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Alumni, Ishtar Lakhani, profiled in Maverick Citizen

Center for Artistic Activism alumni and workshop instructor, Ishtar Lakhani, was profiled in the Maverick Citizen. Ishtar is based in South Africa and after participating in our 2015 training, has worked alongside the Center for Artistic Activism on several actions and trainings in the country. We love working together and are happy to see her recognized for her remarkable work.

Ishtar Lakhani: An activist working to create the world of our dreams

by Biénne Huisman in the Maverick Citizen

As a ‘card-carrying feminist’, Ishtar Lakhani knows that women have shown for generations that there is a better way of existing – and it’s her aim to help make a kinder, more compassionate world.

“I’m a human rights defender,” says Ishtar Lakhani. “What’s your superpower?” For the past year, Lakhani, 35, has worked as a “freelance troublemaker” associated with social justice projects around the world. 

“It’s about approaching very serious human rights problems, and brainstorming unusual ways to get at them,” she says. “For example, we’re working with an organisation in Australia to create a real lifetime machine, so that people can go in and experience what it was like in Australia in the 1920s. What does that mean for women’s rights, and where are we now? And where do we need to go? In Venezuela we’re working with a bunch of lawyers who want to create a food truck, in order to go out into communities and give legal advice.” 

Talent OR and Remembering On September 11th

Greetings! On this the 11th day of September, I am thinking about my family, friends and colleagues who live in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley.  The Rogue Valley is our former home. To explain, eleven months ago my husband and I left the Rogue Valley and moved to the Washington coast. I point that out because […]

The post Talent OR and Remembering On September 11th appeared first on Margaret Stermer-Cox.

In pursuit of insignificance

Matt and Will at Tinker Nature Park a few miles from us.

About a year and a half ago, I set a goal to finish eighteen salt water taffy paintings as the core of a solo show in a year or two. I’m working on the eighth—I sold the first one and have stopped posting pictures of the successive paintings partly as a way to prevent the temptation of selling more. My painting plan has been deferred again and again because of my recurring role as a care provider. Last summer I spent three months mostly taking care of my parents and this summer and fall I will put in about the same period of time helping care for my son, daughter-in-law and grandson. Matthew has migrated here back to Pittsford, NY during the pandemic, after having lived and worked for more than a decade in Los Angeles. He lost his job cutting movie trailers—not lost just yet, but he will be furloughed at least into next year. So he’s unemployed with no assurances about the future and saving money by bringing his family to live with us temporarily in the comparative safety of Western New York, where everything costs less at least for now. What they do when the pandemic recedes depends on his wife’s job as a producer for Ellen Degeneres. Until then, she and Matt will stay with us through her long, arduous recovery from a car accident several weeks ago, during which she will resume working remotely for Ellen via Zoom. Their stay here isn’t all-consuming for us, but has become the center of our activities, putting my work nearly on hold again, as it was last summer and then off and on for months after my father’s death a year ago. I began to regain a regular daily painting schedule over the past week, but have had to put it aside again, I hope briefly, until we settle into a more predictable routine. Our lives have become like a Frank Capra movie where family, friends and neighbors are constantly traversing the interior of our house, bringing food and gifts, standing vigil through some small crisis, and using our grill to prepare a meal.

Again, my painting has been put on hold for the past month until a few days ago when I was able to resume work. By the fall, I should be able to settle back into a productive rhythm on the taffy paintings—one of which has already been exhibited in Ohio at The Butler Institute of American Art and at Manifest Creative Research Gallery. It’s a series of paintings that has required me to develop a diligently repetitive work process—Chuck Close would nod with approval at the monotony of my daily life when I’m at full tilt. My methods are getting more reliable than in the past, my technique is becoming more stringently observant of how areas of tone flow into one another and how the paint sits on the canvas, while I’ve reduced my subject to the simplest and least overtly meaningful objects imaginable. In other words I’ve embarked on a group of paintings that will be my attempt to do what I have been saying for years that painting is uniquely suited to do: convey a glimpse of living wholeness, the entirety of a world, through purely formal means, and doing this with an image devoid of signifiers. Or at least an image in which any signifiers one might deconstruct are entirely beside the point when it comes to the essential work the painting is actually doing. I want paintings entirely devoid of intellectual content. I’m tempted to title at least one painting of taffy in this series: This Is Not Salt-Water Taffy.

