The humanising power of art in virtual events

By Bistra Kumbaroska

“...Do whatever it takes to fuel the fire, fuel the fight
Take a knee, march for your lives…
They will give us hashtags and petitions
We will rewrite the narrative, we will be the revolutionaries...”

-Tarryn Booysen, South Africa


In May, we hosted a webinar that opened up our eyes about how powerful art could be to deepen connection in online events. During the event, “Why Positive Narratives are Critical to People Power” organised with Innovation for Change, participants joined different breakout rooms and one was hosted by ArtLords, an Afghanistan-based grassroots movement that shared how they promote social transformation through wall murals and art. The interest and engagement in that breakout room were outstanding! Participants could not get enough of the murals and community building activities presented by ArtLords. They also shared their own passion and similar projects using art for change in their countries.

At that moment, we were a couple of months into the pandemic and most online event organisers had noticed that people were experiencing online fatigue and low energy, were bored of stiff webinar formats and uninspiring content and needed more human connection. Planning for our next event, we knew that we needed to go beyond the panel format. Inspired by the wonderful experience with ArtLords, we decided to dedicate our next webinar completely to art.

Our colleagues at DIGNA, the Diversity & Inclusion Group for Networking and Action, co-organised and co-hosted that webinar with us. They came up with a brilliant concept that resulted in the most unusual, vibrant and human event of our ICSW/virtual series: a live art showcase under the title Artivism for Inclusion (artivism is the intersection between art and activism).

The DIGNA team opened a call for art submissions and received a vast number of submissions from artivists all around the world. Ten artivists were chosen to present their work or perform during the live show. The group was a mix of talented poets, writers, musicians, muralists and collage artists who are activists in areas like feminism, land rights, human rights, youth activism, anti-racism and LGBTI rights, among others.

The Artivism for Inclusion showcase went live on July 1st, 2020. The artivists delivered the most powerful, vulnerable, honest and courageous performances and interventions to present their work and share the stories behind it. From the first presentation and until the last one, attendees flooded the chatbox with admiration and thank you messages.

On top of the performances, DIGNA members hosted follow-up breakout rooms where the artists and the show attendees, also from diverse backgrounds and locations, engaged in inspiring conversations about art, activism, change and life in general. It was great to see attendees open up to share and express themselves. It felt like everyone had something to say and this was the exact place where they wanted to say it.

“Art connects straight to the heart and makes everyone feel like home. Everyone who performed was pure joy and love. I saw so much strength in each one of them. I was so happy to be part of it!,” wrote one participant. Another person said that the session felt like “nurturing radical kindness.”

Thanks to the power of art, this event allowed us to experience kindness, unity, togetherness, self-exploration and creativity, things that are especially cherished in these difficult times. It allowed us to simply be human together.

The showcase recording is available on our Youtube channel. Additionally, DIGNA published a collection of the work presented that day, and curated a truly unique online gallery including submissions from other artivists who were not featured on the online event. The response from our community to this event and publications has been so positive that we plan to feature the art gallery in future local or regional ICSW events in 2021, and we definitely will continue to include art in our events, either virtual or face-to-face.