What is Artistic Activism?

There is an art to every practice, activism included. It’s what distinguishes the innovative from the routine, the elegant from the mundane. One thing that can help the “art of activism” is art, that is: applying an artistic aesthetic to activist tactics, strategy, and organization. Throughout history, the most effective political actors have married the arts with campaigns for social change. While Martin Luther King Jr. is now largely remembered for his example of moral courage, social movement historian Doug McAdam’s estimation of King’s “genius for strategic dramaturgy” better explains the success of his campaigns. The practice of artistic activism has only accelerated in recent times, as organizers have learned to operate within the increasingly mediated political terrain of signs and symbols, stories and spectacles. Artistic activism is not arts and activism, it is the melding of the two. It is not about using art as a window dressing for politics, nor is it about using politics as mere content matter for art.  It is an approach to civic engagement that integrates the aesthetic and the political. Artistic activism is a hybrid.


What is Arts and Activism @ NYU?

Started with a two-year Working Research Group grant from the Humanities Initiative at New York University and has expanded into much more. Arts and Activism @ NYU is an intellectual home for scholars and artists to discuss, research, reflect upon and build connections between civic activism and artistic creation, generating new forms of knowledge at the intersection of theory and practice. We seek to build connections and strengthen networks between people and groups at New York University working at the intersection of creativity and politics. For the past two years, we’ve hosted a series of open forums on topics germane to the study of arts activism, such as efficacy, funding, affect, the power of play, ethics and many more. Our most exciting development is the establishing of an interdisciplinary concentration in Arts and Activism, available to a variety of M.A. degree programs each with their own individualized path.


What is the M.A. Concentration in Arts and Activism?

The Arts and Activism concentration is a compilation of pre-existing coursework across various departments at New York University. The concentration includes the following courses:



The Core and Elective Courses will be determined on a regular and ongoing basis by the Arts and Activism faculty Steering Committee, and drawn from courses already on the books and currently being taught at NYU.  The Elective Courses will be drawn from a range of programs, acknowledging and taking into account that some graduate programs at NYU offer their students very limited flexibility in their non-program course selection. The Ensemble Project will be a collective, student-led annual project that encompassed and expressed their studies and work in Arts and Activism, and would subjected to a faculty crit.

In addition to these curricular components, the Arts and Activism concentration, working with already existing NYU institutions like Arts and Activism @ NYU, the Hemispheric Institute, Yes Labs, and member programs, will sponsor regular lectures, discussion lunches, provide archival resources, and other activities to foster a sense of collegial community and contribute to an invigorating intellectual atmosphere.


By completing these courses, as well as participating in and taking advantage of additional events and resources, students will be able to cultivate strong working relationships with faculty already engaged in this practice, thus strengthening the work already being done in various different parts of the university. It will also create a network that operates across schools, disciplines, and majors, creating generative, and hopefully long-lasting, partnerships in a field where collaboration is crucial. 

Currently all courses are only listed under the department offering them, but in time with continued support and collaboration, coursework could be cross-listed to allow for more exchange across programs and easier access and completion of the concentration.


What M.A. Programs offer a concentration in Arts and Activism @ NYU?


Art, Education, and Community Practice

Art and Public Policy

Gallatin: Individualized Study

Media, Culture, and Communications

Performance Studies

Social and Cultural Analysis 


Who is Arts and Activism @ NYU?

Core Planning Committee 

David Darts, Art and Art Professions, Steinhardt

Dipit Desai, Art and Art Professions, Steinhardt

Stephen Duncombe, Gallatin School; Media, Culture and Communication, Steinhardt

Faye Ginsburg, Anthropology, CAS

Lynn Gumpert, Grey Art Gallery Director

Randy Martin, Art and Public Policy, Tisch

Nick Mirzoeff, Media, Culture and Communication, Steinhardt

Andrew Ross, Social and Cultural Analysis, CAS

Marita Sturken, Media, Culture and Communications , Steinhardt

Diana Taylor, Hemispheric Institute; University Professor


NYU Affiliated Faculty

Sinan Antoon, Gallatin School

Wafaa Bilal, Photography and Imaging, Tisch

Yemane Demissie, Television and Film, Tisch

Kathy Engels, Arts and Public Policy, Tisch

Alexander Galloway, Media, Culture and Communication, Steinhardt

Kristin Horton, Gallatin School

Natalie Jeremijenko, Arts and Arts Professions, Steinhardt

Jill Lane, Spanish and Portuguese, CAS

Ara Merjian, Italian & Art History, CAS

Eve Meltzer, Gallatin School

Nick Mirzoeff, Media, Culture and Communication, Steinhardt

Lissette Olivares, Gallatin School

Orlando Pabotoy, Drama, Tisch

Laura Portwood-Stacer, Media, Culture and Communication, Steinhardt

Laurin Raikin, Gallatin School

Mark Read, Gallatin School

Jacques Servin, Hemispheric Institute; Yes Lab @ NYU

Carl Skelton, NYU-Poly

Marita Sturken, Media, Culture and Communication, Steinhardt

Jack Tchen, Gallatin School; Social and Cultural Analysis, CAS

Ella Shohat, Arts and Public Policy, Tisch; Middle Eastern Studies, CAS

Robert Stam, University Professor

Juan de Dios Vázquez, Spanish and Portuguese, CAS

Ted Ziter, Drama, Tisch


Affiliated Faculty Elsewhere

L. M. Bogad, University of California, Davis

Steve Lambert, SUNY Purchase

Benjamin Shepard, City Tech, CUNY