Social Justice Street Art
Monday, June 7, 2021
Social Justice Murals: Why Street Artists Can Create Social Change
Street art and social justice murals are not new but are more important than ever. Communities, activists, and artists need outlets to express themselves regarding social issues, and street art gives them just that.
From raising awareness of social issues to revitalizing social justice education, murals representing social inequalities, disparities, and inequities serve as a reminder that these challenges exist and must be addressed. “Murals, sculptures, and installations aren't just pretty to look at; they also make a powerful statement about social issues and give community members a platform for expression.”
Below we’ll discuss three main reasons why street artists can not only create social change but also how their art serves the public by educating and bringing communities together. Street art gives a voice to communities, reclaims underutilized spaces, and provides accessibility so everyone can enjoy, learn, and engage.
Public Art Raises Awareness of Important Issues
In our current society, with so much information coming at us daily, it can be difficult to stay focused on an issue or a cause. This is how street art, especially social justice art, can easily and consistently raise awareness. When there is a constant, visual (and beautiful) reminder of these issues, they cannot be forgotten.
"Creative expression in community spaces brings attention to important issues - and empowers people." It forces hard conversations between students and educators, family and friends, neighbors and co-workers, etc. It also drives communities and individuals to reflect on these issues as well as inspiring activism.
An example of art-inspired activism is this guide, “No Going Back: ACOVID-19 Cultural Strategy Activation Guide for Artists and Activists”. The guide identifies what the current media stories and pop culture are lacking, which are successful examples of mutual aid efforts. "No Going Back offers ideas for how these narratives can manifest in artwork, whether it’s visual art, creative writing, music, video, photography, social media dance challenges or memes.”
Reclaim Underutilized Spaces & Make Art Accessible
Urban communities often have unused spaces or areas that have been neglected. Public art and social justice murals can help reclaim those spaces. It can stir a community into action, such as making external improvements in the area surrounding the street art, so this reclaimed space can be used for reflection, remembrance, and to bring a community together.
Street art can create community collaboration. Local and emerging artists, students, and other area residents can not only offer input, but they can collaborate on execution of their vision by offering workshops and community painting days.
Most importantly, everyone should be able to enjoy art. “When art is housed in a museum or gallery, the public must choose (and often, pay) to engage with it. When it moves to the public realm, however, everyone has access. And that accessibility is key.”
Why Street Art and Murals Need to be Preserved
Street art captures the raw and immediate individual and community response to social injustices. These need to be preserved, documented and shared with the masses as they are, at their core, an accurate representation of events as they happen. This is our history. This is how we learn. This is how we create social change.
“Starting with work such as the George Floyd mural, the Urban Art Mapping research team, an interdisciplinary group of faculty and students based at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota, began working in early June last year to collect digital documentation of street art that emerged in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. We have seen that the art made in response to this act of injustice is an expression of the anger, frustration, and pain felt in communities across this country and around the world that needs to be preserved.”
Beyond serving as a repository for this art, the Urban Art Mapping database was created as a resource for students, activists, scholars, and artists by way of metadata, including a description of key themes, geolocations, and dates of documentation. “The database is intended to provide images and metadata for non-commercial, educational use, and reproduction rights for the images remain with the artists and photographers.”
Walls of Justice is an online gallery and community forum inspired by the peaceful demonstrations worldwide following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers in May 2020. We hope our gallery helps spread a message of positive change, in the model of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, John Lewis, and Nelson Mandela.
You can learn more about how Walls of Justice began, view the Walls of Justice Gallery, or submit photos of street art and murals in your community focused on racial justice, social justice, positive reform in law enforcement, police accountability, and more!