Art spaces hosting activism & strengthening community engagement

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Art spaces hosting activism & strengthening community engagement

New Tactics in Human Rights and freeDimensional (fD) partnered for this online dialogue featuring 'Art Spaces Hosting Activism & Strengthening Community Engagement'. 

The online dialogue featured freeDimensional network members sharing the creative ways in which art spaces can and do provide safe havens for activists, share technical tools and training, support and guidance, and engage in social justice issues in their communities and through fD’s social justice network. freeDimensional logo

freeDimensional (fD) is an international network that advances social justice by hosting activists in distress in art spaces and using cultural resources to strengthen their work. The network is made up of over 100 community art spaces around the world with regional hubs in São Paulo, Cairo, New York City, Berlin, and Pondicherry. freeDimensional provides resources and safe haven for oppressed activists and culture workers; facilitates knowledge-sharing among art spaces who actively participate in local community organizing; and engages the art world and mainstream media to heighten public awareness and influence policy change on critical issues.

We want to introduce you to the wonderful Art Spaces and the Featured Resource Practitioners that shared their experiences and exchanged ideas with members of the New Tactics community about how to use art spaces for activism. The tactical notebook, Art Spaces Hosting Activism: Using surplus resources to provide individual assistance and strengthen community engagement provides a great guide for learning more about this tactic. (Available in English and Spanish)

Featured Resource Practitioners

Our Featured Resource Practitioners, leading the dialogue, included (click here for more biographical information):

View the video below with subtitles: Español | Português

Summary of the Dialogue

This New Tactics Dialogue titled Art spaces hosting activism & strengthening community engagement focused on various mechanisms by which art spaces are used in order to support activists in distress (See the section Providing Safe Haven: Expectations of Art Spaces and Activists below), engage human rights ideas in our theoretical understanding of activism (See the section Defining Activism & Issues of Vulnerability below) and practical engagement with communities (see the section Art Spaces and Community Engagement below). The dialogue began with a discussion of what constitutes activism. Participants then identified the challenges and benefits of using a politically-charged term like activism, and the impact of engaging activism in art spaces. Participants delved into some specific topics highlighting the relationship between art and activism: migration, community engagement, safe haven for activists in distress, maintaining a diverse network, and language barriers in art spaces and global networks. The dialogue included a discussion of how to effectively measure one's impact.

Defining Activism & Issues of Vulnerability

One of the first themes discussed was the question of how to define activism. If an art space identifies itself as being involved in political activism, they may put themselves in danger, or create barriers in reaching out to communities. Two points were raised concerning the need to evaluate the context of situations: Having a high-profile activist that needs a safe haven may act as a source of safety for the activist . On the other hand, too much publicity may put the distressed activist in danger. In addition, Todd Lester from fD shared a useful piece of advice when working on acquiring legal permissions/visas for activists in distress, it is important to tactically think about the artist/activist's CV and frame it in ways that are less controversial to the authorities.

Art Spaces and Community Engagement
The dialogue addressed an important challenge between human rights NGOs and art spaces. Traditionally, the organizational cultures are very different NGOs tend to have larger staff and more formalized decision-making structures, whereas art spaces tend to have just a few staff members. Furthermore, the two sectors are likely to choose very different strategies for pursuing the same goals. freeDimensional acts as a bridge between the two sectors.
The participants of the dialogue shared a couple examples of how to engage local community:

Providing Safe Haven: Expectations of Art Spaces and Activists
One concrete way in which art spaces host activism is by providing safe haven for activists in distress. This has been a key tactic used by freeDimensional through its work of residential art spaces. When fD hears of an activist in distress from one of its human rights partners, it can filter this request into its network to secure suitable placement. freeDimensional has been working with new art spaces worldwide through its Emerging Art Space Support Initiative so they too will be equipped to support activists in distress.

For the art space, it is essential to map one's local resources, to make sure that they can provide what the activist needs. freeDimensional's Brazil hub shared a useful breakdown of all the different resources that an organization needs to map in preparation for providing Creative Safe Haven: legal assistance, mental health therapy, health care, and financial support. The entire post detailing the resources in Sao Paulo can be found here. Furthermore, clarifying expectations of the art space itself is also very important: Caravansarai shared their expectations of wanting the activist to engage with the art space and produce work.

Language and Accessibility
The dialogue identified a major struggle in efforts for international networking and activism in general: issues of language barriers and accessibility. Participants then shared strategies that can help overcome this barrier in their work. First, several online resources for translation were shared:

Some art residencies require the artists to have at least a basic knowledge of the language of the host country. However, art spaces in countries where a "big language" is not spoken cannot do that as it would drastically limit the pool of artists that would have access to their residencies. Caravansarai suggested that one good way of overcoming that barrier is being engaged in the immediate surroundings, e.g. buying food and supplies from local vendors or sharing your work, can help foster a connection.

Another powerful recommendation was to overcome language barriers by using social networks and local partnerships, expanding one's website to have a webpage for the local community to post in their language, and continue translating from one language to another.

Sharing Resources and Networking


We invite activists and art spaces to reflect on the following general questions about activism. In addition, there a number of questions we hope Art Spaces will address and share about their specific experiences.

General Questions:

  • What creative practices or forms of art expression have you used that have engaged people and communities to take action?
  • What kinds of communities are you engaging with forms of art expression?
  • What creative practices or forms of art expression have you used that have engaged people and communities to take action?
  • What kinds of communities are you engaging with forms of art expression?
  • As an activist, how might you contribute to or engage art spaces to advance community engagement and action?

Questions for Art Spaces:

  • How does your art space define “activism”?
  • What forms of programming have you found effective to engage your communities?
  • What do you see as unique about your art space and how do you use those aspects to “host activism”?
  • What capacities do art spaces need for responding to activists in distress (providing “safe haven”)?
  • What are the rewards and challenges of providing a “safe haven” for threatened activists?
  • What expectations do art spaces have of the activists being provided with ‘safe haven’ and what do activists expect of art spaces providing safe havens?
AHA! Defining Activism: Could it be a bad word?

