Art is subversive. As such, it is strategic and dangerously good. We live in a generation that often rejects absolute truth as restricting and absolute authority as oppressive. Science, logic, reason, and theology still have a place in our society, but not as the final authority when it comes to truth. Instead, we also want to explore, to feel, to experience, and to piece together our own understanding of what is true and what is helpful. Art strategically allows and encourages that. In some transcendent way, art can bypass the mind and speak directly to the heart. It facilitates reflection and allows its audience to personalize their own understanding of meaning. As such, I believe it is one of the most strategic and powerful ways to speak truth to power, rebuild communities, and to perhaps recapture our sense of wonder and bit our own hearts in the process.
My sense of calling and purpose is to end poverty, hunger and homelessness. Yet 17 years ago I had the realization that it was not the scientist, politician, or pastor that was going to be most strategic in doing so. Rather, I believe it to be the artist, the actor, the poet, the screenwriter, the creatives in this world that will be most vital in capturing the heart of this generation and helping to reorient it toward a life lived for others. In 1999, while struggling as a starving artist and writer, I created an artist cooperative called Mad Romantic Poets to do just that. I’ve poured the last two decades of my life into organizing, mentoring, and investing in artists. I launched a global underground art project in 2001 called the Echo-Man Project to engage artists on every continent in a larger conversation about how they might find their unique place in changing the world. This year I finished a 15-year book project called Searching for the Echo-Man which uses art, story, and symbol to help artists and change agents explore our search for meaning, purpose, identity, and a place within the pages of a larger story.
One current creative expression of this is taking place in the Osborn neighborhood of East Detroit. I’ve helped to organize a group of artists in a series of public art projects on Gratiot and 6 Mile. I could use your help. This April, artists in Osborn will deck themselves in Hazmat suits, wrap up an entire block of abandoned, blighted storefronts in plastic, and “quarantine” the buildings to creatively address some of the structural issues that impact the poor in their community. The next day, community members will paint the entire block white, turning it into a blank canvas for community members to create upon. A series of community meetings will be held for community members to re:envision the space. Soon after, my core team of artists will lead teams of community members in their shared community visions on this block-long blank canvas.
This project will also be used to draw attention to and recruit participation in an Osborn Stakeholder Anti-Poverty Public Policy Group, an Osborn Anti-Poverty Summit and Coalition, and the Live in Osborn campaign to revitalize other public spaces in the Osborn community.
In a few weeks, I will be traveling to meet with artists and artisans in East Africa to discuss and explore creative relief efforts on the continent. In May, I will be evaluating anti-poverty efforts in South India for a month in hopes of translating some of these ideas into sustainable projects throughout the developing world and also in East Detroit. Artists play an incredibly important role in reshaping the discussion about poverty and social justice. I’m so honored to create change alongside of them.