The Blog

10 Artists & Arts-Based Initiatives Making the World a Better Place

Artists and organizations that integrate art-based practices into their programming play an important role in our collective efforts to address global inequality, social injustice, and the climate crisis. Put more positively, artists and arts-based movements are proven leaders and partners in pushing global goals forward, whether it be gender justice, climate action, good governance, decolonization, education, or other goals. 

The arts support people to think about social issues differently, critically, or even be their entry point into thinking about them at all. Art assists people to become more socially conscious, invites the sharing of new ideas and skills, (re)connects us to place and community, helps to effectively disseminate information, and breaks down complex ideas to make them more accessible. 

In celebration of International Development Week, we are highlighting 10 artists and art-based initiatives that are showing just how powerful art is as a tool to bring about a more inclusive, just, equitable and sustainable world.

Lisa Thompson, Project Director & Country Representative in Guyana, Justice Education Society

a group of youth producing art as a means to explore gender equality

Lisa Thompson is a mostly self-taught artist who has been using art to raise awareness of sexual and gender based violence in Guyana’s Barima/Waini region (Region One) within Amerindian communities, particularly with girls and women. As the Project Director and Country representative of the JES Guyana project, “Strengthening Justice for women, girls and Indigenous Peoples in Guyana” (2022-2026), Lisa and her staff have used painting and tie dying techniques to engage the Baramita and Santa Rosa communities in discussions around sexual and gender-based violence and how communities can work together to address and reduce incidences of violence within their communities.

Many remote communities do not have access to exploring art and it can often be used to engage women and youth, providing opportunities that allow them to express their thoughts and feelings in a way that facilitates discussions in a relaxed environment.

The JES team was able to host introductory sessions with women, young girls and boys, engaging them in discussions around what their understanding of violence is, what resources are needed and how they could work both individually and together to reduce the incidences of violence within their communities. These activities will continue to be implemented as the team continues to implement the project over the next three years. 

Lisa Thompson’s art focuses on pottery which can be seen on her Facebook page, Scarlet Ibis Pottery. She also paints and works with mosaics and tie-dying.

To learn more about Justice Education Society’s programming, head to their website.

Mursal Azizi, Freelance Graphic Designer

Mursal Azizi is an Afghan woman artist currently living in Pakistan. As a professional graphic designer, her work can take many directions based on the needs of her clients, but in large part she partners with NGOs in the international cooperation sector that work in the areas she herself is passionate about: women’s empowerment, peace, development and Afghanistan. She holds a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from Kabul University and a master’s degree in digital animation from India.

She does graphic design, animation, other forms of art and documentary film making. She has used her expertise in the arts to support numerous campaigns advancing human rights, gender equality and international cooperation throughout her career. 

Mursal Azizi, Freelance Graphic Designer

“I have worked as a graphic designer with CARD-F, a UK based organization, as an illustration specialist with a project called LITACA (Livelihoods Improvement in Tajik-Afghan Cross-Border Areas), a project of the UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], and as a contracted animator with the US Institute for Peace (USIP). I [have also] created two short animations for this project “solidarity” and “dream of peace” aimed to promote social peace building throughout Afghanistan.”

Mursal has also created the artwork used in CW4WAfghan’s campaign calling on Canada’s higher education institutions to take actions to support women in Afghanistan affected by the ban on women in higher education, as well as many other CW4WAfghan projects.

Graphic design by Mursal Azizi

Graphic design by Mursal Azizi for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan’s campaign in response to the newest human rights violations that are preventing women and girls in Afghanistan from realizing their human right to education

She now works as a remote freelance graphic designer. As a refugee in Pakistan, she is unable to access employment there, and so remote freelancing allows her to utilize her expertise, support causes she’s passionate about, and generate necessary income. 

To see more of Mursal’s work or to hire her for your next campaign or project, head to her website here.

Kasha Sequoia Slavner, Filmmaker

Kasha is an award-winning Gen-Z filmmaker, photographer, entrepreneur, young global leader, and climate and peace advocate from Toronto, Canada. At the age of 14, Kasha joined the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW). As a concerned high school student, disillusioned and outraged by the negativity and powerlessness she felt as a consumer of mainstream media, Kasha was compelled to find an alternative narrative. She founded the Global Sunrise Project, a social impact storyteller hub creating media that inspires people to make positive change and is currently developing a documentary aiming to inspire a unified movement for peace and climate justice called “1.5 Degrees of Peace”.