I had hoped to complete maybe eighteen of these paintings by next spring and offer them as a solo show and present them as a body of work for consideration at galleries in larger metro areas, eventually. But the world seems to be fast-forwarding through an economic transformation as a result of the corona virus—something that otherwise would have happened over many more years that it may take now. What will be left of the gallery scene after the suspended animation of so much activity in Manhattan and Los Angeles? How have gallery owners survived this devastation? Have they? I got an email maybe two months ago announcing that Danese Corey was ending its exhibition program, without being able to discern whether this means the gallery was ceasing to operate or simply was going to close its brick-and-mortar space on East 22nd St. The announcement shocked me and made me heartsick: I loved or at least respected the work of nearly everyone who exhibited there and considered that shop one of the most intelligent and discerning of any gallery I’d ever visited. It feels like the loss of a good friend. So who else will succumb to the loss of revenue in a sector already beset by the inflation in real estate and the decline of galleries in general as a result of the dominance of art fairs. And aside from that, I doubt I will have quite as many finished paintings as I’d hoped by next spring, now that life keeps recruiting me for other tours of duty. I will likely present whatever I have completed and see what response I get, but I could also postpone all of this another year—yet that would feel like a surrender, backing off from the massive disruptions the world has been undergoing, not only my world’s, but everyone’s. As a result of all this, being on near-hiatus from Instagram and this blog feels oppressive and dispiriting. Yet I want to build this new body of work before I post anything from it, and I’ve been producing little else. I’m also continuing to write, when I can, about art—without yet posting it. A post about my visit to the exhibit of J.D. Salinger relics, as it were, at the New York Public Library, will be forthcoming shortly—it has taken me half a year to catch up and draw together all the notes I took away from it in January.

And, along with my projected solo show, I’m trying to assemble a sequence of essays that could serve as commentary for the show of taffy paintings. Let’s call it, for now, The Salt-Water Taffy Manifesto. If I were to complete writing it by the time I have a full complement of paintings for an exhibit, I will see if I can affordably print and present it as a companion catalog, a little illustrated feuilleton on behalf of purposely insignificant painting. That’s the plan anyway. So I may seem to have disappeared on this blog, but only because life has become more intensely interesting (and demanding) than the act of writing about it. And even so, I intend to pick up a paint brush every day from this morning until next April. That’s a promise to myself. Even if only for the current hour.

My Favorite Classroom

It’s back-to-school season, but you might say I’ve been in summer school since July 4: the day I got married. I never knew that marriage would be my favorite classroom. I also never knew that no matter how much reading I did ahead of time, nothing would compare to experiential learning!


So-o-o much to learn. Such a variable curriculum, such a huge canon—love languages, personality styles, bathroom habits.


And I’ve never been more excited to study. 


I couldn’t really prepare for it like I did in my student days, by plowing through the required reading list and over-achiever-ing by plotting out the syllabus on my calendar. 


I couldn’t prepare for it like I did in my teacher days, by plotting units and setting assignments all the way till Christmas. 


So even though preparation is my superpower, I find myself releasing the ways I thought I learned best. 


And I am embracing every unplanned moment that arises. This photo is from last Sunday, when I looked up to see my husband smiling as he loaded the car after an afternoon on the lake. We had made a  detour there after an active camping weekend near the Deschutes River. The river was splendid, but he knows I love lakes, so he suggested we find one. 


On the obsidian-rich shore, we read aloud, napped, and played on the stand-up paddleboard. (My play looks more like a wobbly attempt to not to fall off. He can do a handstand on the thing…on a moving river). 

He is learning to enjoy the stillness I love, and I am learning to enjoy the motion he loves.  


It’s actually because of—not in spite of—our differences that we are on the trajectory for a master’s degree in communication someday. 


At this moment in our culture (and at any moment) we might do well to adjust our usual learning styles. We might do well risk wobbling as we try for new balance. To be still when we prefer motionor vice versa. Generally: to push the limits of our personal learning curves.


Here’s to embracing the classrooms of life: marriage and more. 

We’re Funding Creative U.S. Election Projects

We are excited to announce the Center for Artistic Activism is supporting projects that uniquely address urgent and specific voter suppression problems in the United States. Creative, ambitious, strategic, risk-taking projects will be funded up to $10,000 each. Initial short proposals are due Sept 2nd at 11:59pm EDT.

The Unstoppable Voters Project

The Center for Artistic Activism’s Unstoppable Voters Project will fund campaigns addressing major voter suppression problems such as:

  1. Lack of poll workers. Historically, poll workers are retirees, a population now at higher risk for COVID infection. Lack of workers results in long lines.
  2. Barriers to voting by mail. Lack of education on the logistics of voting during COVID as well as misinformation, disinformation that can depress voting. 
  3. Outright voter suppression tactics, especially targeting communities of color and other underrepresented groups. Removing populations from voter rolls, rejected absentee applications, and closing polling locations.
  4. Preparing people for what happens after voting. Polling indicates half the country may not trust the election outcome for various reasons. Lawsuits, challenges, contested elections, and lots of tension are expected.

