Can Art Change the World?

Growing up I was confronted with the choice between sports or arts as my extracurricular hobbies. I tried to do both but this only lasted awhile before I burnt out trying to balance two separate worlds. Not only were they separate groups of people but one was valued above the other, sports being the popular form of achievement for my public school. Art was put aside until I finished my academic studies; it was only when the soccer game finished that I picked up my camera. Photography keeps coming back into my life. In high school after finishing most of my required classes I finally had time to focus on the arts. It was there that I developed my first roll of film and discovered the wonder of creating an image from a blank piece of paper. I snuck a couple of classes in during college determined to continue this creative outlet. Again I found myself with an extra semester to fill with photography classes. I began to discover the power of photography as a vehicle for social change. “Richmond Through Our Eyes” was my first experiment using photography as medium for changing perspective and bringing together different sectors of society. This exhibit displayed photographs taken by youth from the community along with my own portraits of the youth. I aimed to bring together and reflect the diversity of youth in Richmond revealing their own perceptions of their identity as well as what I saw. This first exhibit revealed to me the power of photography as a tool for self-expression and empowerment especially for those facing poverty and struggling with their own identity. As I graduated from Earlham College, I found myself one class short of a double major, I have my Bachelor of Arts in International Studies with photography close behind it.

After college I finally focused my work on this connection between social change and art. Two friends and I founded a project, The Art Affect. Which focused on this connection. We facilitated the development of young leaders to be motivated and capable of creating innovative solutions to pressing social issues through art. We worked with youth throughout the Seattle area cultivating their self-expression through the arts and displaying it in the public sector. Today, the Art Affect has become a sustainable program of the Metro-YMCA and a community of youth artists working together to make their community a better place.

It is here that I entered TYO first as an intern and today as the Triple Exposure Coordinator. I have once again left the sports field this time to coach youth here in Nablus in picking up a camera. I am excited to continue to use arts as a tool for empowerment as it can be the first step towards change in their lives. The children that come to our center need this change. They come from lives crowded with poverty, schools without room for creativity, places where new ideas are only dreams not realized. That is why the Triple Exposure program is so important. Photography trains us to see what we can’t otherwise notice, the beauty in the seemingly ordinary, and the hope in the crowded streets of the camps. Not only does it empower the photographer but also it tells a story. The story of life in Nablus a story that you now can see, read about and share. A story that has the potential to inspire change and does so just in it’s creation.

So what do you think? Can art change the world? Let’s see.


Abi is the Triple Exposure Coordinator