The Community Arts Network Reading Room recently published an interview with Highlander’s cultural organizer, Tufara Waller Muhammad, about how artists can participate most effectively in social justice activism.
Drawing on her experience as an artist, musician, and grassroots organizer, Tufara emphasizes that “Every organizer should be using art and culture as a strategy to help people build bridges.” But she emphasizes that this involves more than artists presenting their work in community settings or participating in three-week community residencies. Instead, she argues, artists must engage in “long-term collaboration” with community people, and they must set aside their desire for personal recognition so they can address the issues that are most important to the community. In her words,
It is really important for community artists to be knowledgeable enough about the local community and their issues in order to be able to inspire people in a way that is related to what is affecting them right then and there. Artists need to be shape shifters who can realize when something isn’t working and be able to shift their agenda in order to address the immediate needs of the community.
Tufara also critizes what she calls “corporate organizing,” which tries to “fit people and relationships into a specific timeline.” And she urges all community artists and activists to “remember that we are building something bigger than the capitalist system. We are building a new world and a new way of thinking.”
You can read the full text of the interview here.