Arts, Activism, and Social Change: Connecting the Dots in Movement Building

Posted on July 30, 2020 | Jenell Rosa, Weissberg Foundation

Claudia Lopez The visual graphic above was created by Claudia Lopez for the Weissberg Foundation’s 2020-2024 DMV Power Cohort.

In May, we convened our Disrupt, Move, and Voice Power (DMV Power) and Reframing <Washington> grantee partners to learn about one another and our relation to our work as individuals and to understand the work of our organizations and what inspires it. This cohort building was facilitated by Richael Faithful, a multi-disciplinary folk healing artist and healing justice practitioner.

To help connect the dots and bridge conversations within this convening, to future convenings of the cohort, and beyond, we wanted to tap into the power of art. The foundation strongly believes that the arts enhance our humanity, stir us to action, and connect us to each other, so we wanted to take this opportunity to work with a visual artist to create a thought-provoking and unifying piece to drive the work of the cohort, individually and collectively, further.

We partnered with visual facilitator and strategic illustrator Claudia Lopez, founder of On the Right Mind. For Claudia, visual facilitation supports learning, understanding, and the collective sense of a group of people. She harnesses deep listening to create visual relationships between individuals, translating spoken word to graphic art. Through visuals, her work showcases the intangible parts of conversation and provides a holistic view of what’s been shared. Our program assistant Jenell Rosa connected with Claudia to learn more about her perspectives and process.

Jenell Rosa: What is a visual facilitator and strategic illustrator and how did you embark on the journey of becoming one?

Claudia Lopez: Visual facilitation combines deep listening, synthesizing, and visualizing conversations as they happen, allowing people to see their ideas as part of a bigger whole, spot patterns, make connections and support collective sense-making. As a visual facilitator, when I’m graphic recording I listen intently to try to hear what is trying to be said, considering not just the words that are being spoken, but the context in which they are being said, the feeling and emotion behind it, as well as the meeting’s goals. I am also listening for connections of how what somebody is saying relates to what another person is saying. The visual output helps create shared understanding and reflection, a form of documentation that is accessible, and that can serve as an anchor for future conversations.

I came to this work following an epiphany I had around the value of using drawing and visual thinking as a way to access myself and my thinking in ways that were not so accessible to me through writing or speaking. It helped me untangle and sort through my thinking in a way that felt truer, more holistic. I realized that expressing myself visually balanced out the over-reliance on rationalization, logic, and judgement. It helped me feel more connected. And that is when it hit me! I am not alone, this works, this is needed, and there are other people like me! I understood how much we’ve been socialized to believe that both the written and spoken word are the preferred way, the valid way, the professional way of expression. And with that how much we’ve over-relied on it, minimizing or shutting down our other ways of knowing. I wanted to become an advocate for visual thinking as a way to create more connection to ourselves, to others, and to the whole.

JR: Your work focuses on racial justice, equity, and social change. What made you want to work at the intersection of art and these topics?

CL: I am a person that believes that there is a purpose in life and that there’s a nudge that pushes you towards what you’re supposed to be doing. Social Justice called me, and I responded to the call willingly and humbly. I knew I wanted to use visuals as a tool for connection and understanding. I knew that those two things are fundamental to create a better world. And that is the gift that I try to bring to spaces with folx that want to transform this world into a more equitable one where we all thrive.

My partnership with the Move to End Violence program at the Novo Foundationand the collaborations that have stemmed from it have been the beacon to my work, development, and commitment to social justice, particularly the anti-violence movement, gender justice, and race equity. I’m deeply grateful to all of them for envisioning a liberated world and modeling a relentless commitment to it. To them, I owe what I know, which has transformed and informed how I do my work, how I move and exist in the world, how I parent, and how I support their/our vision.

JR: What is the role of art in activism, social change, and movement building?

CL: I think there are many roles. The sensing and the seeing of the world is different because you’re observing/witnessing it with intention. The role I see it playing is to reflect, expose, and/or inspire, or all at the same time. The artists pick up on what’s existing, what’s happening, and what is maybe not being said. The role of art is to present the truth.

