The following are three innovators who inspire and inform the development of my work.
Artist and Founding Executive Director of Elevated Thought residing and working in Lawrence, Massachusetts, United States
Bio of Marquis Victor from Elevated Thought’s website: “In addition to being a poet, designer, and photographer, Marquis has a master’s degree in Education from Lesley University and has taught in Revere and Boston, MA Public Schools. He compiled over seven years of public school experience before focusing on Elevated Thought full-time and is currently pursuing his Doctor of Education at Northeastern University.”
Experiencing Elevated Thought and becoming immersed in Marquis Victor’s vision for Lawrence left a profound impact on me as an artist, an educator, and a catalyst for community arts. Beyond the day spent at Elevated Thought and the additional day with him pushing into our classroom at Lesley, Victor took time out of his schedule to highlight the roadmap he has for his organization and the city of Lawrence.
For one, I completely believe in Elevated Thought’s mission and operations. The organization uses art to support young people’s artistic, intrapersonal, interpersonal, cultural, and philosophical development. The space was built as an accessible incubator for for creative exploration with support of peers and various community members. There are paths to gain leadership skills at the organization and in government.
Marquis Victor’s understanding of community assets and his foresight for Elevated Thought’s stability, services and growth make Victor undoubtedly an asset to Lawrence as well as an inspiration for my work in community arts.
Artist, Human Rights Activist, and Political Revolutionary currently residing in Cambridge, United Kingdom
Ai Weiwei is possibly the most powerful artist in the world, as his art actively speaks out against oppression, censorship, and human rights violations in his home country of China and around the world.
Ai was born during the Cultural Revolution. His father, a poet, was denounced by the government and the entire family was sent to a labor camp. Ai Weiwei was only three years old when his family sought exile. After living and studying art in the United States for over a decade, Ai moved back to Beijing. Due to his art and various other political protests, Ai disappeared. The international art community called for answers. Chinese authorities released Ai from jail and put him under house arrest to appease international outcry. In 2015, he was finally allowed to leave China and Ai moved to Berlin.
Ai Weiwei’s work did not stop during the constant moves, arrests, hospitalizations, and roadblocks along the way. He continued to create public works of art in China and abroad, constructing some of the most profound works of contemporary art history.
One of the projects I found most inspiring was the citizen’s investigation led by Ai and his team after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. A lack of governmental transparency concerning casualties in municipal buildings led to insufficient data, unnamed casualties, and a minimization of disaster aid funds to the area. Ai Weiwei and his team of civilian activists collected names, ages, and other relevant information about the students who perished in substandard government buildings when the 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck during the school day. The team published a blog with a list of over five thousand names of young lives lost that were not previously recorded.
This data was transformed into art, as Ai Weiwei created several works using information collected by his team after the earthquake. In the image above, Ai Weiwei is seen posing for a photograph in front of a cascade of children’s backpacks with a quote from a mourning mother stating, “she lived happily for seven years in this world.”
Ai Weiwei’s work is profoundly daring, honest, and raw. It speaks to needs of others in a way that is selfless while still remaining creatively refined. His work keeps me honest, reminding me to be brave enough to create and work on the projects I believe in most. His work catalyzes intent in the messages I present with my work. Whether it is a reflection of cultural norms, a probing of social justice history, increasing visibility around neglected issues, or delving into my role in context of these issues, Ai undeniably calls upon other artist-activists to create with intent.
Literary Artist, Educator, Activist residing and working in Litchfield County, Connecticut, United States
Ashley Sullivan first entered my life in 2001 when she moved from Winsted, Connecticut to a subsection of my hometown known as Riverton. From childhood to adulthood, Ashley always had a talent for advocacy, thoughtful dialogue, and bringing out these qualities in others. Her kindness and work ethic spilled into her academics, her volunteer work, her career, and her continued advocacy for humanitarian, environmental, and social justice issues.
Today, Ashley Sullivan is a high school English teacher in the same county she grew up in. She enthusiastically educates students about banned books and censorship, multicultural literature, and ties contemporary issues to required content. Her impactful work extends into her roles as an advisor for the Gay-Straight Alliance, junior class, games club, and debate club. Ashley also finds time to work with the open-door soup kitchen and attend peace protests to engage with the community outside of school doors. In addition to her various professional roles, Ashley shines as a loving role model for her younger sisters, cousins, and nieces.
When considering my professional, personal, and artistic goals, I remain informed and inspired by Ashley’s growing legacy. I ask myself what is most at stake, who is most at risk, and how can I inform myself enough to assist or advocate. Her work informs my practice while keeping me grounded in my roots in the rolling hills of northwest Connecticut.
Cohen, A (Producer), & Klayman, A (Director). (2012). Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry [Motion picture]. United States: Mongrel Media.
eddee. (2011, June 1). Arts Without Borders [blog]. Retrieved from http://artswithoutborders-eddee.blogspot.com/
Marquis. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.elevatedthought.org/marquis