Toni Greathouse: Art will be in action for Juneteenth in Joliet

Toni Greathouse

The word “artivism” is a portmanteau fusing art and activism. The term describes the idea anchoring Juneteenth in downtown Joliet.

Artivism was designed to raise awareness around existing issues. It inspires critical thinking and empathy. It engages and challenges people to arrive at their own conclusions. Bottom line, it initiates action toward positive change.

Artivism is a dynamic approach to social and political change. The longer-term expansion plan includes expanding Juneteenth’s footprint in ways that reanimate public spaces downtown. Artivism is a shape-shifting concept that takes on limitless incarnations including street art, spoken word, culture jamming and the list goes on. It basically draws on creative mediums to spark positive change.

Popularized through public art projects and events in the late 1990s, artivism is primarily attributed to the Chicanos of East Los Angeles. However, its roots reach back to the 1960s. According to Steve Lambert, co-founder and co-director of the Center of Artistic Activism, “When you start looking closely, every successful activist movement involved creativity, culture and innovation.”

“When you start looking closely, every successful activist movement involved creativity, culture and innovation.”

—  Steve Lambert, co-founder and co-director of the Center of Artistic Activism

Artivism proliferated as an extension of antiwar and anti-globalization protests. It emerged from attempts to amplify the nature of political agendas using art. Artivism has increased across the county in proportion to decreases in public confidence. Case in point, the hollowing out of the American middle class.

According to the most recent U.S. census, 63% of people in their 20s still live with their parents. The culprit is income erosion. It’s a subject Banksy, the street artist, often tackles. His work critiques capitalism, hypocrisy and greed. Banksy juxtaposes striking images (often combined with slogans) of apes and rats to amplify his message.

For the record, Juneteenth in Joliet, veers far from this approach. Our local incarnation of artivism extends a creative outlet. The inclusion of caricature art and a visually stimulating Black History Bingo game are mind-expanding. More specifically, the artivism employed Monday, June 19, facilitates diverse citizen engagement in an atmosphere steeped in history that is primed to promote learning.

Last year, caricature art was introduced as a novel artivism channel. Attendees received caricatures of them in the driver’s seat of a bus. It served as a visual reminder to make choices that moved them in a forward direction.

This year, the thought-provoking activity Black History Bingo will make its debut. The game shares snippets of the positive contributions of African American women. Listening to the civil exchange helps attendees realize as community members, we have far more in common to unite rather than divide us.

Overall, artivism has proven to be a powerful tool for promoting causes from social justice to human rights and environmental protection. The key aspect is an emphasis on collaboration and involvement of stakeholders. Our local work began at the grassroots of community. This project would not be possible if not for the support of Greg Peerbolte, CEO of the Joliet Area History Museum.

Artivism recognizes the power of art to connect people, raise awareness about uncomfortable truths, challenge stereotypes, uncover hidden bias and motivate positive action.

Artivist Bruce Lyons aptly captured the essence of the term, “Artivism promotes the essential understanding that [humans] through courageous creative expression, experience the unifying power of love when courage harnesses itself to the task of art plus social responsibility.”

Toni Greathouse, who is leading Juneteenth in Joliet on June 19, is an “Entrepreneurial Evangelist” whose purpose is spelled out in the letters of her first name - serving as a reminder to Take On Neighborhood Interaction & Try Out Novel Ideas.