Part of my work is to help people reconnect with their ideas and connect with their creativity. It’s not just about documenting what is being said in the room, it’s also about supporting a new narrative. I graphically portray the wisdom of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). I’m very intentional to say, “how can I honor the wisdom and the truth of BIPOC folx?” The graphics I produce serves as exposure to this narrative. Art also helps people feel seen and heard. The truth then becomes tangible and there’s so much power in that! I believe that there can potentially be healing in saying, “I’m not alone.”

JR: What was your process in creating the visual from the Weissberg Foundation’s DMV Power grantee partner convening?

CL: There are a few steps to it. First, the focus is on connecting with the people I’m working with to create alignment and clarity about the project. I ask and seek to understand: What is the vision for this piece? Who is it for? What was the meeting about? How will it be used? Then comes the creative process, I ask myself, “how do I reflect this? How do I integrate this information? How do I design it so that it fulfills its purpose in a compelling and easy to understand way?” For the visual I created for the Weissberg Foundation, I followed that process. I held the purpose of helping cohort members see that their work is connected; that while their work is different, they have things or visions they share. I looked at the different streams of content to see what it was trying to tell. Holding the purpose, I sought out ways to weave the principles of the program, with agreements and the reflections that came out of the meeting. I also always try to be very mindful of who gets represented in the visual. I try to work with a lot of humility and care. Attending to diversity, as well as on how I represent people, so I don’t perpetuate dominant/oppressive narratives. For example, Black and People of Color are and will always be at the center of my work.

JR: Social justice work is filled with heavy topics (e.g., racism, oppression, and inequity). What do you do to maintain your own self-care as you engage in these topics?

CL: I wish I had a good answer for this. It’s been challenging. The work of liberating oneself of racist and oppressive practices is one that is emotionally and mentally trying, but necessary not just for me to do my work better but to be a better human. In addition to that, as a visual facilitator, I bear witness to both the wisdom and the trauma that is in the room, leaving within me both a new awareness as well as some vicarious trauma, that I haven’t always known how to release. Lately, I try to practice rituals that support me. I always take a hot shower after a day of work, to “wash” it all out. In the mornings I try to ground myself before joining the meeting – breathing or moving, or just trying to be very present and aware as I am getting ready. In these virtual times, I always light a candle when I’m doing graphic facilitation or illustration to hold a spiritual or sacred space for the work. There is something in doing that that I feel honors the work and centers me. Self-care is still much more that I feel I need to do and I’m open to learning from others on how they sustain themselves. I know for a lot of us doing this work caring for ourselves is fundamental, but not always something that we do or know how to do.

JR: Who are your biggest influences?

CL: Everyone from the Move to End Violence program are some of my dear friends. To name a few: Monica Dennis, Priscilla Hung, Maura Bairley, Rachael Ibrahim, Heidi Lopez, Emanuel H. Brown, Ana Perez, and Norma Wong. All that I know about systems of oppression, gender, race equity, and liberatory practices, I’ve learned from them. They are always a source of continuous learning and inspiration.

JR: What do you hope people take away from your artwork? What drives and motivates you?

CL: Connection. Understanding. Possibility. I want to help create tools for people to use and share inspiration to continue doing their transformative work. I also want to advocate for and inspiration to use their innate visual thinking abilities and always incorporate their different ways of knowing.

I believe in this work. I believe drawing, art, and visual thinking can help us be more connected, more creative, more heard, more understanding, and more understood. Imagination and deep and meaningful connections are things we need to be better humans.

Claudia Lopez is a visual facilitator and strategic illustrator focused on supporting & collaborating with visionary organizations who are up to transforming this world into an equitable one where we all thrive. As a witness and scribe of people’s ideas and truths Claudia works with humility and care, attending to diversity and difference of race, gender, ability, language and power in ways that seek to support a more equitable world and disrupt dominant/oppressive narratives. She is originally from Mexico and is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.

Jenell Rosa is a program assistant at the Weissberg Foundation, where she provides programmatic, communications, and administrative support to advance the foundation’s mission. Jenell’s commitment to democratic values and social justice started at home with family discussions and education on issues of human rights; her work over the past few years has allowed her passion for equity to flourish. One of Jenell’s favorite quotes (and words to live by) is from Jon Bon Jovi, “nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate.” She believes passion is what fuels us to work for the change we believe is possible.

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