Alicia Marván - artist . curator . activist - story exactly, although maybe different scenarios...

just last week I got notice that "La Familia", a well-known narco gang in Mexico had kicked-out all street vendors in Maravatío (Guapamacátaro's residency's town) by "kindly" killing one of them as a warning. I am in the process of curating the next residency (february 2010) and feel nervous about bringing in foreigners and being "openly activist" (yet here I am talking about it on the web and satellites...)

Is being an activist the new "coming out of the closet"? I JUST WANT A BETTER PLACE FOR ALL OF US TO LIVE. Do I need to call in the UN in oder for human expression and fulfillment to take place openly?

thanks for listening...

AHA! Defining Activism: Could it be a bad word?

good morning.  good to read the comments already posted on this topic.  i often feel like a sour apple because i question the need to be so public about our activities in hosting activists or artists in distress.  in fact, i even have to question the need for a dialogue such as the one we're having.  why is it necessary to become so visible when our activities obviously require a high level of discretion in order to be successful.  when i first became involved in this community/network it was on a very low-key level in which individuals were referred and whoever could take them in would do so, but now i feel like it is becoming something else; i don't see the benefit, to the artists that need our help, of placing ourselves and our organizations in such vulnerable positions.  so, in the spirit of remaining open to the dialogue and to the possible answers to my concerns and questions, i will observe and listen for a while before piping back up...i am curious to hear what everyone else thinks...thanks.

Can practitioners share online and avoid vulnerability?

Hi rogue,

Thank you for sharing your concern. I do not work in the freeDimensional network, so I certainly cannot speak for the activists/practitioners/artists participating in this dialogue. From my work with the New Tactics project, I have learned that it is possible for human rights practitioners to share tactical experiences with each other without sharing identifying and private information.

When we ask people to participate in New Tactics activities - such as these online dialogues - we ask that participants contribute their experiences, challenges, and successes on a tactical-level.  We want participants to share something about their experiences in a way that other practitioners can learn from.  It may not be necessary for others to know where you work, with whom you work, what issue you work on, or who you are. We just want to know what works, what does not work, and why - and we want you to share that with others.  We also do not want practitioners to share their strategies, just the tactics (techniques, activities, etc) that they have used.

That being said, the privacy, security, and possibile vulnerability of our participants is a concern of ours.  I would encourage all the participants in this dialogue to not share more information than you are comfortable with - or do not share any information.  If you want to have private conversations with particular participants, click on their username and send them a private message. 

I hope this is helpful!

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Vulnerability - part of strategic and tactical decision-making

Dear Rogue,

AHA! I believe you have hit on the crux (or root) of activism - the degree to which we are willing to be vulnerable in order to take action for change.

You raise vital questions here that must be part of an organization's - and as well as an activist's - strategic and tactical decision-making process. The artists that your organization may be providing safe haven to may not only desire but require anonymity for their personal protection or for the protection of their family members back home. Your own organization may need to keep that "low-key" profile as you described in order to maintain your ability to operate in your country context and continue to offer the much needed safe haven for threatened activists. 

At other times, both the activist and the organization may want to highlight very publicly both the organization's role and the activists' situation because the publicity will actually help to provide protection to both.

Each organization, as well as each activist, will need to make those decisions based on their own context, goals and objectives, and level of potential risks - and certainly the awareness and willingness to accept those risks and degree of vulnerability.  The very activists that Art Spaces are providing safe haven to have had to make the very difficult choice to leave their homes and country because the risks associated with their activism have become dangerously high. 

Human rights work is often one step forward, two steps "pushed" back, a step forward taking another angle (using a "new tactic"), and onwards in a kind of "dance" for change. Our New Tactics project promotes the sharing of many tactics in order to offer individuals and groups a wide array of potential ways in which they can take action, always keeping in mind the need to evaluate tactics, as a tactic may be very low risk in one context but very high risk in another.

Could any of the activists or Art Spaces involved in the dialogue - that are currently in a safe position - share their decision-making process regarding this critical question of vulnerability? 

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

From the perspective of an artist/activist living in exile...

To respond to Nancy's request about wanting to hear from activists that are currently in a safe position - share their decision-making process regarding this critical question of vulnerability. I would like to share my experience; I came to Canada as a political refugee seven years ago after been subjected to political charges, kidnapping and torture by the Mexican National Army due to my work as a human rights defender and a writer.

I came to Canada with the support of Amnesty International
and the Kovler Centre for Survivors of Torture in Chicago, both organizations well known for their support to activists in distress. But I wasn’t only an activist, I was a published poet in my country and in fact my work as a writer
had a bigger impact than my activism ever did.

When I came to Canada my work as an artist didn’t seem to
matter at all. The support I was getting was because I was considered a “high profile” activist. Even though for me it is really hard to draw a line between human rights and art (I just don’t understand one without the other for I am
convinced that every revolution should be poetic and every poem revolutionary), all the focus was on my activism - therefore all the organizations that provided support were
human rights organizations with little or no connection to the art world.

Even though I was a high profile activist, university
educated and well traveled, I didn’t know anything about any art space/organization providing support for artist in distress when I arrived. It wasn’t until a year after I arrived in Canada that PEN got in touch with me. They literally tracked me down and invited me to be part of their writers in exile network.

As an activist/artist engaged in the struggle for basic
human rights in a country with a long history of repression, I’ve learnt that my best defense is to have a public profile so that it would be harder to hurt me without reprucussioins. So when I was forced into exile, safety was still an issue and I knew that I needed to make as much noise as possible in order to be safe…and that is how PEN Canada found me. But I would have been much safer and things would have been much easier for me, if I had known PEN Canada existed and had found them before. Instead, I had to wait for them to find me.

I think that the concerns of vulnerability are completely
valid and it’s a question every art space should ask of themselves and answer according to their own circumstances. I respect the fact that the concern isn’t only about one’s safety but also about how safe it would be for the people
receiving your support. As some one who has gone through the process of desperately needing a safe-heaven, my major concern is how we can ensure that the work that freeDimensional and it’s partners do, is public enough so that activist/artists needing safe heavens know where to look for help when the need is the greatest?

So the main question for me is - How can we balance our
concerns for safety with our responsibility to be accessible to all who need our support?

