On Art, Activism, and Journalism

by Katie Brigham, ’13

I’m used to hearing various iterations of the question “What are you going to do with that?” It’s not annoying, it’s a totally reasonable response given my academic choices. I’m an International Relations major with a shockingly broad concentration (“Comparative Culture and Society”) and a Studio Art minor. I’ve spent summers volunteering abroad, summers doing research, and summers holed up the darkroom working on myriad analogue photography projects. As of late, I’m also a Journalism co-term. Given that the title of this degree is also the title of a professional field, I’ve been getting the “What are you going to do with that?” question less.

But: I really don’t know yet if I want to be just a journalist.

So if I’m not in a talkative mood, I’ll answer That Question in a sort of, “Yeah man, I don’t know, LOL!” kind of way. But if I’m feeling more expansive, you’ll hear all about how genuinely exciting I think the intersection of art, culture, and international affairs is. I’ll muse about journalism as an art form. Potentially talk about how using both photography and journalism to tell unbiased stories has made me feel more productive in addressing issues of social justice than any other experience in my life.

Hence my latest answer to That Question is that maybe I want to be a multimedia journalist. It is a field that is both artistic and objective. Through imagery the multimedia journalist reveals truths in order to inform the public at large. This all sounds really grand, it’s just that there are a lot of fairly trivial stories out there. So… really I want to be a multimedia journalist that only covers issues that I care about. Understandably, the real world doesn’t let students do this. Thus, when I heard about a new group that would allow me to act as the hybrid Journalist-Artist-Activist that I dream of becoming, I jumped at the opportunity to get involved.

The Creative Activist Network (CAN), is a new initiative of the nonprofit organization Students of the World, which has worked since 1999 to get students involved in addressing issues of social justice through multimedia production. CAN provides students with video, photo, and audio equipment to rent free of charge, as well as distribution opportunities through Participant Media’s affiliated social action network, TakePart.com. It lets me be a Journalist-Artist-Activist, but that’s certainly not what you have to be. You can be a Programmer-Activist, a Documentarian-Journalist, a Writer-Photographer-Revolutionary, etc. With the Creative Activist Network, you can muster any inclination towards creativity and artistic expression that you have and combine it with more traditional academic disciplines (or not!) to create something artistic, informative, relevant and powerful.

Concrete examples may be needed at this point. Students involved are currently working to produce content that revolves around the issue of hunger. Then, the highest quality projects are featured on TakePart.com. One student is doing a photography project on homeless people in the Bay Area. Another is working to create a video that compares rates of malnutrition throughout the world. And another is writing an article based on her friend’s experience with poverty and hunger growing up. Some members have experience as writers, some have experience with various art forms, and some have no experience with any of it. The point is ultimately to provide an outlet for anyone and everyone to combine their various interests in a practical way, whether or not they’ve done anything like that before.

The extensive support network that the Creative Activist Network provides truly makes it possible for students from all backgrounds to create a quality project in the span of a single quarter. Throughout the production process, members have one-on-one meetings with the Creative Activist Network’s student leaders (currently myself and fellow senior Andrew Baek), who are experienced with various forms of multimedia. All members then come together for weekly meetings, where we share ideas and provide advice on each other’s projects. Finally, near the end of the production process, Students of the World staff members provide feedback on drafts of student work. In this way, students of all experience levels are able to learn from both each other as well as media professionals.

Prior to joining this group, I considered myself to be “bad at activism”, at least in the way in which I used to define it. That is, I often found myself questioning the impact that one more outraged picket sign could have to change people’s minds. I’ve wondered whether impassionedly preaching about a cause turns as many people off as it brings on board. But I’ve learned that activism doesn’t have to be so blatant. I’ve learned that at least for me, what feels the most impactful is being the person that publishes a picture of the angry picket signs or writes an article about the protest. I want to be the one that captures a moment, informs others that it happened, and why it happened. The Creative Activist Network lets me do this. Students can make their work a call to action or an objective analysis, but first and foremost the work we create aims to inform.

Ultimately, on a campus where I’ve seen many students let go of their artistic side as their schedules fill up, I’m excited that an opportunity like The Creative Activist Network exists. It is interdisciplinary initiatives like this that make art a practical endeavor for students with too much on their plates already. So talk to me! Let’s ponder how journalism can make a difference, how art can make a difference, and how whatever you’re majoring in can make a difference. Moreover, let’s figure out how you can combine all of these things (I bet that you can!) to potentially make an even bigger difference.

Katie is a senior interested in all of the things she just talked about and a co-leader of the Creative Activist Network. She also likes concerts, camping, sarcasm, and hats. If you’re interested in getting involved with the Creative Activist Network and/or talking about life, you can reach her at katieb1 at stanford dot edu. 

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One thought on “On Art, Activism, and Journalism

  1. Brianne says:

    Thank you for this!!

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