“I believe we all have the capacity to change the world at all times in everything we do, so yes, of course design can change the world!” Betsy Greer’s contagious enthusiasm empowers her to create real change in society by encouraging her viewers to start putting excuses aside and putting hard work, hope, and effort at the forefront. She saw injustice everywhere, but this did nothing to discourage her: “The world was broken in many ways, so how can we use our talents to make it less so?”
Aiming to improve our world, she’s curated Making Change: The Art and Craft of Activism, an exhibition held at MODA in Atlanta until September 9 showcasing pieces by artivists. Immigration, feminism, and social integration are just some of the themes the exhibition tickles; Greer implores visitors to begin a discussion surrounding these topics After all, having conversations and discussions is what makes our moral codes move forward, isn’t it?
Betsy, you graduated with an M.A. in Sociology from Goldsmiths College in London. Were there particular social issues that led you to become interested in activism?
I did! I was working with my feelings around activism the year before I went to Goldsmiths, thinking about how activism can be done in myriad ways. It was less about one issue and more about seeing that the world was broken in many ways, so how can we use our talents to make it less so?
How did your study of sociology lead you to create craftivism? What connections do you see between activism and artwork?
I started thinking about the connection between craft and craftivism in 2002, but didn’t write about it publicly until the spring of 2003. In the fall of 2003, I went to Goldsmiths. It was just about connecting the dots that were already there, really, as I had studied conceptual art while doing my undergraduate degree in the late ‘90s and knew that what we make can tackle different issues. When I started knitting, I started looking at the ways in which I could help others with it, which at that time, meant making items and donating them to charities – something my grandmother had done for years, as she made hats for new infants at the local hospital she volunteered for. In that way, what we make has the chance to create changes in the fabric of our world, whether it’s knitting a tiny baby hat or doing something on a larger scale.
In MODA’s mission statement, you state that “we envision a world that celebrates design as a creative force that inspires change, transforms lives, and makes the world a better place.” Can design indeed change the world? How will Making Change: the Art and Craft of Activism meet these requirements?
The statement is one MODA adopted and created, so it was already in place for me to work with. I believe we all have the capacity to change the world at all times in everything we do, so, yes, of course design can change the world! As we live, we are changing the world through what we do, what we say and how we think. The trouble starts when one begins to think that either there are too many problems to bother or that one person can’t make a difference. In those cases, it can be helpful to remember that our daily actions create ripples in the fabric of the universe too.
What is the inspiration for this project, and what effect do you hope it will have on its viewers? Will it be farther reaching than just the artistic community?
I wanted to put items together that were in fragile mediums (textiles, ceramics, paper) to show how they can be strong in direct contrast to current statements being made by some in power in the United States. These objects show how deeply the makers care about the various issues, by the time spent and ideas shared. It is my hope that, shown together, the works help people talk about difficult issues that the show may evoke or get people thinking about how they can express their feelings with what they can make with their hands.
Do you think that MODA has inspired social change in Atlanta? How?
I don’t live in Atlanta, so I’m not sure. However, in knowing about some of the shows MODA has brought to the city, I think it is helping redesign how people think about creative work, creativity in general and design itself, all constructs that are wide reaching and ever expanding.
The obvious theme of this exhibition is community cohesion. How have you seen people brought together by artwork? Is this an effective tool for integrating marginalized people into society?
With work that evokes feelings, especially feelings about political and activist conversations that have been happening in the United States for decades, if not longer, it’s tough to bring everyone together about everything. But one conversation can spark another. And then another. Regarding efficacy for integrating marginalized communities, that depends on the viewers themselves from communities I can’t personally speak for. However, it is my hope that show helps create conversation and offers examples of how one can use their own unique voice to speak up for their beliefs and life experiences.
Shannon Downey launched the Badass HERstory project, which will unite all female artists (including those who are female-identified and non-binary people). Thank you for including all women! What kind of collective community are you hoping to create?
You’ll have to speak with Shannon about this project, but I hope it gives people a chance to connect over their own unique stories, as we all may be different in many ways but overlap in many others too – it’s just that sometimes it’s hard to see where those overlapping places are. I love that the addition of the Badass HERstory project will provide a space for people to share their work publicly. So great!
How have female-identified and non-binary women been traditionally excluded from the narrative, and what can we do to better incorporate them into our community?
For a long time, there were gatekeepers who believed only certain voices should be heard. Thankfully, as time has progressed, so has culture, exposing the likeness of so much cultural production from people from all walks of life. I think that seeing the similarity of those previously being praised can help people better understand why the call for inclusion is needed, necessary and exciting. Including other voices means widening the pool of creativity and ideas, which is great for everyone.
For the Welcome Blanket project, developed by Jayna Zweiman, you state that you want to create a blanket long enough to cover the distance of Trump’s proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico. What do you think of President Trump? Should the wall be erected, what effect do you think it will have between the two countries’ relations? Is this a step backwards for your cause?
The Welcome Blanket was created by Jayna, so I can’t speak to her intentions, but I definitely support projects that aim to get people involved in making their communities more welcoming.
The Welcome Blanket project not only serves to highlight the experiences of immigrants and refugees, but also to provide them with these blankets and words of welcome. You emphasize the importance of assisting immigrants and refugees to integrate properly into our community. What need do you see for this? How do you view the current political and social attitudes towards these people? What other problems should they expect to face in this climate?
Again, I can’t speak for this project, but I can speak for the will, work and hope of many in the United States to make our country more friendly, welcome and inviting to people from all over the world, despite what some politicians may think and say. While the rhetoric of some may be that individuals from differing cultures may not have a place here, I am heartened by the words, actions and goals of many to override the statements of a few.
What should we look forward to in this exhibition? Do you have a personal favorite piece?
In this show, there are pieces expressing many different discussions currently happening in the United States, but not all of them. I could have filled five museums with related work, but am happy to share the work of those selected to spread their unique voices, experiences and talents. To me, this show is an invitation for people to think about how they can use their own individual skills to share their experiences, beliefs and opinions in a creative way.
Making Change: The Art and Craft of Activism, curated by Betsy Greer, will be on view until September 9 at the Museum of Design Atlanta, 1315 Peachtree St. NE Atlanta (GA).