[The documentary] will explore stories of young people, especially those most affected by climate change and conflicts, who are working to break down the silos between peace and climate justice movements. Their journeys to find positive solutions and hold leaders accountable, while challenging their own fears and anxieties, ignites courage within us to take action alongside them, and unify a movement for peace and climate justice for all

They are still accepting donations to help make this film a reality! To donate and receive further updates on the film, sign up to their newsletter at 1.5 Degrees of Peace.

Bertha Mukonda, Different Abilities & Youth Mental Health Specialist, VIDEA

As VIDEA’s Different Abilities and Youth Mental Health Specialist, Bertha is passionate about gender equality and creating supportive and inclusive spaces for young people with disabilities. She is always pursuing new opportunities to engage in global issues, whether that be in the classroom as she pursues her Masters in Special Education at the University of Zambia or through her participation in international programmes such as the 2020 Spur Change Youth Champions Program and in the Coady International Institute’s Women’s Leadership in Community Development program – just to name a few.  She’s also a very talented singer and spoken word poet.

Bertha was an active participant at the Commission on the Status of Women’s (CSW) 65th and 66th sessions through BCCIC’s delegations. CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Often, high level fora such as CSW is exclusive and inaccessible. Through her participation at CSW, Bertha strived to challenge this, and to bring disabilities rights to the forefront of discussions. She created a spoken word poem on women’s empowerment as part of her participation in BCCIC’s delegation and shared her reflections participating in CSW65 here.

As a highly talented singer and spoken word poet, Bertha finds ways to use her talents and gifts to inspire people, educate them, and bring them closer into community. She can often be found singing at VIDEA’s weekly global storytelling events.

Blackout Theatre

still from blackout theatre production

Blackout Theater creates socially conscious, contemporary and innovative theatre that supports emerging immigrant and refugee artists, while also exposing current social issues at the local and global level. While their shows were historically produced in Persian, in recent years they have increasingly been expanding on their English productions in order to introduce Persian theatre to broader audiences in BC, bridging divides and engaging a wider public about Persian culture and realities.

They’re a registered non-profit here in BC, and their mission is “to create innovative and original theatre experiences that engage and invite people to think critically about the community and inspire them to dig deeper into themselves.”

Blackout Theater’s annual Strength Through Art Network Diversity (STAND) Festival, taking place in North Vancouver, centres and supports the voices of immigrant and refugee artists and addresses social issues concerning race, class and gender  dance, music and theatre performances as well as free knowledge sharing workshops.

Arts for Social Change, GECCO & Global Citizens Events

Arts for Social Change is a Kelowna-based initiative, led by Global Citizens Events and the Global Empowerment Coalition of the Central Okanagan (GECCO), that invites artists of all ages to create art that reflects on, or engages with, one or more of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This is a long standing tradition in Kelowna, and while for many years the initiative focused on visual artists, it has since expanded in the last year or two to feature artists using various other mediums as well such as music, voice, video, drama, poetry, spoken work and textile arts.

The artwork submitted by community members is showcased at the Arts for Social Change public art exhibit at the Rotary Centre for the Arts, plus multiple other venues throughout the city. The exhibit is an accessible and creative entry point for the general public to think about social and environmental justice issues and get involved in addressing them as global (and local!) citizens.

The initiative brings in artists of all experience levels, from professional artists in the community to young students looking to connect the social or environmental justice issues they see around them to global goals through art.

This is part of a youth movement for positive and sustainable change in our city and world focused on people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships. Learn more here

Next Season Project, MINAE & IISD

Next Season (2021) is a project of the Directorate of Climate Change of the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE), in partnership with International Institute on Sustainable Development (IISD), which has used art to push climate change communications to a new level in Costa Rica.

The project explored the synergies between contemporary art and science to propose innovative approaches to explore and address climate change, adaptation, mitigation, and climate action. The initiative “fostered new language and aesthetics in artistic expressions that speak to the climate emergency by promoting eight artist residencies in some of the most prominent scientific centres in Costa Rica.” 