I’m aware that I’m a very privileged person and the label of
“high profile” activist has granted me a lot privileges not accessible to everybody…that is why PEN Canada found me and that is also more or less why freeDimensional found me too.
But how do we ensure that safe-heavens are accessible for everyone who needs them and not only for those of us who are well connected or “high profile” enough to get the attention of international human rights and arts organizations?

Emma Beltran.

Thank you for your artist/activist perspective

Dear Emma,

Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience and perspective. I'm very glad to know that you received assistance from the Marjorie Kovler Center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture and Amnesty International. 

I want to share some contact resources for torture treatment programs the United States and around the world. In the USA, we have a National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs including the Center for Victims of Torture-CVT (New Tactics is a project of CVT). In addition, people can find out if they have a torture treatment program in their own country by going to the website of the IRCT - The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims and searching the member directory.

Emma - the questions you pose are indeed challenging:

  • How to balance safety with visibility and accessibility to reach activists in need?
  • How to help those at high risk but are not "well-known"?

You shared one critical link in the equation - knowledge that both the people and the places exist. It's great that PEN and freeDimensional found you and you were able to find a "home" and reconnect your artist/activist self in those organizations. 

New Tactics partnered with freeDimensional for this dialogue in hopes of raising awareness among our networks and broader outreach to highlight for activists how quite a number of Art Spaces are providing this critical support of safe haven. But even if Art Spaces are not able to provide safe haven, the fD network exists to provide connections and knowledge of each other. We also wanted to raise the awareness of the fD network and the idea and possibility for art spaces to consider providing this kind of critical support. In this way we hope to expand the visibility and accessibility of such spaces. New Tactics, however, does not provide safe haven, so we do not face the critical questions related to safety.

How are others trying to strike that balance of safety with visibility and accessibility?

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

AHA! Defining Activism: Could it be a bad word?

I think in many situations, you don't have to explain everything to everyone. For any particular project (or organisations as a whole in that matter) one can place oneself in a variety of different contexts.  Speaking as an artist, I would explain an artwork of mine completely differently if I was talking to an international art curator as opposed to my neighbor, or my grandparents. The mission of artist residency, or a particular hosted artist can be seen in the same way. 

maximizing on vagueness

There was a post yesterday about safety and security that this also responds to.  Just last week I was talking to an interested party regarding hosting activists in art spaces.  He told me that his company would like to help but that what we do seems too political.  We had a few minutes to talk so I had the time (in conversation) to rethink some things.  Namely that it is often the case that what an individual activist does that is perceived as 'political' and that his/her actions likely represent a social condition, one that may seem much less risky than the individual's situation.  We have always had the practice of trying to 'tone down' the situation.  For example, the individual may be a outspoken activist on XYZ issues, for which he/she may be in danger.  If that individual is also a poet or playwrite, we can use his/her artistic vocation to justify residency, sometimes never publicly mentioning the outspoken activism angle.  For example, a residency wants to help a person in danger; they have the room and board and desire to host; they are typically the entity requesting his/her visa; the request would read very simply: mr/mrs so-and-so is invited to come do a poetry reading as a part of an artist residency here in 123 country; we are applying for a visa for that reason.  Often times by toning it down, this can sail through red tape that would immediately become entangle if the outspoken activism were to be belabored.  Toning it down .. that is what we try to do.

Not a sour apple

Hi Rogue,

I really appreciate your points.  The issues you raise are ones we grapple with all the time, every day.  Historically, fD has been a volunteer-led organization.  After some years of doing our Creative Safe Haven service and Affiliated Projects, we hit a glass ceiling whereby those of us passionately involved with the day-to-day work had to make a decision of whether or not we could continue volunteering OR if we must do some fundraising in order to continue the work with compensation ... especially in that we have rec'd a greater and greater demand for our services.  So, the question became, how to sensibly 'professionalize'.  I can speak for myself in saying that the idea behind starting fD was not an idea to build a big organization (it still isn't) but we find that there are certain external relations measures we have to take in order to be eligible for funding, BUT also to be better understood within civil society.  Here's an example:  We worked with a partner network (Trans Europe Halles) when we needed a European site recently for a Georgian activist, poet, performance artist.  TEH really came through by broadcasting the need on their private list of art spaces.  We got a placement within a few days; however, all those partners - nominating partner, network partner, individual art space and the activist - had parameters of how the case could be talked about.  This went really well and TEH was able (with approval from the individual) make the following blurb in today's (Sept) newsletter:

"Let's Talk about Art: The Case of a Georgian Activist & Author
"In February 2009 a call for placement was sent to the members of TEH by freeDimensional, concerning a well known Georgian poet, performance artist and egalitarian activist. From the very beginning the case stood apart from the regular Artist in Residence affairs, as it involved a background of threat and suppression to the artist in his home country, demanding immediate action and readiness for political involvement. The same day Kultuuritehas Polymer expressed its will to accept the refugee/resident."

Through the red tape the artist made it to the residency in Estonia and gave a series of impressive performances in culture factories of Tartu and Tallinn. His journey was aided by organisations worldwide, giving many of the involved parties a unique experience in managing the heavy wheels of bureaucracy.

Madis Mikkos at Kultuuritehas Polymer sums up the half year long story in this month's Let's talk about Art."

raising confidence through lessons learned

hi again rogue,

another balance that we are trying to strike is the following ... please let us know what you think on this:

 We know that art spaces have always been willing to host intellectuals, activists, socially-engaged artists.  There have been high profile cases like Salman Rushdie and many many more that have been below the radar.  We see our role at fD as raising the confidence of art spaces to do this work by sharing lessons learned around the network.

 We have high hopes of working with New Tactics to develop a Tactical Notebook so that some of the insider knowledge that we have gleened can be made openly accessible to art spaces that want to 'host activism'.  We even have this crazy idea that the better we are able to document the process, the less we may be needed in the future as an intermediary ... that is that art spaces will have the tools to engage human rights organizations directly when one of the latter's stakeholders are in need of temporary safe haven.  We need a lot of feedback on these ideas and hope that this dialogue is one way to receive advice from our members and the broader sectors of arts and human rights.

Raising confidence through lessons learned & sharing ideas

Hi Todd,
New Tactics is excited about working with freeDimensional on creating a tactical notebook of your experiences to be able to share the lessons you've learned to our broad network. We also hope that not only more Art Spaces will be interested to providing temporary safe havens but that NGOs will think about how they can initiate collaboration with Art Spaces to work together on such an endeavor.

I invite participants in the is dialogue to explore our collection of tactical notebooks. Please note that there are a number of tactical notebooks in Spanish, as well as other languages. We look forward to the continued sharing of ideas and lessons learned that can be of help to other organizations in exploring their capacities and building confidence!

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

I completely support this

I completely support this idea personally. And Archiv is so important in the state of thw rold today, when we need to link ancient wisdoms or lessons learnt yesterday to be present and unleash the keys to build a future together.  So, document the process and information are as significant as being creative in current problem solving I think.  And it is not crazy at all Todd ;)! Art for me personally representing spirituality, because it is from a deep meditated awared state of mind and heart in harmoney, whatever be it the external manifestation is, sculptures, paintings, performances, ect. So being an artist for me is natually a activist, and a activist just means to activate that awareness within all of us and make us aware of the connections we have within ourselves and with every organism on this planet we live in.  Transparency and open access are also good ideas within your partnership with New Tactics and I think this is a good idea because it is to link with the existing resources(recycle that is the spirit) rather than creating something to call it new and grand. More later.. 

economic marginalization


I wonder sometimes the same question you pose:  If the activist is a writer, artist, performer, etc. then does it really matter that they are activists? 


In my experience, many time activists can be softly censored vis a vis cummulative economic marginalization.  What I mean to say is that they might not be violently threatened but they maybe be avoided by community members/peers due to threats and perceived danger.  This sort of economic marginalization also affects the activist who is an artist and may require particular attention when they are in residency.  We worked with a guy named Fahed Halabi who is member of the Druze community; he was making paintings on the condition of women in his community after some were victims of honor killings.  There was an incident of someone coming into his exhibit and slashing his paintings.  This triggered the aforementioned affect whereby he could no longer support himself as an artist and instead went to work as a short order cook in Tel Aviv.  We were able to connect him to an artist residency in Bilbao where he spent three months putting his career back on track.


This is indeed what happens in many instances, and it is what we are fighting against, no?  That said, this is even more why Caravansarai would be more likely to provide safe haven for this artist.

Expectations of art spaces toward artist receiving safe haven

Caravansarai and others - what expectations do your art spaces have toward the artist/activist that would receive safe haven at your art space? Would you expect them to assist you carrying out your core programs? Your outreach to communities? In ways can this be an especially rewarding experience to your Art Space as well as provide a safe haven, a respite from fear and danger and an opportunity for reflection and regeneration for the artist/activist?

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager


Only speaking for my half of Caravnasarai, I would venture to say that our only expectation would be that an artist/activist seeking save haven would be 'creating' something while staying with us.  Whether that creation is a work or art, or research, or collaboration would be determined by the context, but we would expect that the activist's intent was to engage in production of some sort.  Whether this be in collaboration with the community at large (surrounding area) or a resident artist community or a group culled together for the purpose of collaboration with her/him is not a clear focus of ours.  As of yet, we are working on gaining our own bearings within the neighborhood community of Karakoy.  As foreigner women, just the idea that we are now running a program in the midst of thousands of tavla-playing, tea-drinking hardware salesmen is challenging our intentions to engage community.  We may need safe haven ourselves! :)

more expectations ...

Hi Anika,

your post reminds me of a dichotomy (or perhaps pattern) that we have observed in the past.  When we call out for a residency space we typically get 3-4 responses.  The responding art spaces tend to be in one of the following two categories:

 (1) Some spaces have downtimes during the year in which their space would otherwise be unused.  This might be during a time when they have a skeleton staff in place but aren't running the full residency programme.  This might mean that there is no obligation of production or public engagement.

 (2) The other variety is a residency which has an open space in their active residency period, a period that may already have a curatorial theme and/or other parameters.  These parameters may be in place due to how the residency raised the money for the programme period .. that is they may have to report on how the funds were spent and even though they could include a safe haven resident, they would still need to be able to report in accordance with the grant that they are working from.

 ** These are somehow generalizations and I should say that there is also a typology for our placement candidates (historically):

(a) Individals who have been threatened or harrassed to the extent that they need a place to be alone for a couple months without expectations of producing or engaging a public.  They may benefit from being in the midst of a artist cohort (as a nurturing group) so it is not that they have to be alone per se.

(b) The other variety (generalization) might be someone who has also come through an ordeal, but really needs a platform on which to talk about, be creative on, advocate change for a particular issue that resulted in their ordeal.


I should say though that (1) & (a) AND (2) & (b) do not always line up in the placement process.

Criteria for balancing safety, accessibility, and mutual benefit

Is there some criteria that you have found in the process of engaging art spaces in providing safe haven for how they can best assess and balance the aspects that have been discussed - safety (for both the Art Space and the artist/activist), the accessbility (reserving space within residency spaces for those who need safe haven) and outlining how both can receive mutual benefit in the process?

I think the recommendations that Gabriela shared in her comment, How can art spaces support activists in distress? regarding how Art Spaces can prepare for artists/activists in distress may need additional supports.

Has freeDimensional and your network of Art Spaces developed additional recommendations for helping Art Spaces and artist/activists in need to make important assessments?

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager


Hi Nancy and thanks for the question.  Typically these considerations are discussed on a case-by-case basis between the nominating organization, the receiving art space (or a few if we are still determining best fit), freeDimensional staff, and (if possible) the individual who will be placed.  Sometimes communication is hard with the individual and the nominating human rights organization is speaking on his/her behalf.  We have an internal archive system by which we document past cases, lessons learned, and some general guidelines for placement.  This also involves what I call 'community resource mapping' (which certainly could be made better with some of the tactical mapping info you shared earlier in dialogue), whereby we work with partner centers to assess other resources in their communities besides the beds/rooms/apartments that they are offering.  For example, with a past placement in Senegal we worked with the art space administrator to identify human rights and free expression organizations that an incoming Gambian journalist would need to meet with while he was in Creative Safe Haven placement in Dakar.

That said , it is only now that we have the experience and capactity to really document this process (guidelines) and that is why we reached out to New Tactics recently regarding the Tactical Notebook b/c we feel that could be a effective vehicle/format to have the whole process detailed in ... whereby it would be easy to access online and otherwise.

 Now, we simply need to make the time to do the writing and it will be helpful to be on a timeline with another organization such as New Tactics.  This actually helps us to prioritize the documentation.  We feel this is essential, but as you all know (out there in civil society) there is not enough time in the day.  The time is now for fD to document its process ... we look forward to sharing this writing with you all in the near future.

At last year's Conectas human rights colloquium we were able to survey some 35 participants, so the end document should be a unique mix of survey feedback, cases, lessons learned, and input from this very dialogue!

solidarity is also an ingredient

.... we also realize that there are many times when an art space would ideally like to be helpful to someone but may deem it too locally political or simply may not have the space.  This is where the network is useful b/c when we jet out a request for hosting, we typically get 3-5 responses of possible spaces.  In that way we can have a few conversations with interested residencies to see where is the best fit.  We pay close attention to the constantly changing (organic) parameters and local situations of our partners, so what we learn from one placement by discussing a case with a few interested centers may help us to make a better, tailored placement the next time around.  We really think that the best way for such a system to work is when the person in need of a bedroom and creative space is happy and the art space is just as happy ... shooting straight, we have made placements before that were not perfect 'fits' .. we are trying to learn where those went wrong and make the process more smooth and intuitive.

 And, even when a space can't host someone, there concern and interest in a case can help us to solve problems.  What I mean is that often multiple art spaces are integral to a placement even though only one is offering the bedroom.  We have had cases where a space says 'we don't think this is a fit for us, BUT if you don't find anything else, please let us know.'  This solidarity is so helpful and enters into the broader range of volunteerism that has fueled us along these past few years. 

labels doesnt matter that

labels doesnt matter that much, especially i think we re-enter the renaissence age ;)!

I think its about time for us to celebrate multiplicties:

from my working experience with Maiz(autonomous center for migrants), many of them when in their countries were artist, came here, then being identified as activist only. What we do in our initiativ called "Hybride Körfper" is to use arts as activism to give migrants a voice and to give them confidence and to raise human rights issues. So for example, we have exhibitions on the Maiz windows from migrants or refugees, and we have lecture performance actions involving foreign sex workers. 



Hi Delphine--Does Maiz have a website and, if so, can you supply us with a link? I'd love to learn more.

Yes, but it is in german

Yes, but it is in german :O!!

And they also publishes migrant zine(zine is like a magazine format but independently published) which is in collaboration with another network I associated with called girlszine, about all zines around the world related to women, girls, ect. Pretty cool yeah? I produced a international microfilmmobilecinema project and one of the tours consist of daytime exhibition of these zines with multimedia presentation theme related and in the evening time a cinema event :).

Anyhow, if you want to know more specifically about the above-mentioned "Hybride Körfper" initiative, I can tell you more about it as i am one of the core producer-members and we are actually about to have our meetings this Friday to discuss about our future plans, ect.  You can email me at my fd and would be more than happy to speak with you :).

Here is one of the projects came out of this maiz hybride korfper  called "migrawood", kind of pun on holllywood bollywood. We have done, based on the same concept, performance actions in crossing europe festival and also did this film "non-balkan sister": It is a balck satire and all characters inside are performed by the migrants and questions they ask to the camera are questions they are asked when they entered the country as a foreigner or refugees, so reverse the roles so to speak. But it is also in German and we are yet to translated into english and other languages.

It is shot live and the police in there r real and we nearly got into trouble..

okay, thanks  and sorry to answer so long :)


art as witness

Argentinians are creating some really interesting public art projects to preserve the memories of those who were kidnapped or murdered by the authoritarian government in the 1970s.  In Rosario, Argentina, the artist Fernando Traverso stenciled over three hundred bicycles onto walls in memory of those who were kidnapped off the streets, leaving their bicycles behind.  As in the paper mache doll project, the bicycle stencils are intended to challenge desensitization by leaving references to the atrocities in public spaces.  Here is a link to photos of the bicycles:  Also, a link to a review and slide show from "The Disappeared," a touring exhibit of projects and personal histories from this time period:

Katie Madden

Intern, CVT

Art as witness


Thank you so much for sharing this example of "art as witness". When I read your post, it reminds me of the wonderful intersections of relationships that we can find in our work and efforts. The City of Rosario has declared itself a Human Rights City. For those who would like to learn more about that - New Tactics hosted a dialogue on "Building Human Rights Cities" and a couple of our featured resource practitioners were from the City of Rosario.

I also wanted to share an example of "art as witness" from the therapeutic perspective and public testimony experience of the Trauma Centre in Cape Town, South Africa. They employ the wonderful, expressive tool of "body mapping" - a literal embodiment that allows for creative expression and storytelling. The process of body mapping is done in
a group setting. The basis of the process is opening the space for storytelling, but this story is captured on the image of one's own body. Each participant lies on
a board and someone draws the outline of their body on the board. They
then paint the boards in order to tell their stories. After the initial therapeutic group process, those who wanted to participate shared their body map in a public exhibition as witness and testimony to their families and the broader community.    

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

completely agree with u all

completely agree with u all here :). Being a ex-art history and media major, I think in our time where media and visual elements are increasingly dominant, it is esential for us who work in this field to do parallel Art as Witness so the happenings in history will not be told in ethnocentric ways. This also comes to educating the future generations which as we all know from holocaust is very very powerful how visual stories can transmit and tell the stories of the past.

short-term solution can be useful

Great issue you've brought up Karen.. my suggestion is not a longterm solution, only a small but useful 'daily-web-help' [primarilty for individuals] that I've found to be a key support in my own web-activism, when engaged with other-language-speaking artists / activists, etc:: FREE language translators---

there are more that have come online in recent times, though this one is good for ease-of-use /utility /speed : ' ' seems that COST is such a problem, hence i hope this can be a short-gap help for individuals.




