In Part 1 of 2, Los Angeles artist and activist Kysa Johnson talks about:

Her roots in Mormonism, and how its very patriarchal structure led her to rebel, fighting with teachers and eventually, along with her mom and brother, leaving the church; the various platforms and outlets for her activism, and how donating money, signing petitions and watching protest-based movies gave way to attending the initial protest in L.A., the Women’s March in Washington, a protest at LAX airport, artist political group meetings, phone calls to congress, and more; how her “being active” was a necessary reaction to the extreme change in the political landscape, and how protests – boots on the ground — matter because the visibility and solidarity of resistance is a key arm of resistance that lets those in power know that you’re angry, and then that you’re still angry ; the phone calls she makes as a constituent, which she scripts beforehand since she gets stage fright (and her stage fright in general, which causes her some lost sleep before artist talks, etc.; how after the election (presidential), for a few weeks in the studio everything felt ‘ridiculous, pointless and inconsequential,’ and  so she pivoted to ‘what can I do today’ to address the new climate…and the research that she uses for her art translated to her research for political action; her top picks for movies about protest, most notably Selma, Gandhi, and Trumbo, the latter of which is especially appropriate because it’s about artists/cultural figures being resisters; her series of ‘Terrible Roman Emperors’ paintings, echoing the fact that there are certain characteristics of a terrible leader that repeat throughout history; how she feels that visual artists have a niche and a platform to visually communicate information that is digestible in such a way (to the opposition) in order to create a shift; Kysa defines the difference between art that is beautiful (dark, sublime, etc.) and pretty (only for the eyes), and how one of her favorite movies, Amadeus, represents that dichotomy; how one is best served in their activism/actions by picking the thing that they’re most interested in addressing, because everyone is wanting to do something different.

Brooklyn-based artist and activist Ann Lewis talks about:

Her recent move to Greenpoint from Bushwick, where she was kicked out of her live/work loft when the building was bought by two hedge-fund entities; the realities of living in an ever-increasingly expensive New York City, gentrification, and Ann’s experience with it both as a tenant – including negotiating with the owners for a modest settlement that helped with her move out – and as an activist (she was actually protesting at an anti-gentrification rally at the time she received a 30-day-notice warning under her loft door); her concern that New York, Brooklyn in particular, will just continue developing into a mass of suburban sprawl, with nothing that can be done from the ground to stop it, leaving only the hope of the bubble bursting; a deconstruction of New York City government’s complicity in maintaining a corrupt system that fosters unbridled development, to a large extent a system put in place during Bloomberg’s administration; how, with artists being the canaries in the coal mine, we can learn from the past problems of neighborhoods being unstably gentrified by moving into homeowner-dense neighborhoods and collectively investing in them for the very long-term, in hopes of diverting the gentrification train; how she feels we’re seeing change coming out of social activism very quickly now, through social media and greater attention being paid to issues, and how there’s been a big increase in the # of artistically minded people being more regularly engaged in social and political issues via FB and beyond; how her activist work started with street art (stencils) because she felt so strongly about certain issues (Abu Gharib, mass incarceration, etc.) that she needed to start having conversations with anyone who would listen; one of her performance pieces, a protest piece from 2014, in which she spent a month wearing a prison-issue orange jump suit in public, engaging with both strangers and people she knew in conversations about mass incarceration; how when she pushes herself out of her comfort zone, which she does in her performances, learning new things and providing ever more meaningful experiences for those experiencing her pieces; her maze wall paintings, which include subliminal messages contained within them; and she entertains the potential of Detroit as a future home and artist community, should living and working in New York become untenable, though we hope it won’t.


In Part I of II, Nato Thompson, Creative Time artistic director, and author of Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the 21st Century, talks about:

Being on the radio (the Leonard Lopate Show) with Vito Acconci; living in Philadelphia, a city he loves (and can afford to own a home in), commuting to NYC from there, and how and why he left New York as a residence 6 years prior; also, how he gets perspective on the art world/the arts by living outside of it, in a very scalable, civic-oriented community; as a child, living with his parents in the dorms at CalArts, where his father was in grad school as a painter (memories include the entirely naked pool, and playing D & D with then-undergrad actor Don Cheadle); his book touring for Seeing Power, including a Facebook chat w/New York Cultural Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl; the reality that the market portion of the art world produces luxury goods for the ruling class, and how for even experienced visitors to art fairs, “it’s hard not to be hypnotized/repulsed” by it, and how it’s a hard thing to overcome to be sympathetic to the arts; the urgency of certain activism, as best exemplified right now (as we spoke) by Black Lives Matter, and how things have changed in the political arena even since Nato’s book came out—including the fact that you can’t have Bernie Sanders’ candidacy without Occupy Wall Street; the ‘crucible’ of gentrification, and how it forces us to think about equity in all sorts of areas; two shows he curated while working at MASS MoCA, Becoming Animal and The Interventionists, and the complex and even confusing takeaways from those shows in terms of audience-artist relationships, as in, what does a typical museum-goer want to see/experience? Who are the people (demographics) going to see shows?, and how people in the art world underestimate art audiences; how, after being raised in a greenhouse of an advertising-based culture, we are naturally paranoiac of cultural material, to the point where people’s paranoia becomes their truth; the differences between the small scale, community-based projects and communities of his young adulthood and the large scale works he works on with Creative Time (including Kara Walker’s A Subtlety, which had an attendance of 135,000 people; the Creative Time Summit, which is art and social justice-based, and includes smaller-scale roundtables; the importance of DIY, and making things/making things happen instead of waiting around for other people to make them happen.

Austin Thomas:  “…[I feel that] everybody’s an artist: potlucks and cake and beer making…that’s who I am.”

New York-based artist Austin Thomas talks about: being a ‘gallerartist’ – a mix of artist and gallerist, and the various ways she’s engaged the art world and community through her Pocket Utopia galleries and projects; her experiences both working for and collaborating with artists as a gallerist and artist advocate; her community organizing-oriented public sculpture ‘the perch,’ which will be unveiled in the spring (of 2016); her path to living in Chelsea, despite originally trying to buy a house in Williamsburg; and her upcoming incubation period in which she contemplates her next steps as an artist advocate, booster and supporter of community-building art ventures.