Next Season connected artists with organizations and researchers working to address the climate crisis, so that those with artistic visions and scientific backgrounds passionate about the climate crisis could challenge one another, resulting in the creation of artworks that invite fresh thinking about climate and environmental problems. The artwork created through the project was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MADC), which was visited by about 700 people.

“I believe that art is a wonderful vehicle for connecting emotions and for inspiring us. That is what we have sought to do so by combining the science, which is difficult to understand, with art. It's like connecting the brain to the heart.”

Through their artwork, the artists pose urgent questions about the impact of climate change on different aspects of life. “With their cross-disciplinary approaches, the eight pieces exhibit different strategies to address the climate crisis, from direct confrontation to a thought-provoking poetic approach.”

Another element of the project has been its exhibition Next Season: Art and Science in the Face of the Climate Future, which has combined the artists’ research interests with climate change information, lived experiences, and data. The exhibit, and the project more broadly, led to the engagement of students at different levels in discussions and reflections about the climate emergency from an artistic point of view.

South-South Art Fellowship, Living Arts International

The South-South Arts Fellowships is an international arts project launched by Living Arts International (LAI) in 2022 that aims to nurture wider and deeper connections among cultural workers within the Global South. The Fellowships support initiatives that enable long-term professional networks, alliances and collaborations among cultural workers living and working in developing economies in Africa (including North Africa), Asia (including West Asia and Central Asia) and the Pacific. Acutely aware of the limited support available for South-South connectivity in arts, culture and heritage, LAI launched this fellowship to mend the gap.

Despite the lack of support available for south to south knowledge exchange within the arts, “there remains deep interest among cultural workers in connecting with peers within one’s region as well as across the Global South, given the many similarities in our political, cultural and socio-economic contexts.” It is in response to this existing gap and urgent need in the transnational cultural exchange ecosystem that LAI created the South-South Arts Fellowships.

LAI is a non-profit that connects Cambodian Living Arts (CLA) and Mekong Cultural Hub (MCH), both of which have been supporting cultural workers in Cambodia, southeast Asia and beyond, since 1998 and 2018 respectively.

To learn more about the initiative, head to their website.

Art2030, Inter-Council Network

The Inter-Council Network’s Art2030 initiative brought together eight artists from various communities across Canada, and engaged them in the production of a zine focused on SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities. They asked the artists two questions: 1) What inequalities do you see in your communities? and 2) How do you think we will be able to build a world with reduced inequalities? 

Artists featured in the zine included beadwork artists, photographers, poets, designers, painters, and visual artists, from across intersections, and their creations have inspired us. And so, through these creations, the zine hopes to inspire, and plant seeds for change in people and communities.

Meet an artist featured in the zine:
Stormy Bradley | Yukon | She/They

Stormy Bradley is of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and Norwegian Ancestry has completed the foundations of art program at the School of Visual Arts in Dawson City, Yukon. Stormy is multidisciplinary artist utilizing from the land materials blending traditional knowledge to create contemporary works. Through her work she explores themes of identity, intersectional feminism, and decolonization.

Follow them on instagram to see more of Stormy’s art @stormybradleydesigns

Artists & Climate Change

As written in their about us:

In 2005, in an article titled “What the Warming World Needs Now Is Art, Sweet Art,” 350.org founder Bill McKibben wrote that although we knew about climate change, we didn’t really know about it; it wasn’t part of the culture yet. “Where are the books? The plays? The goddamn operas?” he asked. An intellectual understanding of the scientific facts was not enough – if we wanted to move forward and effect meaningful change, we needed to engage the other side of our brains. We needed to approach the problem with our imagination. And the people best suited to help us do that, he believed, were the artists.

And we have indeed seen deeply-engaged, throughout-provoking and artistically-savvy responses to climate change… in galleries, concert halls and theaters. “Finally, the cold scientific facts were being translated into human emotions. Finally, we had guidance, or at the very least a departure point for reflection. Finally, this huge, intangible issue that is climate change was being broken down into small personal components. And that was just the beginning.”

Art engaging with the climate crisis can be found all over the world, in all sorts of mediums, in all kinds of venues. In opera houses, in rap battles, in poetry slams, in art galleries and theatres, in classrooms. That’s where Artists & Climate Change comes in. It’s a blog that tracks these works around the world and gathers them in one place. It is both a study of what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject.