The C4AA Founders Steve Lambert and Stephen Duncombe. Images courtesy of the artists
A lot of artists might be thinking about how to incorporate more political activism into their practices right about now, and if you’re one of them then you’re in luck, because there just happens to be an organization that exists for that specific purpose. The Center for Artistic Activism (C4AA) is the brainchild of artist Steve Lambert and activist Stephen Duncombe, a.k.a., “The Steves,” and was born out of their mutual frustration over the lack of imagination and innovation in grassroots movements. In a joint statement, The Steves describe the C4AA’s origins to The Creators Project: “Duncombe was sick of planning protests that were routine, colorless and ineffective, and Lambert was frustrated by political art that few saw and impacted less. They both thought the other one might have the answer. They quickly learned that neither did. But together they began researching how arts and activism could work together.” Now, they’re hosting workshops and giving a series of webinars that look at artistic activism tactics that have been successful in the past and discussing how they can be applied to campaigns in the future. As Duncombe says of the organization’s goal in the introduction to their most recent webinar video,“It’s always a definition in flux.”
Since their inception in 2009, the C4AA have turned their research into workshops attended by over 1,000 activists and artists throughout the United States, and in 12 countries on four continents. One of their notable achievements includes helping to ensure that the interests of sex worker organizations in South Africa were represented at the International AIDS conference held in Durban, South Africa. “Working with [sex workers organizations] over a series of weeks in [South Africa] we created over a dozen creative actions. Most of these, including a large clock which counted down the time that speakers had been talking without mentioning sex work, were effective in drawing attention and gained national and international coverage,” say The Steves.
A newspaper article about a C4AA action. The caption reads: “Activists pressing for sex worker rights hold up placards and umbrellas at the Durban Aids Conference yesterday. Red umbrellas have become symbolic of their struggle.”
In the wake of the US presidential election, the C4AA is gearing up to bring more workshops to artists and activists around the world. “We think it’s especially important for us to do this work now, since it has become so evident that politics is not being played out on a field of facts and rationality, but signs and symbols, stories and spectacle. This is our terrain,” say The Steves. And for those who are interested in getting involved with their activities, The Steves suggest starting with their free webinar series, which they plan on running every Friday at lunchtime and past episodes will be posted on their website. “The reason we’re doing this webinar series is over the last 7 years we’ve done all this research and work with activists of all kinds (and artists) to help them be more effective and creative in their work, and after the election we decided we needed to get this information more out in the world as quickly as possible,” says Lambert.
Co-Directors Duncombe and Lambert discuss what defines artistic activism.
Along with their weekly broadcasts, The Center for Artistic Activism has several events lined up including working with Sex Worker activists in Dublin, Ireland and running a week-long workshop with Greenpeace in preparation for the first 100 days of the Trump presidency. Find out more about The Center for Artistic Activism and keep up with their upcoming events on their website.