Of course, those who benefit from voter suppression want to keep these challenges in place. To combat them, The Unstoppable Voters Project will support artistic and creative projects that aim to:

  1. Keep polling places staffed and open.
  2. Ensure that people understand how to effectively vote by mail, drop-off, or in person.
  3. Empower people to confidently vote down-ballot in local elections
  4. Ensure that people know that voting is relevant to the issues that motivated so many people on the streets in the past months (and years)
  5. Monitor election boards and hold them accountable, so they can’t, for example, quietly close polls in communities of color.
  6. Cultivate engagement, fun, humor, joy, and community around voting and elections.
  7. Prepare people for the unknowns that will come after November.

The focus of proposals should be on states with a history of voter suppression and which are of special interest in this election, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin.

Amazing and accomplished groups are working in these areas. We invite you to utilize, build upon, and support their efforts within your proposal.

866-Our-Vote is a coalition providing solid voter education in the face of mis- and disinformation. This resource could use amplification.

Black Voices Change Lives, the NAACP organized effort to help get black people to the polls

VoteSave America has some good resources, especially about poll workers.

Fair Fight tracks voter intimidation, ensures ballot access, voter counting, and registration.

The ACLU’s Voter Suppression infographics summarize the complexity of these issues.

Alliance for Youth Action is engaging the (all important) youth vote in key states.

Power to the Polls focuses on pollworker recruitment and amplification of the recruiting effort.

These groups could use help getting their critical messages to people in creative ways.

For example, Power to the Polls is going to start online briefings for people who want to become poll workers, and are interested in ways to make those briefings more entertaining.

Dedicated voter rights organizations have experience and expertise in the field. Your proposal should not duplicate their efforts. Instead aim to support or augment their strategies using artistic activism methods that may be outside their scope or seem to risky given where these established organizations have committed their resources.

The Center for Artistic Activism has connections to some of these groups. If your project intersects with their goals, we may be able to connect you with them. However, as these groups are working close to capacity plan your project to be successful independently.


We’re accepting initial letters of interest until Sept 2nd at 11:59pm EDT. These are brief sketches of your idea – so don’t worry if you haven’t worked out all the details yet – we know this is a quick turnaround!

By around Sept 6th, we’ll let you know if you’re a finalist, and we’ll ask some more specific questions and help to flesh some things out with you.

Final decisions on the The Unstoppable Voters Project should be made by Sept 10th, and projects should be starting by Sept 12th.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: By what criteria will you be judging Unstoppable Voters Project proposals?
  • Are you building upon the existing work of voter rights groups, adding something creative, innovative, and useful?
  • Is it risk-taking, innovative, and creative?
  • Is it likely to have an impact on voter suppression?
  • Does it do more than “raise awareness,” meaning, the project has strong potential to change people’s behavior?
  • Does it align with real needs in communities most impacted by voter suppression?
  • Does it empower and create community? Does it welcome people to participate?
  • Can it be repeated and amplified by other grass-roots groups?
  • Is it risk-taking, ambitious, innovative, creative? Is it funny, weird or borderline impossible?
  • AND, is it actually possible, in the timeframe and budget?
Question: My project is about increasing voter turnout but not specifically combating voter suppression. Does it qualify?

There’s definitely some overlap between those things, but this support is focused on combating voter suppression especially where marginalized people are presented with barriers to voting. The goal is to increase voter turnout overall, but the focus is on places where voter suppression is a problem. For more on this, see ACLU or FairFight.

Question: Will Center for Artistic Activism staff be helping me manage and realize this proposal?

No, design a project you will manage. Center for Artistic Activism will distribute grants and coordinate some of the communications between grantees and organizations, but this will be your project which you are responsible for. We’re happy to consult and advise when and where we can.

Question: What if I don’t live in a swing state or a state with critical voter suppression problems?

If you don’t live in a key state, you can still come up with a project idea. In your proposal consider partnering with other artists and activists living in those states, or include budget in your project for local organizers, or connect with voting groups working in those states, or find a way your project can operate remotely in some way. 

Can my project advocate for a particular candidate or party?

No. That is not the focus of this project. Also, we are a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, and any grants we distribute absolutely may not advocate for a candidate or a bill.

