Art Works for Change Harnesses Creativity for Social Good
As a part of GEM: Global Education for MAPS, Parvati Magazine is committed to the potential of art for social good. We were delighted to speak with Randy Jayne Rosenberg, Founder, Executive Director and Chief Curator of Art Works For Change (AWFC). Coming from a background in fine art and art therapy, “I was always interested in art as messaging, rather than art for art’s sake,” she tells us in a phone interview from her California home. When AWFC first began, “we were a bit ahead of the curve as an organization using art thematically that way.” Now in its eleventh year, Art Works For Change continues to bring relevant and socially conscious productions to audiences around the world.
“Off the Beaten Path”, Art for Social Good
Rosenberg tells us she has always leaned towards art with an international scope. Even before founding AWFC, she was particularly drawn to art with a focus on human rights, such as Susan Plum’s performance art installation “Luz y Solidaridad – Light and Solidarity” on the plight of disappearing women in Juarez, Mexico. In it, while women’s voices cry out “Justicia!” (Justice!), performers conduct a “limpia”, or shamanic ritual, with brooms to signify cleansing of trauma. When the exhibition first opened in 2006, Plum invited the mothers of some of the young victims to take part in the limpia. This powerful experience, giving voice to the untold tragedy of the lost women, so moved Rosenberg that she was inspired to curate “Off the Beaten Path: Violence, Women and Art” for AWFC. “Off the Beaten Path” integrated Plum’s installation as well as 33 additional works by artists from 25 countries, including Yoko Ono and Marina Abramovic. This exposition examines the global phenomenon of gender-based violence. Launched in 2009, the exhibition continues to travel every year and has now been showcased in museums on four continents. Its success led to an expanded exhibition in Senegal, shining a spotlight on the taboo subject of violence against women in Africa.
Rosenberg also draws inspiration from her own backyard. When she moved from Washington, D.C. to Oakland, California, she was dismayed to learn that the West Coast port city is a major hub for sex trafficking, particularly of young girls. To give a human face to this tragedy, Rosenberg led AWFC to partner in 2017 with the Siddhartha Gallery and Foundation in Kathmandu to produce “The True Stories Project: Oakland, California and Kathmandu, Nepal”. “If people don’t see it, they won’t know it’s a problem,” she states emphatically. This travelling project showcases eerily similar stories of lost innocence through a diverse collection of photography, digital painting, and multimedia art installations.
Rosenberg’s tone grows somber as she describes some of the pieces: one photocollage shows Nepali bank notes branded with the faces of trafficked young girls and stamped with unique barcodes, to represent these women as currency and exchange. Another series depicts a defaced image of Cinderella against a backdrop of a Tibetan mandala. This juxtaposition of a Western fairytale character and traditional Eastern cultural symbol conveys the “fairy tale of an exploited young girl, culturally transported to a place of obliterating darkness.” Of the healing potential in this work for survivors of trafficking, Rosenberg pauses, and reflects: “It was the closest I had gotten back into art therapy again.”
Community Ownership and Grassroots Change
For each traveling exhibition, Rosenberg explains, “We really encourage the museum and community to take ownership.” When “Off the Beaten Path” traveled to Chicago, for example, 40 local community groups involved in gender-based violence advocacy came together to participate in the exhibition. Survivors of sexual assault volunteered to guide the tour of the exhibit, and in the process, tell their story. The museum hosted testimonial writing workshops for the survivors as a sharing circle. Following the workshop, one of the participants even went on to secure a book contract with the publisher Random House. These partnerships bring the issues highlighted by the exhibitions to local relevance, and promote grassroots social change.
Rosenberg goes on to share how she is now working to produce more online exhibitions for a wider reach, as “a way to keep using the art and getting [the artists] out in the world too, to educate and inspire”. For example, she speaks proudly of AWFC’s AWARE/OWARE video game, now in development, is a virtual exhibit that adapts the 7000-year-old board game Oware. Instead of the traditional Asian and African game of reaping and sowing seeds in the scooped-out hollows of a game board, AWARE/OWARE allows players to reap stories instead, engaging with a series of avatars to learn about economic empowerment, education, health promotion, environmental stewardship, human rights, and political rights through storytelling. Rosenberg says that in contrast to “Off the Beaten Path”, “this [game] was focused on the positive…we want to use art for healing and women’s empowerment.”
When we bring up Global Education for MAPS, and its vision for creative content that reaches multiple demographics to inspire worldwide action, Rosenberg responds with genuine enthusiasm. “The melting of the polar ice caps is the kind of cataclysmic event that inspires visionary artists to bring attention to the broadest audiences, using their artistry as a tool for awareness and positive change,” she says. “At Art Works for Change, like Parvati, we strive to use the arts as a catalyst for action.”
Randy Jayne Rosenberg is Executive Director and Chief Curator for Art Works For Change, a nonprofit organization using the power of art to promote awareness, dialogue and action on current issues, particularly surrounding social justice and environmental sustainability. It creates traveling exhibitions of national and international scope, working with both emerging and renowned artists.