On Nov. 8, Binghamton University’s chapter of March For Our Lives (MFOL) held a virtual art show called, “Artivism: Art of the Gun Violence Prevention Movement.” The MFOL organization was founded days after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, 2018 by the high school’s students, aiming to end the gun violence epidemic in the United States.
The MFOL art show focused on “artivism,” the combination of art and activism. “Artivists” use art to voice political or social ideas, raise awareness and promote change.
Bennett Owens, a senior double-majoring in political science and history, founded the Binghamton University chapter of MFOL in 2018. Owens has since acted as president of the BU chapter of MFOL and spoke of the process of organizing the art show. Owens said the idea for the show began when the Human Rights Institute reached out to members of the BU chapter of MFOL as they planned an annual human rights conference.
“[The Human Rights Institute] were interested in getting someone from [MFOL], one of the founding members to speak,” Owens said. “I think that inspired us to do something like an art show with them. Originally it was going to be tied into the Human Rights Institute Annual Human Rights Conference.”
Owens said that the event was supposed to take place in April and the organization has been planning for the event since the fall of 2019. However, the plans were delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were planning on having it in the spring last semester in coordination with the Human Rights Institute,” Owens said. “We were gonna do it while that conference was going on, and we were going to have a physical art show in the BU Art Museum corridor. We were gonna have a whole art show, have the art hanging up for like a week but then obviously with COVID-19 we had to postpone it to the fall and make it virtual.”
As Owens worked alongside other MFOL E-Board members, they decided to reach out to a founding member of the MFOL movement. In October, Owens contacted David Hogg, a founder of MFOL, through the MFOL Binghamton Instagram.
“[Hogg] said he was really excited,” Owens said. “He thinks that art is really important in terms of the gun violence prevention movement and also just the activism in general. Those kinds of things can change how society is and in doing so, it can change politics. He sees a real connection between art and activism. He was excited to get a chance to speak with us about the connection between those two.”
In the summer of 2020, the E-Board refocused its efforts toward a virtual art show and created advertisements for people to submit their artwork for the virtual art show. They created a Google form where people submitted their works. Owens said the event received support from MFOL New York State.
“In terms of organizing it we have been on our own mostly, but we are also working for [MFOL] New York State,” Owens said. “They are like our parent organization, you could say. They just created a website for just [MFOL] New York State in general, and they created a page on that website for our art show. That’s what we’ll be using to display the artwork.”
MFOL members at BU asked people to submit work that was related to gun violence, gun violence prevention and activism. The art show presented the artists’ work over Zoom and conducted the show as a live webinar. Artists presented their mixed media art, poems, photographs and paintings for others. After artists displayed their work, they expressed their thoughts behind the work and answered questions from audience members.
At the end of the show, Hogg spoke to audience members and expressed his ideas on “artivism.” He gave an inspirational speech where he encouraged people to stay hopeful in their endeavor to make a change and fight for gun violence prevention, stressing that activism comes in many forms. He explained the negative effects of labeling people as passive activists. Additionally, Hogg said that it is important to focus on self-care and explained that self-care for an activist does not mean being passive. Instead, self-care allows each activist to move forward in their process of creating change.
“[Hogg’s] speech reminded me that there are so many different ways to be an activist, and each is crucial to making change,” Owens said. “I think, as activists, we sometimes feel like we are being selfish if we take time for ourselves. But we need to take care of ourselves if we’re going to be in this fight for the long haul and ultimately make the change we wish to see.”
The artwork from the show can be found at mfolnewyork.org under the “MFOL BU Art Show” tab. The recording of the art show has been made public on the MFOL Binghamton YouTube channel.