Application Details

Please be brief. Around 1.5 to 2 pages please. You can alternatively submit your answers with a video, no longer than 4 minutes. Answer all these prompts if you can. (We understand this is a tight timeline and we’re just looking for the most promising ideas. Not having an answer to all of these will NOT disqualify you).

  • Describe the project and give it a name.
  • Which of the above listed objectives are you aiming for, and how does this project move closer to them?
  • Where will it take place?
  • How can you connect with local community groups working on voting issues? How can you align with or have connection to a local or national voting rights organization or other group that is advocating for the same things?
  • How is the project open and participatory?
  • Can it be repeated and amplified by other grassroots groups?
  • How is it risk-taking, ambitious, innovative, creative?
  • What help or input do you need before you get started?
  • Describe what would happen if the project is wildy successful. What will come next?
  • Would you be willing to merge with or collaborate with another project or group working on similar aims or methods?
  • Roughly how much money will you need to pull it off? Average support will be between $3,000 and $10,000. What kinds of things will you need to spend on? (We believe strongly in compensating people’s time). You can break it down into $500 and $1000 chunks.
  • Your name and email.

Send your answers in a text document (PDF is great) or a video to [email protected] before Sept 2nd at 11:59pm EDT. You can include sketches or a mockup of your project if you’d like.

If you have questions, let us know.

We’re hiring a Campaign Manager

Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 is hiring a Campaign Manager for Fall/Winter 2020 . A detailed description and application are on the site.

We’re looking for the right candidate and you can help. If you know someone who would be a good match, please pass the application along!

The Campaign Manager will work closely with the Center for Artistic Activism directors as well as international leadership from Universities Allied for Essential Medicines on fighting to ensure safe, effective COVID treatments, testing, and vaccines are affordable and accessible around the world.

Arts Vote Free Virtual Event

Arts Vote 2020 - Arts Vote Free Virtual Event Americans for the Arts and the Democratic National Convention

Apply for Free the Vaccine for COVID-19: Season 2

We’re back for another round! Join us in fighting pharmaceutical monopolies to make publicly-funded COVID treatment and testing affordably priced, free at the point-of-delivery and accessible around the world!

Applications closed

Apply by filling out this form by Sept 1st 11:59pm EDT.

Returning collective members, please fill out the above form also!

More details on below.

First, What is Free the Vaccine for COVID-19?

Our 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. We are finding new ways to achieve this through leveraging creativity, culture, as well as tried and tested organizing and activism in our Advocacy Innovation Lab. 

We are a global collective with hundreds of members from dozens of countries. We meet regularly and plan and execute creative campaigns. We have already completed one 16 week round of organizing and actions with our focus on the over $11 billion of public funds already invested in pharmaceutical R&D at universities for COVID-19. Changing the way these universities patent and license their research is a critical lever that can prevent pharmaceutical monopolies and increase access to life-saving medicines across the globe.

Find more information, past projects, and more at

Jonas Salk
We take our inspiration from virologist Jonas Salk, the creator of the polio vaccine. Salk refused to patent or profit off his work.

What’s involved?

Think of a book club – small groups of smart people sharing a common interest. In this case, our focus is changing the way the biomedical research and development (R&D) system and the we research and deliver medicines. And we don’t just talk about it over tea, we are taking action. As a member of the collective, you’ll be in a small “Salk Squad,” named after virologist, Jonas Salk, who refused to patent or profit off his polio vaccine. Squads are supported throughout the process with training and structures to learn artistic activism, and the history and theory behind the access to medicines movement.

What’s it like?

You will meet people all over the world who are working so COVID tests, treatments and vaccines are affordable and accessible to everyone, everywhere. A lofty goal we know but an important one. You’ll meet online to hatch plans, access videos and other training materials, and put together your own plan based on the skills and interests of your team. The whole experience is about learning new skills, getting things done, and having fun with an amazing community of people.

Who are we looking for?

We come from all sorts of backgrounds – some with no experience with these issues, some with lots. There are creative people, and people who don’t think of themselves as creative when they start. We’ve had pharmacists, dancers, front-line  workers, graphic designers, hollywood hairstylists, and students. There are adults of all ages, and from all over the world. All of them did great work.

We’re especially focusing recruitment for Season 2 on these universities and regions:

  • In the U.S.: DC, NYC, Pittsburgh, southern California (Universities of California), Georgia, Tennessee (Vanderbilt), Seattle, University of Indiana.
  • In Canada:Montreal (McGill), and British Colombia.
  • Also, South Africa, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, UK, Australia, the Netherlands and Germany.

