragement. Don’t call off your plans just yet. As artistic activists, the world has always tossed the unexpected into our well made plans. This is why we rely on our creativity to begin with, and the current array of recommendations, requirements, and limitations to our social interactions are also a test of our creative thinking.

The following is a list of ideas, possibilities and starting points to inspire you in how you can continue doing your important work in ways that are safe given our current situation. They are not all appropriate for the present moment, nor will they work for every effort in every context, but using these as a starting point for some creative thinking may help you move forward.

Leverage the moment to get press

Everyday the newspaper starts empty and needs to be filled with news. Yes, there’s a lot of public health related news, but right now there are fewer, if any, sports events, cultural events, and other gatherings and functions in which to report on.

The press needs content. By creating newsworthy events, in this time, we have opportunities to get our messages out into the world.

Also, reporters are always looking for clever angles that connect to current events, and we can provide them. For example, read the following in a newscaster voice: “How do you organize a protest when no one can come? One local activist is determined to find a way.”

Keep Away

Revealed today by Center for Artistic Activism alumni in Skopje, Macedonia, “Keep Away” reminds citizens to follow the recommendations of the health department. But in announcing the project, they made special note that “no direct contact between the members of the group [was made] during the preparation of this action – we worked in phases and sequentially. Each artist worked on a different stage in order to avoid direct contact, but also to prove that although it is difficult, it is not impossible to get things done this way.”

Save the Rivers (at the river)

Center for Artistic Activism alumnus, Vanja Lazić, had planned to launch this collaborative, community mosaic/mural about saving rivers in the Balkans with a large public event this week. Because of COVID-19, she had to shift her strategy away from a public gathering to a press event. Instead of displaying the mural in the town center, she brought it to a beautiful river and created a spectacular photo opportunity for the press.

An overhead shot of a collectively created mural is displayed on a bridge over a beautiful rushing river.

Phone It In

Are there ways you can make your actions and projects more digital and less live and in public in the next month?

Can you use the phone system or conference calls to gather people or discuss issues in other formats? 

Can you use social media to encourage interaction and audience participation?

Here’s some examples:

A very successful site that connects people with issues they care about and then connects them directly with their representatives.

Mobile Games

There’s a whole genre here, but check out Phone Story, a mobile game which reveals the real social and ecological conditions of creating Mobile Devices. Or Guerras Electorales, which was launched right before the presidential elections in Mexico and shows how to commit fraud at the election.

An online pressure campaign around drug user health in Seattle the Center for Artistic Activism created in 2018. Visitors to the site can participate by writing memorials for friends who have died and/or contacting Seattle’s Mayor to demand changes.


Virtual sit-in tool initially developed in support of the Mexican insurgent group the Zapatistas.

Courage Score

Courage Score grade California state legislators on their political courage, revealing how well they stand up for their constituents over corporations or interest groups that exploit Californians, particularly the poor, disadvantaged, or communities of color.

Help lower the barriers to participation

Figuring out how to lower the barriers and make participation easy and accessible will help people take part whether they are on lock-down, sick in bed, or their schedule is impacted by caring for friends, neighbors or loved ones.

Start by acknowledging the current costs (financial, social, perceived costs, fears and risks, etc) and where people are. “Look, we’re all stuck at home and our lives have been disrupted, but let’s remember that we are in this together and we can help each other. Here’s an easy way…”

Make participating simpler – ask people to share their experiences with the issue or topic you’re working on. Remind them that we will overcome the current obstacles, and ask them to contribute the traditions they love from the past or visions of what they’d like to see in the world once we’re past this.

Here’s a great example:

Partido de la Red, Argentina’s Internet Party

To bring people into the political conversation, the Internet Party uses a tool called Democracy OS (see also Loomio), an online open-source platform that allows members of the public to debate policies and decide how they want their representatives to vote.

Give people some agency and community

People are stuck at home. They are desperate to hear good news and positive things. They also need a sense of agency – when the world feels out of control, it feels good to contribute to something and see the effect of that contribution.

You can build community also. If you’re doing online meetings or phone meetings, give some time for people to connect socially at the beginning and end. Put them into smaller “breakout rooms” or do a round of introductions that include some human, social element “unrelated” to the topic so everyone gets a chance to connect on a more human level.

Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

This edit-a-thon’s goal is to increase the presence of women artists on Wikipedia. Originally done together in physical spaces, but there’s no reason it can’t be done together online. And when you make an edit, it’s immediately part of wikipedia – the largest ever encyclopedia in the world.

Family Pictures USA

On this public television show, artist Thomas Allen Harris goes through the family photos and stories of participants “as they are reacquainted with relatives and old friends, introducing fascinating characters to our collective consciousness and discovering surprising connections along the journey.” It’s really wonderful.

Run events that don’t require close contact

Can you run an event that doesn’t require crowds and touching of common surfaces? Maybe “Appointment only” events and call it “VIP” treatment. :slightly_smiling_face:

Can you create an audio tour or low power radio broadcasts so people can have a guided, solo experience?

