Virtual Roundtable: Art and Activism in a Time of Social Distancing

Speaker(s): Center for Media at Risk

Art and Activism in a Time of Social Distancing

In May of 2020, citing the need to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney proposed a budget for 2021 that, among other dramatic cuts and reallocations, eliminated all $4.17 million of the city’s arts funding while increasing the police budget by $14 million. In June, the nationwide outrage over the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and countless other Black lives lost at the hands of police or armed civilians moved thousands of Philadelphians to take to the streets demanding justice.

As galleries and arts spaces remained shuttered throughout the summer, artists and arts workers—who often operate in an insular art world removed from everyday social realities—found themselves wondering how they could best contribute their time and efforts to both protesting the proposed FY21 budget, and to supporting the movement for Black lives. What is the place of the arts in activism and community organizing? How can creative practitioners harness their skills, energy and know-how in service of collective political action? And how can they contribute most effectively in this moment, when opportunities to organize in person have been severely limited by a global health crisis?

Join us for an online panel discussion with three Philadelphia arts administrators who spearheaded the Philly Arts for Black Lives open letter and campaign, and the No to Zero for the Arts campaign in response to the city’s COVID-19 budget. The conversation will cover the role of artists and arts organizations in social justice initiatives, the challenges of organizing in a time of social distancing, and how arts and academic institutions can become aware of and rectify their own complicity in white supremacist structures.


Maori Karmael Holmes (she/her) is the Artistic Director of BlackStar Film Festival, which she founded in 2012. She has organized programs in film at a myriad of organizations including Anthology Film Archives, Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), The Underground Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art—where she organized screening programs in conjunction with the 2019 Biennial. Other projects include KinoWatt (2011-2012) and Black Lily Film & Music Festival (2006-2010). As a director, her works have screened internationally, including her feature documentary Scene Not Heard: Women in Philadelphia Hip-Hop (2006). She has also directed and produced works for, Visit Philadelphia and Grammy-award winning singer-songwriter India.Arie. Holmes is currently the Mediamaker-in-Residence at the Annenberg School for Communication and the Curator-in-Residence at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

Anne Ishii (she/her) is the Executive Director of Asian Arts Initiative in Philadelphia. Anne is a writer, editor and translator, who for the past ten years has worked specifically to achieve visibility and recognition for art and artists that touches on issues of gender and sexuality in the Asian diaspora. In her quest to platform more and better iterations of work from the Asian/Pacific Islander diaspora, Anne has worked in publishing and advertising, venture consulting and content strategy.

Danny Orendorff (he/him) is the Executive Director of Vox Populi, a contemporary art space and artist collective in Philadelphia that works to support the challenging and experimental work of under-represented artists. He is a curator and writer whose work explores the intersections of DIY and/or craft-oriented cultural production, histories of grassroots social-justice activism and theories of gender and sexuality. Formerly, he worked as Curator of Public Programs for the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City and as a Curatorial Consultant for Envisioning Justice, an initiative created and facilitated by Illinois Humanities that engaged Chicagoans in conversation about the impact of mass incarceration in local communities.

Roopa Vasudevan (she/her) is an American visual artist, computer programmer and researcher. Her work uses data and technology in order to interrogate or subvert social and cultural practices, focusing primarily on issues of human identity and agency in the digital era; power relationships and how they manifest through technology; and coming up with more creative and ethical practices for tech-based art and design. She is a third-year PhD student at the Annenberg School for Communication, where she researches the relationships between new media artists and the tech industry, and since 2019 has been an artist member of Vox Populi, a contemporary art space and collective in Philadelphia.

Header photo from the Emergency Art Action to Fund Black Futures (Tuesday, June 16, 2020)
Organized by the Artist Coalition for a Just Philadelphia
Photo Credit: Jordany Uceta (Big Picture Alliance)

This event will be held via Zoom: Link

Questions for Q&A should be submitted via the chat function.

Event details