Reclaiming public spaces with works that challenge the status quo

From cave drawings to urban graffiti and street art, images and words shape the way we perceive the world. It is adequately established that our environment effects us in fundamental ways, and that visual art literally changes our consciousness when we look at it. If you wander through any city street, or drive on the highway you will see advertising everywhere. Billboards and posters cluttering our visual landscape with messages to buy this or that.

What if public space was used to convey a shared idea from within the community instead of a brand that is privately owned by people living outside of the community? People everywhere are reclaiming public space to change dominant corporate, consumer narratives using beautiful and thought-provoking art.

If an egg is broken by outside force, life ends. If broken by inside force, life begins. Great things always begin from inside. – Jim Kwik

Using Art to Shift the Global Narrative

The current global narrative is one steeped in the wounds and trauma of history. Many humans see themselves in an endless struggle to pay bills, pitted against each other in a competition for scarce resources. The resources, which come from the earth, are extracted without reverence or respect for the natural systems of life that they support. This is rooted in an outdated belief system that is described in more detail here, which has humans at war with their own environment instead of collaborating with it harmoniously. A powerful way to shift these beliefs is through images that model a different story.

Melting Point Mural by the Mural Mice in Mesa, Az brings attention to Global Warming
Melting Point Mural by the Mural Mice in Mesa, Az brings attention to Global Warming

What if advertising was used to inspire thought and connection instead of encourage mindless consumption and competition?

Creatively Breaking the Rules

We see it online, with individuals creating their own memes (images partnered with inspiring quotes) and sharing them through social networks. This ground-swell of creativity has now started to spill onto the streets of everyday life and it is taking many forms. Public murals, mosaics, sculptures are socially accepted yet graffiti, wheat-pasting and others are more activism-oriented while making a statement by breaking rules.

Creativity spilling onto the streets of Louisiana
Creativity spilling onto the streets of Louisiana

Creative Activism on the Streets of Paris

During the recent Paris Climate Talks, activists replaced over 600 banner advertisements around the city with messages about our shared responsibility to take care of the environment. This included over 80 artists from 19 different countries who made artworks to challenge the corporate takeover of COP21. This stunt helped to reveal the connections between advertising, the promotion of consumerism and climate change.

With large corporations sponsoring the climate talks they are able to appear that they are part of the solution while actually being part of the problem. This term is commonly called “green-washing”, and cultural creatives have found a humorous way to make a parody of the kind of influence these corporations have over our public policy.

Brandalism on the streets of Paris during COP21
Brandalism on the streets of Paris during COP21

We start from the democratic conviction that the street is a site of communication, which belongs to the citizens and communities who live there.  Our interventions are a rebellion against the visual assault of media giants and advertising moguls who have a stranglehold over messages and meaning in our public spaces, through which they force-feed us with images and messages to keep us insecure, unhappy, and shopping. – Brandalism Website

Many of the artists who participated in Paris are inspired by the famed street-art outlaw, Banksy. “Exit Through The Gift Shop“, is a film that chronicles the lifestyle and attitudes of street artists. Street Art News is a great place to learn about this growing movement. Yet you don’t always have to break the rules to make a statement.

Street Art that changes how we see the World
Street Art that changes how we see the World

Street Art that Inspires Community and Kindness

Jeff Daverman, of Root Concepts has found a way to influence peoples ideas spiritually and politically through sticker lines like Non-Violent Revolutionaries that depict heroes of peace. Muralists like the Mural Mice, gather input from the local community to inform their giant public installments and then invite everyone to help them paint it on a wall.

Individual artists like Xavi and Chris Dyer have placed their visionary art in prominent public places giving an expression of transcendence to an otherwise mundane locale.Essencia Art Collective works with youth using powerful themes like the importance of water to create urban masterpieces.

Essencia Makes Walls Talk

Jeannette Maré lost her 3-year old son, Bert to croup and created a public art campaign around inspiring kindness as a vehicle to heal her grief. Berts Bells in Tucson, Arizona creates colorful bells and places them around the city in trees with a note saying “take one and pass it along with kindness”. They also invite the community to make porcelain tiles that are used for creating mosaics on walls and park benches to convey messages of kindness.

Kindness Mosaic in Tucson, Arizona
Kindness Mosaic in Tucson, Arizona

What stories do you want to see flourishing in the world around you?

Though each of us may have different talents, we all have a gift to be creative. We may practice developing our creative gifts, or let them atrophy but they are there regardless. We each also have a desire to see a better world, not just for ourselves but for our relatives, and future generations.

It is not enough anymore to hope and expect that anyone else will create this for us, we must step up and add our piece to the puzzle. This may require you to collaborate with friends who have talents that you don’t possess but collectively we have the capacity for great change.

Street Art by Visionary Artist Chris Dyer
Street Art by Visionary Artist Chris Dyer

Free Yourself and Inspire the World Around You

In Chip Richards’ recent article Moving from Stress to Creative Power he shares a powerful story of how we can transmute “stuck” energies through creativity and action in the world. In the process of freeing ourselves, we can provide inspiration for others.

Art is therapeutic to create and to observe, by empowering ourselves to participate in creating the visual landscape that surrounds us we can literally change the world for the better. The possibilities are endless!