Thanks for sharing this tool, Rob. I've tested it on a few more complicated phrases and it does a pretty good job. Seems it would be especially useful for folks who have foreign language knowledge but no time to translate--this program does the bulk of the work and then one just has to double check it. 


translating---well, has 1 annoying-issue

h3y Karen, glad u found it/know about it; there's 1 problem in using it that I've found: When translating a large-paragraph or page,, will often stop or bug-out, so I try to copy+paste only about 1 or 2 sentences at a time.
Otherwise, it's great-- I'd like to find a better system or perhaps one that's more robust for those "longer" copy+paste paragraphs or pages, but I'd imagine that the "better/stonger" programs are not free;-)


Another free, online translation tool: google translate

Hi Rob - I have another translation tool to add to your list: Google Translate ( What is nice about this tool is that it allows you to translate large pieces of text, and also webpages! Just put in the URL of the website you want translated, and you can navigage through the website in that language. (you can also find a link to this tool on the right sidebar of this website ---------> )

Of course, the translation isn't always great - it is often too literal. But for a free tool, it is as good as it gets, I think. Hope this helps!

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Language barriers in art spaces and activism

Hello all!

Thank you everyone for sharing so many ideas from and about your work!  I really appreciated Karen's point on the role of technology and English profficiency in who gains access to forums like these and how that then impacts on-the-ground activism.

This year, Im a student worker at the New Tactics office and I'm thinking about all the different points that should/could go into the tactical notebook. And the issue of language barriers is one I havent thought of in this context. 

I come from the Czech Republic and English is my second/third language. Whenever I come back home, I cannot help but notice the differences - non-profit organizations that are located in the rural parts of the country often have no English speakers and are thus not even aware and often excluded from what is going on at the European or global level on a similar issue. Their access to forums and conferences is severely limited. 

I would like to pose a few questions regarding this topic to all participants of the dialogue:

When do you experience language barriers the most? Is it online? 

In the case of offering a "safe haven" for an artist/activist, are there any language issues that you could foresee? What are some tactics and approaches to overcome those? 


art helps dissolve language barriers, but language is important

Alicia Marván - artist . curator . activist -

Last session many of the residents did not speak Spanish, and one spoke very little English. They felt very limited in terms of engaging with the community, but art helped a lot in communicating. Still, I have made it a requirement for next session that residents speak & understand Spanish at least at a beginner level. 

language expectations

Some understanding of Spanish seems like a good solution. But Spanish is one of the 'big' languages. at Caravansarai I cannot imagine saying that to our artists. Myself being a foreigner I've had to communicate and 'engage' with my community using a variety of techniques other than language. Money is always a good tool to engage. Buying as much as you can from your very close surroundings can be a good way to show that you (and your artists) are indeed normal people and need normal things, which helps to expel the 'foreigner fright'. 


Also sign language and physically acting out needs and wants can lead to funny situations and 'bonding'. I remember early in my days in Turkey, when my turkish was quite low, trying to explain to the locksmith that there was a key in the inside of my door that prevented me from using the key from the outside. He finally got it, came to my house and easily fixed it. We have had good relations ever since and I always go there to get my keys copied.


Although many artworks these days tend to be heavily research based,  including some physical objects and creations can help to explain what you are doing to your community.   Even video presentations or photographs of what is happening is a tangible thing that can show people (instead of explain to them) what is going on

ummm.. languages.. I have

ummm.. languages..

I have thought about this many times and this has also been brought out in my workplaces so it seems to be on everyones mind..

What I see one possible long term solutions is to enhance of the use of social network:

to have a main site where english is the major language for everyone, but to involve local activists artists communitys resource to have things posted in english translated into local language and vice versa as well as having a subsite for local community.  That will keep diverse voices more democranized. Also to involve social entreprenuers who work in the field and know the locals better to post and link them to the previous group. So again social networking is a big thing in working with these goals. But not to create new social network platform but to make partnerships together.

on languages

First, I would like to express how amazing is to read all these posts. The experiences are great to read, and very inspiring, both as  an artist and art space director.  

I have observed and put lots of thoughts on the language barrier. I really cant figure out how to cross this problem on the internet, specially on a lively discussion like this, impossible to follow even with the use of best language tools available. We deal more with the presence issue, since our art projects are usually done by engaging the local communities. As Portuguese is definitely not one of the "big" languages to say, very few foreigners who come are able to communicate without a translator. But somehow, when the activity or the project starts the barrier seems to fade away; art has this power, to cross cultures and language. Brazilian people are very friendly to the visitors and that seems to help as well, they are usually very open to what the artists has to offer. Sadly, we have to demand that the artists who come speak at least english or spanish, in an ideal situation they would lead the activities in their first language, but that makes the administrative and organization aspects more complicated.

On languages...sharing challenges and adapting ideas

Dear JA.CA,

I really appreciate your insights about the challenge of languages.

Art certainly provides a medium of communication beyond speaking that is incredibly powerful. As a musician, I know this from my own experience of being a part of the power of music that is very much as you stated, "But somehow, when the activity or the project [and I might add here - the music - as another form of art] starts the barrier seems
to fade away; art has this power, to cross cultures and language." 

As an Art Space director, you are all too aware of the limited resources you have at your disposal, and the ideal situation - activities being able to be conducted in every artists' first language - not only makes the administrative and organizational aspects complicated but prohibitive in terms of resource expenses. But I continue to be so encouraged that you and others continue to struggle with this very important key to expression. The arts do have the ability to bridge people and cultures, to heal wounds of misunderstanding. Artists and Art Spaces are boldly leading the way!

New Tactics has been seeking ways
to make these rich dialogue exchanges of experiences more accessible. We would
very much welcome your ideas.

In this virtual world, we have relied
heavily on the written word. The freeDimensional vidoes that share by
visual and spoken word are great to see and hear.At the same time, I'm
sure it has not been an easy task to provide the videos with the
Spanish and Portuguese translations.

Thank you so much for your comment and feedback about the dialogue. I'm
really pleased to know that the dialogue has been inspiring for you
both as an artist and art space director. New Tactics seeks to help activists to connect and inspire each other to test out and adapt
ideas they learn about and share their own experiences. We are counting on people like you - with the languages skills to cross the barriers - to bring these experiences and ideas to others in your own first language.

