Art, Agents of Social Change, Activism & Other Seriously Important Shit Academics Say

I've been honored to start off 2016 by being asked to speak not only at one, not even at two, but THREE universities within the span of three weeks time. For two of them (the University of Idaho and the University of Wyoming) I've been asked to present the keynote address for their campus-wide Body Image Awareness Week, five days full of education and advocacy around healthy eating, positive body choices, smart ideas about safe sexuality and more. The first of the round up was a keynote address Valentine's Day weekend at Boise State University's THATCamp, an 'unconference' around humanities and technology. There was no real set agenda, except for a basic theme of expression and empowerment surrounding civil rights, and the impressive and powerful political activist of the Add The Words campaign here in Idaho, Nicole LeFavour, and myself were asked to give hour talks. The rest of the day's agenda was to be made up/identified that morning over our free breakfast. (Of note: the entire unconference was, in fact, free to participants, generously funded by BSU departments, and included a challenging and thoughtful day, free breakfast and lunch, unlimited new connections, and a really cool travel coffee mug.)

 photo courtesy of THATCamp BSU

photo courtesy of THATCamp BSU

The idea of an unconference was uncomfortable to me, even though I knew my role in the day was pre-planned. As a lifelong academic, I've attended and spoke at MANY conferences in my lifetime, and I just couldn't wrap my head around how this was going to work. Additionally, I'm a leader with strong organizational skills and letting that part of my personality slide felt different and good. Nicole spoke first and her words about growing up gay in Idaho and oppression and anger and fear were strong and serious. She shared insight about civil disobedience and logistics of mobilizing and the realities of being arrested as a protester. Over yogurt and cups of tea, she and I talked privately about hearing story after story from others and how both of us feel not only compelled to action, but called to it in the most personal and powerful way. About how we are part of something bigger and that, perhaps, we didn't chose the revolution, it chose us.

 photo courtesy of THATCamp BSU

photo courtesy of THATCamp BSU

We started the day off with a speed dating style meet and greet and ideas and alliances were formed with interests that came out of simple one minute conversations. Two other men, one an animator teaching at BSU and another a local fine art painter, and I threw around the idea of artists as agents of social change and turned it into a session in which around ten of us talked about concepts like grassroots uprisings, creative commons, new ideas, legislation, high art vs. low art, and reaching the masses. This quote by William S. Burroughs, brought forth by the painter, was the driving force of our hour session:

Artists to my mind are the real architects of change, and not the political legislators who implement change after the fact.

During lunch I gave my keynote, an hour of telling my story, from my upbringing in Burley, Idaho, and how I cut off all my hair into a pixie cut at the age of 16 in a defiant feminist act that even I was unaware of at that time. It was the beginning of a journey of understanding my body was a political vessel that I could use for change and art. My education, both undergraduate and graduate, has played so much into my activism and art, and that is something I always try to impart to my audience, especially when speaking at college campuses.

Immediately following, I hosted a session on activism, where about 20 of us gathered to talk about the role of civic engagement in our lives and questioned whether or not that could be viewed as activism. Students broadened my mind about using social media as an easier entry to activism and sparked ideas about passive activism and personal activism and leaders and followers. It was engaging and thoughtful. Do we need to open more than our laptops? Do we need to get our of our chairs and mobilize on our feet? 

A few days later my TED Talk coach posted this in our private Facebook group, where we share inspiring talks and support one another in the process of writing and rehearsing for the big day. I asked her if she specifically posted it with me in mind, because this man's ideas speak so clearly to my own heart on why I chose a life as an activist, or rather, why activism chose me.

Like this teacher says so eloquently, "Tell your truth. Because who ever needed a soapbox when all you ever needed was your voice?"