Center for Artistic Activism pal, Tod Brilliant brought up that more people are out taking walks “so, good old-fashioned telephone pole flyers are suddenly powerful again. At walking speed, they’re seen. As part of a ‘real world’ that too many people have missed, they’re likely to be received with a dose of nostalgia and gratitude, especially if they’re more about community building than protest… and, of course, link to an (yawn) online platform.”

508 Memorial in Seattle

Another Center for Artistic Activism from last year in Seattle. These numbers represented overdose deaths in the city. The memorial had an interactive element, but didn’t require large crowds to be effective. The flowers, notes, and photos they left became a way to mark their presence, even after they were gone.

8 foot tall numbers that read "508". In the face of the numbers are flowers.

Spanish Hologram Protest

Spanish citizens hold the first hologram protest in history in order to protest without violating the new draconian guidelines of the National Security Act


“Pamparadio” was a radio show run by two adolescents from the community of Iquitos, a jungle province. Armed with a gigantic speaker on the top of a community center and an AM radio frequency, Marco Jhastin Anchec and Cledy del Aguila Mozombite single-handedly ran “Pamparadio” as a celebration of potable water, how to make it, and how to take care of it.

Stage it for Video

Most of your audience for your live actions actually end up being those who see it on video or through photos afterwards anyway, right? Make your documentation amazing. Some projects you can stage without people or with very few people.

There are ways to use live video and interactivity to make it even better.

Domestic Tension

In Domestic Tension, Iraqi-born Wafaa Bilal lived alone in a prison cell-sized room in the line of fire of a remote-controlled paintball gun and a camera that connected him to internet viewers around the world where they could shoot at him, or not, 24 hours a day.

wafaa bilal domestic tension

Journal Rappé

Xuman and Keyti (Center for Artistic Activism Trainers) created a local, in-depth news program, but with a twist. The whole show is a hip-hop mix tape. One of our favorite projects!

Does this inspire any ideas? Is there a project we should be sharing? We’d sincerely like to know. Get in touch or leave a comment below.

Dutch diversity

Jasper Beckx’s portrait of Don Miguel de Castro, a Congolese ambassador to the Netherlands, from 1643.Credit…Statens Museum for Kunst

From Black in Rembrandt’s Time, at the Rembrandt Museum in Amsterdam (closed at the moment in the European shutdown.) From the museum’s website: “For years I’ve been looking for portraits of black people like me. Surely there had to be more than the stereotypical images of servants, enslaved people or caricatures? I found the alternative in Rembrandt’s time: a gallery of portraits of black people who are depicted with respect and dignity.” – Stephanie Archangel, Guest Curator




The life you save may be Bill’s

The Song of the Lark, Jules Adolphe Breton, Art Institute of Chicago

Bill Murray tells the story of how he stumbled onto this painting and how it saved his life, more or less, at an especially discouraging moment in his early career. Or at least it showed him how he had nothing to be discouraged about. I love how Breton manages to illuminate the figure with the cool, blue light of the dawn in the west rather than the direct and warm light of the sunrise in the east. It somehow conveys the clemency of the young woman’s experience hearing the bird to inaugurate a day of work. And, who knows, maybe we need to say a few words of gratitude to this painting for Ghostbusters, Lost in Translation, and Rushmore, not to mention a couple of the best moments in Tootsie. 

NOMINATE: the 2020 Artistic Activism Awards!

It’s award season everybody! Movies have the Oscars. Music has the Grammies. Theater has the Tonys. But there’s something missing. Where are the awards for the most important art form, artistic activism?

So we at the Center for Artistic Activism – created the first ever…

Artistic Activism Awards!!!

We don’t have big (ahem, any) prize money, or fancy statues… yet. But that won’t stop us from having some fun and recognizing the great work people are doing.

Winners will receive honor, fame, glory, and eternal admiration and maybe a surprise!

The Awards will be in the form of very special honorifics and much fanfare on our part. Winners will receive honor, fame, glory, and eternal admiration and maybe a surprise!

This Years Award Categories include (but are not limited to)

  • Best Low Budget Action
  • Most Likely to Piss Off the Authorities
  • So Weird! In a Good Way
  • Best Gut Punch Action
  • Best Comedy
  • Most Direct and Practical
  • Best Press Coverage or Documentation
  • Best Dramatic Action
  • Best Supporting Unintended Role of Police
  • Best Aesthetics/Design
  • Best Dressed (aka costume design)
  • Kids Choice! But also Packs a Whallop
  • ??? (You can help us create a category!)

Submit Your Nominations by sending us a message with some info:

Name of the Action (if applicable):


Why you think it’s great and maybe, what award it should get: (Feel free to make up your own i.e. “Best of Cheap DIY”, “Most Likely to Piss Off the Authorities”, “So Weird! In a Good Way”, “Kids Love it but it also Packs a Punch”, “Best Supporting Unintended Role of Police”):

Yes, you can submit your own projects. Large or small, anything is applicable. If you’re not sure if it’s artistic activism, submit it anyway!