Please let us know what happens - come back and share those experiences with us too - so the experiences can be further adpated and the ideas travel ever more broadly!

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Not easy work and resource mapping


Thank you for sharing these resources and ideas, Gabriela. It's a really important point you make about the huge undertaking of welcoming an individual in distress into your space, whether that person has been physically attacked or faced lesser forms of exclusion from society. 

As part of the assistance program at the Committee to Protect Journalists [] for three years, we helped and advised hundreds of journalists that were considering leaving their countries either temporarily or permanently. Sometimes their transition into exile went smoothly--more often than not there were many bumps along the way: bureaucratic hurdles getting visas or refugee status, financial struggles as they sought work outside of their country or field, social struggles adapting or relating, psychological struggles as they processed whatever prosecution they had faced or the trauma of exile. 

All this to say that choosing to participate in an act of solidarity, such as engaging an activist in distress in your art space, is not easy. fD sees one of our jobs as trying to facilitate this process by providing resources, connecting individuals to knowledge, and sharing examples of the many forms that this process can take place.

Gabriela provides a great example of mapping resources in one's community in preparation for opening your doors to one of these placements. Understanding the support system in your community is a great first step for those partner centers that would like to accept this kind of work. It can also be an important step for supporting cultural workers that may not be "in distress" but who struggle to produce critical work. A good example of an organization in NY that maps resources specifically for artists is the New York Foundation for the Arts [ This might be an interesting process for Julie and Anika to try in Turkey?

Mapping and sharing information is really a key to this conversation it seems. 

sharing resources

That's definitely a key issue, and it is great to receive this kind of info from the Human Rights folks. There are many grants for the arts, but they vary too much depending on the nationality of the artist, and usually the artists are the ones who have to apply. Does anyone have contacted their International Relations Ministry or Office? I would imagine that it would work in some cases, probably depending on the relationship between the artist's country and the art space's. I would love to hear any experience on this approach, so we can start to think if that would be possible here.

Creative practices to reach and engage communities

Dear Babalola,

Thank you so much for coming in to share about the current situaion in Nigeria. You raise two very important barriers that face many communities - poverty and illiteracy.

It made me think about a number of great examples of using theater as one form of art - and potentially how Art Spaces can be engaged - to reach those communities that are illiterate and very poor.

Bangladesh - as just one example - is another country that faces that combination. An organization, Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), initiated Action
Theatre projects in twelve working areas in Bangladesh. Action Theatre is a form of applied theatre that revolves around the
dramatization of a social problem, after the performance there is a
guided discussion with the participation of the community in
identifying and carrying out solutions. To me, the most powerful aspect of using Action Theatre is its ability to engage the community, bringing out and affirming the knowledge and experience that is within the community itself, and thereby empowering the community to find solutions they are willing to carrying out.

I'm sharing below the link to the Tactical Notebook that is available from ASK, as well as another from RADI in Senegal, that uses a form of interactive theater as well: 

I'm also including below related theater tactics that are found in our New Tactics searchable on-line tactic database: 

As one last resource on this topic, New Tactics conducted a Featured Dialogue on Using Theatre for Human Rights Education and Action in October 2008.

I hope that you will find these resources helpful as you continue to explore creative way to reach and engage your communities. 

How have others used their art spaces or other forms of art to engage illiterate and resource-poor communities in order to bring out the wealth of knowledge and experience for community awareness, mobilization and action?

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Theater as catalyst for personal and social growth

Alicia Marván - artist . curator . activist -

Yes, theater (and specifically Action Theater) has played an important role both in my own growth as an artist, and the development of my social work/community projects. In working with physically-abused and repressed kids, exercises involving role-playing, story-telling, costuming and experimental vocalizations have resulted in amazing progress, specially in building their confidence and creating bonds with other kids and adults.  

Photography as a mirror for cultural development

Alicia Marván - artist . curator . activist -

Another very powerful "art-ivism" tool in creating a sense of place and community is photography. Sometimes when we are immersed in our own little hell, we forget about the beauty that surrounds us. Photography was a great tool used at Guapamacátaro as part of an Ethnographic Research Methods workshop for teenagers led by Gaelyn Aguilar in 2007, where kids were given the assignment to photograph their every-day activities and places they liked in town. Now one of the students organizes an experimental art festival every fall. 

Gardening to fill the heart and stomach

Alicia Marván - artist . curator . activist -

Plants not only are beautiful and provide peace of mind but a healthy and nourished body / environment. Botanic education through art and permaculture practices has been crucial in evolving towards a self-sustained community at Guapamacátaro.  


We invite activists and art spaces to reflect on the following general questions about the role and benefit of support networks in your work. In addition, there a number of questions we hope Art Spaces will address and share about their specific experiences.

General Questions:

  • How have networks and partnerships supported or sustained your work?
  • Can you share a story about how you developed a collaboration or partnership with an art space?
  • What benefits might you gain from partnering with an art space in your community?

Questions for Art Spaces:

  • What collaborations or partnerships has your art space developed (e.g., NGOs, government offices/services, educational institutions, galleries/museums, etc)?
  • How does an art space become a member of the freeDimensional network?
  • What kinds of supports are provided to freeDimensional art spaces? How has your art space used the support?
  • What recommendations would you give to activists about partnering with an art space?
It's all networking

   I believe, though I was not there at the beginning of this relationship, that freeDimensional put out a call for participants in a residency training and ultimately accepted Caravansarai to participate.  Which was fantastic because I think we had not fully considered this world of activism before, and the other possibilities of running a residency program.   So freeDimensional has really supported us and our initiatives, which validated what we were doing.

   Because our art space is not an NGO (impossible for us in Turkey, as well as not economically feasible) networking is the most important way we have of promoting and marketing our programs.  I'm sure Julie can talk more about her experience with Res Artis (the artist-in-residence network) in depth, but it is through them that artists find our about our project.  