But if you don’t see your location or university listed, please do apply anyway. We need passionate people from everywhere.

What will you get out of it?

  1. Training and skills from the Center for Artistic Activism in using culture and creativity to create real change. These methods you’ll use for the rest of your life when you want to make things happen.
  2. Play a role in ensuring that publicly-funded medicines are accessible and affordable, with a focus on the most vulnerable.
  3. Learning about how the current system we use to research, develop and deliver our medicines works – from the economics, to the science, to day to day issues around caregiving – and how we can change it to center people and health-needs first
  4. A creative way to spend your time that makes a real difference
  5. New connections with people around the world who are as passionate and interesting as you.

How much time does it involve?

Around 4 hours a week. Like a book club, those hours are mostly flexible and on your timeline, in addition to one or two short, entertaining (we’ve been told) group meetings a week where we learn, plan, and get things done.

“Free the vaccine has given me the hope, structure, and accountability I need to put my skills to use.”

“While we’re results driven, I also feel a genuine sense of team love and pride – something very hard to do virtually. (Kudos!)” 

“There was a real feeling of being connected to a large, engaged, creative, active network!”

“The meetings were the highlight of my week.”

What if I’m not sure I have that much time?

There are two ways to take part and join in this fun, important work.

  1. Join the campaign as a Lab Participant and be part of a team that creates and implements actions.
  2. Be a Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 Supporter

Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 Supporter


Lend a hand to the campaign a few hours a month. In order for us to be able to plan and accomplish our objectives, we ask our regular participants to commit to regular meetings and at least 4 hours per week. However, for those who can’t manage that but still want to contribute, the Free the Vaccine for COVID-19 newsletter provides weekly updates on the campaign, including weekly actions. The actions of the week could be:

  • calling your representative
  • constructing a DIY audio card and sending it to a university lab
  • posting to social media
  • giving graphic design feedback to a campaign visual
  • lending expertise on costume design.
  • wearing a costume in a (socially distanced) public performance
  • and more 

Supporters commit to around four hours a month lending a hand to the campaign and reporting back on the results on the site. 

Chelsea International Call to Artists


Chelsea International Call to Artists

The 35th Chelsea International Fine Art Competition (CIFAC) is an exciting opportunity for visual artists from all over the world and at any stage in their career to submit their work and win the chance to exhibit in New York City. Selected artists will also receive valuable promotional benefits and cash prizes. All awards aim to provide the winners with valuable exposure and help accelerate their art careers and encourage future productivity.

For complete details on the competition’s awards, please click here.

Download (PDF, Unknown)

Carolina Carilo
Competitions Coordinator


530 West 25th Street | 555 West 25th Street
New York, NY, 10001
[email protected]

Visit our other competitions:

The Latin American Fine Art Competition
The Asian Contemporary Fine Art Competition

New York Art Competitions, 555 West 25th Street, New York, NY 10001 United States, United States

Back to School with Earth Paints

Back to School (or home)!

Are you ready for the school year?

Natural Earth Paint offers natural, high-quality supplies that are safe for both the classroom and the home. Whether you’re a parent, a university student, an arts educator, or a life-long learner, we’ve got you covered. We’re offering discounts on our most popular kits as well as ideas for educational opportunities – 8 blog posts on the History of Earth Paint, from Prehistoric times through today!

10% Off Natural Earth Paint Kits

Start the school year off right with 10% off our Complete Eco-Friendly Oil Paint Kit and our Natural Earth Paint Kit for students of all ages! Just use code BackToSchool at checkout. Code expires September 8th.

Shop Now

Natural Earth Paint Kit Tutorial

Using our Natural Earth Paint Kit is as easy as ABC, 123! Just add water, mix, and get painting. For a tutorial on how to paint and play with our kid-friendly paint set, click the button below to watch our video!

Watch Tutorial

The History of Natural Pigments

Natural earth pigments have colored human history for thousands of years, so they provide a window into the past for learners young and old. Our History Page provides resources to help students learn about the Prehistoric Era, Ancient Egypt, the Middle Ages, and more through the lens of natural pigments. It’s a great resource for teachers and parents alike!

History Page
Want to get creative with your favorite Natural Earth Paint pigments?

Check out the Recipes section of our website for innovative uses of our products for fine artists and families!

Have questions about our eco-friendly products?Visit our FAQ page or send us an email at [email protected]
Interested in purchasing from Natural Earth Paint? Visit our Website for more details on our high-quality, non-toxic, and eco-friendly products.