Learning activism and more at A2's 'Social Justice Art Fest'

Mar 18, 2017

It’s all in the name: The Social Justice Arts Festival.
This weekend, members of the University of Michigan’s School Of Social Work are putting that event on this Saturday, March 18th, which among nearly 40 other presentations, discusses the legalities of protesting.

To most people, when you say the term “social justice,” you’re likely thinking of the political ramifications of those words. But how can social justice be married to arts and expression?

"No, I think it's been a great tool for people that feel like they don't have a voice or there's no space for them to express themselves." says Miranda Kharsa, co-organizer of this year’s Social Justice Arts Festival in Ann Arbor's Trotter Multicultural Center on March 18th from Noon-6pm. Its theme is called In Our Space: Using Art to Name Our Reality. Kharsa says that this Saturday’s festival is more about accurate expression of that reality than any progressivism which is usually tied to the term 'Social Justice.'

"I think we were mindful of that because it's attached to the University of Michigan, our specific festival." explains Kharsa. So, we're trying to get community members and outreach to different areas of people and make sure we get more than just Ann Arbor. Which, yeah, that was a big thing that we were very conscious of, from the starting off. Because I do think that we're very privileged to be affiliated with the University and I think a lot of the students have that... they're more able to produce art and you know, there's in this space."

But that’s not to say, the events chosen for the Social Justice Arts Festival were a free for all. "So we had a Burlesque dance that was really cool, but our faculty sponsor thought it was inappropriate because she takes off her top and stuff. But we thought it was amazing, but since we are affiliated with the University [of Michigan] and this is an annual festival, it's had a reputation."

While it may not be Burlesque, one of the workshops being held at Saturday’s Social Justice Arts Fair in Ann Arbor is called InterPlay, an all-ages method of expression using motion. It’s something Kara Crutcher, another co-organizer of the Arts Fair learned more about during a conference or sorts.

"Eh, 'conference' is way too serious of a word.
 thinks Crutcher. "I went to a two week thing in Oakland, which is where the non-profit InterPlay is based. It attracts an older crowd, but the two weeks that I was there, it was specifically for people 18-35, and so they teach us about InterPlay and we learn how to facilitate InterPlay and it's use in the context of Social Justice. So, InterPlay has always been something that has been related to Social Justice for me, because the idea of making space for narratives and stories that are invisible often, is the basis of InterPlay. The majority of people that I know that do InterPlay are able-bodied, but a lot of the way we learn the activities are ways that can incorporate people who do have moving of physical disabilities, as well."

All told, Saturday’s Social Justice Arts Festival at Ann Arbor’s Trotter Multicultural Center accepted about 40 presenters. As fellow co-organizer, Jennifer Piemonte told me, another workshop deals with something that skirts the edge of legal action.

"How to utilize art in activism." says Piemonte. "We're thinking protest signs. We're thinking social media. We're thinking highway blogging, you know, like lowering the signs over the innerstate and sidewalk chalking in certain areas." That includes the legalities of being involved in those public demonstrations. "Exactly, yeah. Legalities, I mean what you're allowed to do. What you're not allowed to do. Where to find that information. How to look up your district's specific zoning regulations and whatnot. I'm looking forward to it, because I certainly don't know!"

With its theme 'In Our Space: Using Art to Name Our Reality,' the Social Justice Arts Festival takes place Saturday, March 18th, from Noon until 6pm, and will be located at U of M’s Trotter Multicultural Center on Washtenaw Avenue in Ann Arbor. More information about this free event is online at socialjusticeartfestival.wordpress.com