   One of the most exciting things about belonging to networks is the possibility of partnering with other artist-run organizations and sharing tactics and ideas.  For instance,  Iz's Cura Bodrum residency is inspiring and she strenuously researches possibilities using networks and workshops.  It is amazing to have another organization in Turkey who is similar to us with whom to share ideas and possibly projects because the majority of other programs in this area of the world are not run by artists but by administrators.  We would not have had the capacity to investigate working together had freeDimensional not insisted upon it!

I had the awesome

I had the awesome opportunity to recently visit Anika, Julie (Caravansarai) and Iz (cura bodrum) in Turkey.  The support program that Anika mentions is called Emerging Art Space Support Initiative.

What expectation does fD have of art spaces

Todd_Lester wrote:
I had the awesome opportunity to recently visit Anika, Julie (Caravansarai) and Iz (cura bodrum) in Turkey.  The support program that Anika mentions is called Emerging Art Space Support Initiative.

Hi Todd,
It would be great if you could share:

  • How do Art Spaces become a part of the freeDimensional "Emerging Art Space Support Initative" - is it still open for others to be a part of it?
  • What are the benefits provided to the Art Spaces?
  • What expectations does freeDimensional have regarding the Art Spaces?

It would also be great to hear from the Art Spaces what their expectations have been from freeDimensional and the other art spaces as they engage together in the "Emerging Art Space Support Iniative".

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Emerging Art Spaces

Hi Nancy .. and thanks for the question.

 The Emerging Art Space Support Initiative (EASSI) evolved very organically.  The freeDimensional network is a horizontal network that is action-oriented.  That is, there are no dues to pay.  If any art space wants to join and agrees with the work that we are doing then they may join our list of art spaces who receive calls for Creative Safe Haven.  This is a private list that we only use for important issues we need to bring to art space members attention.  Over the past few years we have been working to document the Creative Safe Haven process so that we can share lessons learned with art spaces that would like to do this type work.  While it is not set in stone, we have discussed the idea of the organization of fD having an expiration date.  We are discussing this b/c our goal is to mainstream the practice of art spaces hosting activism ... or more simply put to increase legitimacy of art spaces engaging social issues in their communities and globally (whether it be our model of Creative Safe Haven or their own concept).  I mention the possibility of expiration to say that we are not so interested in merely becoming a big membership organization.  We think that the more art spaces interested in providing safe haven, the better our chances are of placing someone quickly ... it is mathematical.  That said, we also see art spaces working directly with human rights organizations and we want to encourage that b/c it is one way to envision sustainability for the developments (increased legitimacy, documentation of lessons learned, community of practice) that fD has seen over the past 5 years. 

 So, in keeping with the idea that hosting activism can be an organic process (thing that art spaces do)  that won't always require our involvement in all cases, we have invested more time and energy this last year in documentation; candid talks about the future of fD; and some clarifying outreach to our human rights partners.  At the same time we have had about 40 emerging art spaces who have approached us to join the network.  Many of them said variations on a common approach ... 'we're new and just building our building or buying our land or developing our programmes .. BUT we want to get involved with social issues in our community and/or globally'.  With this influx of interest it occurred to us that it would actually be these new spaces and new generation of cultural programmers who would be involved in the scaling out of such an idea.  We asked a supporter of fD if they would help us to have a meeting of these emerging spaces; the ability to have this meeting in Canada over the summer created a natural group .. first cohort of EASSI members.  We are keeping record of all other requests (just met a guy starting a space in Hebron yesterday) and as we figure out how we can best help the initial 15 EASSI members we will determine if we have the capacity to take on another cohort.  That said, new art spaces are always welcome to join the fD network regardless of whether they come through our EASSI programme.  Of course it would be great if we could develop that capacity to have an orientation for all new art spaces entering the network, but we want to take some time to develop this in a useful, tailored way for those participants.

 * One last point:  I do believe that the influx of interest expressed by new art spaces is not because fD was a novel idea to them .. i think moreover the staffers at fD and the ideas that we represent are more common in a new generation of cultural programmers .. I think that we find some common ideology amonst our EASSI members.  That said, every space  and person involved is different .. so there is a wide range of ideas; we hope these new ideas will shape the future of the fD network!

Emerging Art Spaces - common goals, unique pathways

Todd_Lester wrote:

I do believe that the influx of interest expressed by new art spaces is not because fD was a novel idea to them .. i think moreover the staffers at fD and the ideas that we represent are more common in a new generation of cultural programmers .. I think that we find some common ideology amonst our EASSI members.  That said, every space  and person involved is different .. so there is a wide range of ideas; we hope these new ideas will shape the future of the fD network!

Hi Todd - I want to thank you for sharing the great overview of the Emerging Art Spaces Support Initiative (EASSI). I was particularly struck by your last comment that I've quoted above, regarding this new generation of cultural programmers. It would be great to hear from you and the Art Spaces sharing more about this perpsective (or ideology) and the desire to increase legitimacy of art spaces engaging social issues in their communities and globally.  I have been impressed and moved by the kinds of community engagement that the art spaces have been sharing about - as you say each unique and creative in their own way. It is especially great to see the ways in which they are exploring and building links and powerful relationships with their communities.

For example, the way in which Lea and Diego from Mamuta share about their view of "activism" is striking, especially in light of their upcoming initiative that is spanning the history (1948  and present), with the narratives (former residents with current neigbors of Mamuta) and the landscape (then and now) is incredibly powerful.

I'd like to know more about how you and the Art Spaces are thinking about "this new generation of cultural programmers". What are the various aspects of this common ideology you mentioned? What is it about this generation of cultural programmers that are so eager or interested to engage in current social issues and connecting with their neighbors/communities? 

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

building our visions and creating our languages

Reading Todd's e-mail, as it always happens to me with freeDimensional, I once again see a whole other side of a process that has been going on. When in Canada, I did not necessarily understand how each art space was having an impact on their community. Now with this conversation, I am able to see so many projects that were in the making coming to life and really finding very unique ways of engaging their own community. In that sense, I do think there is a language and pool of experiences that are being created by "a new generation of cultural programmers".

I find this dialogue to be a succesful tool as it really allows to further a process that was already started in Canada and allow us to be updated about how each one of progresses. 


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