What is the Intent?

by Brie Hagen and John Massad

On December 13, 2012, the BA+JP held a community dialogue, Merging Art and Activism. The event included an exercise where attendees discussed four Baltimore art/activism projects: Baltimore Storm Drain Project, Schools Not Jails, Baltimore Graffiti Warehouse, and Baltimore LOVE Project. Throughout the discussion, those in attendance were grappling with the concept of the intersection between art and activism. Participants unpacked what constitutes art as “activism.” This distinction began to be defined by evaluating whether or not a piece should be understood within the context of active engagement with communities to foster change.

The Schools Not Jails example was discussed as low on the dimension of “art” and quite high along the dimension of “activism,” while many felt that the Baltimore Graffiti Warehouse was the reverse.  The Baltimore Storm Drain Project, as well as the Baltimore LOVE Project were viewed largely by participants as somewhere in the middle, though it is vitally important to note that there was not consensus on either.  It was clear in the conversation that not all art in the public sphere is inherently considered “activism.”

An underlying theme emerged in the conversation about what people looked for in defining art and activism. What was not discussed, but was woven through each of the conversations, and lies at the intersection, is intentionality.  What is the intention of the person who produced each project and the artists associated with it?  Is it intended to motivate change?  Is it intended to speak truth to power?  Can we really know, and does it even matter?

So, as we are considering the intersection of art and social justice activism, we are grappling with definitions of what constitutes “art” and “activism,” with an overlay of what the intention of the artist/producer really is.  And what about a work of art that is not in any way “intended” by the artist to produce change and yet is so provocative that it redefines discourse about both?

What do you think?

We want to hear what you have to say on the topic of intentionality, art and activism in Baltimore.

If you are interested in submitting a blog post on the topic, please email your post by this Friday Feb. 8th to d.brienne.hagen@gmail.com to be featured next Monday Feb. 11th.

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