The Office of the Arts takes on social activism with new project ‘Artivism’


Emmanuel Mitcham and Jason Little, Office of the Arts

Hannah McDonnell, Staff Writer

The Office of the Arts is creating opportunities for social justice through creativity, engagement and empowerment in a new series called “Artivism Through Social Change.”

Typically, the Office of the Arts operates as a performing arts venue on campus. However, due to the pandemic, they have found new and creative ways to offer their services to the student body and to the Wilmington community. 

Fidias Reyes, the director of Arts Engagement for the Office of the Arts played a hand in jump-starting the project.

“‘Artivism Through Social Change’ came to fruition after realizing that the programs we were developing and producing with the office of diversity and inclusion and the office of community engagement and applied learning all had a common thread: social justice,” Reyes stated.

For their previous exhibit in February, the Fisher University Union hosted the first aspect to this series called “Blackness: A Framework.” This exhibit was presented through projectors in the Union and the content has been curated by students and features footage from the theatre department’s fall production “Am I Next? Voices of Wilmington, NC” directed by Robin Post. The project sparked conversations about social injustice and the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The office of the arts was ultimately inspired by Black Lives Matter, not as a movement but as a morally urgent issue. In times like this, it’s the arts that act as a magnifying glass, forcing people to experience things that they would otherwise ignore.

“We were responding to the social unrest that exploded nationally and locally after the death of George Floyd,” Reyes said. “All of the work that we’ve created is in response to this event, Black Lives Matter and all the conversations that were popping up like racism, colorism, social and economic inequality.”

In April 2021, a photo gallery consisting of photos of older adults will open in Veterans Hall. This is a collaboration between the Office of the Arts, Gerontology and Center for Healthy Communities to facilitate intergenerational, international and interprofessional discussions about the subject of aging. 

Dr. Jeffery Levine, a geriatrician and photographer, donated a series of his prints related to international aging. The series includes images of people from India, Japan, Peru, Egypt and amongst countries and highlights cultural differences and similarities in aging, the role and value of older adults and the process and experience of aging. 

The office of the arts has commissioned award-winning artist, Dare Coulter to create a monument for the UNCW campus inspired by Black Lives Matter for the next exhibit. This monument does not yet have a release date although it is predicted to open in the Spring of 2021. 

The hope for this monument is to bring awareness about race, identity, the Black experience, Wilmington’s long, dark history of racial violence and ultimately bringing social change through art. 

Coulter and the monument that she is creating for the UNCW campus interconnects Wilmington’s history from the Coup d’État of 1898 and the message from Black Lives Matter into a sculpture that is both haunting and uplifting. The Office of the Arts is more interested in the artistic process and the messaging around the work rather than focusing on the medium in which the message is presented.

Reyes states that she doesn’t not think that the office of arts can ever go back to just being theatres and museums again after creating this series. Instead, they must commit their spaces and budgets to creating more inclusive, diverse experiences. 

“The industry—performing and visual arts—has been forced to reckon with its issues of inequality and injustice,” Reyes says.