The Multicultural Student Services Center promoted art as a form of activism during a workshop to celebrate the start of Martin Luther King Jr. Week this past monday.
The workshop, titled “Art as Activism: A Conversation and Workshop on the Role of Art and Artists in Today’s Political Climate,” was lead by Joe Wilson Jr., who plays the role of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Trinity Repertory Company’s production of “Mountaintop,” and University of Rhode Island Lecturer Rachel Walshe.
Approximately 70 student, faculty and community members attended the workshop. It focused on the important connection that art and activism can have with one another and how to utilize that connection to deconstruct hardship around us. “Making art is a revolutionary act,” Wilson said.
Wilson told the audience about his experience unraveling the role of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and how that experience was more than one of just acting but of activism as well. “Plays are about ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstance,” Wilson said. “We are all just people trying to do the right thing.”
Walshe and Wilson lead the group through activities that helped the participants better understand this. The first activity, lead by Walshe, involved participants standing in a circle and completing a given sentence with the first one-word answer that came to mind. This sparked much discussion between the group when, for example, the sentence “Americans are..” was presented.
“America as a whole right now… it’s embarrassing,” said student Jamal Kpoto in response to the nation’s support of the current administration. This lead to the group building off one another’s responses. “No matter what color we are, we are American,” said URI student Enwongo Okon. “We are privileged.”
Okon also said that Americans as whole have greater access to a variety of resources that many citizens of other nations do not possess and that we often take that for granted. “Yes we should be grateful and we should be aware that we are privileged….but of course it’s not an equal privilege among all of us,” Okon said.
Another activity involved the audience breaking off into groups and developing short performance art pieces that depicted how they felt in this political climate. Participants quickly created short plays and musical numbers tackling issues such as prejudice and racism as well as the importance of unity. Linking the world of art to the world of activism became somewhat of a natural task for many of the people in attendance which became evident through their performances.
Wilson and Walshe were excited by the turnout and said that there is power in participation that should not be underestimated.“Art is everywhere and for some people it becomes white noise… but it’s really how we process the world around us,” said Walshe.