Artists against PovertyHistorically, art is a concept too broad to comprehend on a simplistic term. It can reference painting, drawing, music, writing, sculpting, acting, most creative ventures tend to fall under the category of art. With such a wide scape, it is no surprise that art also covers a range of topics, from love to politics to recycling. Poverty is a matter which has not escaped the global creative community and artists all over the world use their work to either raise awareness or take action against poverty. There are hundreds of thousands of relevant artists and projects around the world, though a few have caught significant attention for their contributions to the problem. Though a small sample, this article features a few of these artists against poverty and shows how art can be more than a pretty picture.

Willie Baronet

Willie Baronet is an artist, advocate, professor, entrepreneur and creative director who has dabbled in various projects and industries throughout the years. According to SMU (Southern Methodist University), his career includes advertising and design for several graphic projects, such as Communication Art, New York Art Annual and Annual Report Design: A Historical Retrospective 1510-1990. Baronet was also named as an AIGA Fellow in 2013 for his work in establishing a higher standard of performance for the creative community. His significant work as one of the artists against poverty, however, started back in 1993 with a project called We Are All Homeless.

Baronet began collecting signs from the homeless in an effort to raise awareness of the issue and try to understand their situation better. The project touches on both the moral challenge of those in a higher socio-economic position, as well as the more obvious subject of those in need. The work has won several awards and been exhibited all over the country, proving to be a powerful piece in the global conversation of poverty. Baronet’s contributes to such discussion establishes him as a powerful advocate for the homeless and leading voice in the fight against poverty.

Caitlin Beidler

Caitlin Beidler has taken advocacy to new heights with her art career. Back in 2006, she launched Redemption Art, a business that works to “free people through art,” according to the official website. The project has allowed this artist against poverty to directly interact with those in need by fostering a healthier community through small projects, such as murals with local children and live art events. Beidler has also taken global action by going to Haiti to paint murals with the children there in an effort to boost local morale. The work in Haiti has been done primarily through her sister’s non-profit, Growing Roots, an organization that works to help local communities in Haiti through direct action.

Beidler is a founding member of Growing Roots and helps oversee its four primary branches: Camp Hope, Community Mural Projects, the Planting Project and Mercy Relief. Each project touches on a different aspect of daily life for the Haitian people. Camp Hope is a day camp for local children, the Community Mural Projects are an artistic outlet (as previously mentioned), the Planting Project provides education and Mercy Relief provides aid during crisis periods. The work Beidler as done showcases the important facets of an artist’s life, they can both promote creativity while still contributing to the community. Art is both a means of emotional and practical support.

Michael Rakowitz

Michael Rakowitz is one of the artists against poverty who has taken direct action in fighting for the underdog. His career has spanned decades, with work being featured in such prominent venues as MoMA. Rakowitz is famous for its pieces with multiple purposes outside the artistic realm. In 2013, he opened a restaurant in Dubai called Dar Al Sulh. The art project doubled as nourishment for others as it told the history of the Jewish community in Iraq through the cuisine, showcasing the downfall of an entire people. Additionally, Rakowitz has been working on a long-term project since 1998 in which he turns art into a shelter.

The project, entitled paraSITE, utilizes the heat emitting from ventilation systems to create tent-like structures on the sides of buildings. These temporary homes often look like parasitic insects due to their bulbus form and positioning in the city. They have double lining as space between fills with air to inflate the structure while also heating the area inside for the homeless to sit in. The work—still ongoing today—has garnered mass attention for both its versatility and creative representation in the community. Rakowitz (throughout his career and with paraSITE in specific) proves art isn’t just for viewing or experience; it is an active part of life that can truly help others.


A common misconception about artists is that they are only a voice, they cannot contribute physically to the modern world. Art, however, has been evolving with the times the same way every other industry has for centuries. Artists have adapted to today’s fast-paced, efficiency-focused mindset. They raise the topic to eager ears, find creative ways to asses the problem and act as emotional and mental support to those in need all the while.

– Eleanora Kamerow
Photo: Flickr

Documentaries About Poverty
Streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu can be a means to unproductive and endless binge-watching. However, they can also be an instrument of political and social change. Documentary films can be some of the highest quality filmmaking out there, as well as a great tool for nonprofit organizations. Documentaries about poverty can cover almost any issue, discussing topics of hunger, health, education and more. Below are eight documentaries about poverty that are definitely worth watching.

8 Influential Documentaries about Poverty

  1. Poverty, Inc.: This film examines and critiques the ways that good intentions from nonprofits and charity organizations can actually end up hurting the communities they wish to help. Some of these strategies include the Western attitude of patronizing developing countries and flooding a nation with handouts and thereby hurting its economy. Poverty, Inc. points out the flaws in certain forms of aid and how organizations and governments can fix them.
  2. Why Poverty?: This is actually a series of eight documentaries about poverty that are available for streaming on the PBS website. Broadly speaking, the series asks why poverty still exists for over a billion people around the world. The episodes aim for awareness, examining the causes of poverty and looking for solutions.
  3. We Feed the World: This film depicts the disparity between the amount of food available in the developing world with how much they produce and eventually waste in those same nations.
  4. Thought for Food: One of the shorter documentaries about poverty, this film also focuses on hunger. It tells the stories of students who created solutions for large food security problems. Consequently, it can give the viewer some ideas on how to fight hunger with their own skills.
  5. Girl Rising: This documentary looks at the stories of nine different girls in Asia, South America and Africa and how they used their education to overcome obstacles. Celebrities narrated this film without sounding patronizing. Overall, Girl Rising illustrates the power of education in desperate circumstances through messages of inspiration and triumph.
  6. Sewing Hope: While movements such as “Kony 2012” examined the plight of boys in Uganda forced to become child soldiers, this documentary looks at what happened to young girls and the quest to improve their lives. Many girls were taken as sex slaves and returned to their communities with their captors’ children. The documentary also examines Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe’s mission to give these women independence through vocational training like sewing and tailoring.
  7. On the Way to School: This documentary inspects the greater global issue of education through a closer look at four personal stories in India, Morocco, Patagonia and Kenya. It is thus a great film to raise awareness about the things the Western world takes for granted in education.
  8. Bending the Arc: This brand new documentary tells the story of the organization Partners in Health. It premiered at Sundance Film Festival this past January and is one to keep an eye out for.

Ellen Ray

Photo: Flickr

Art Responds to the Refugee Crisis in A World Not OursThe Syrian refugee crisis receives enormous amounts of news coverage and is often a source of debate as a political and humanitarian issue. Still, for people removed from the situation it can be difficult to truly comprehend the severity of the situation. This is where art can serve as a way to engage a wider audience and explain the issues on a human level as opposed to politically and statistically.

In the past couple of years, there have been many notable art exhibitions dedicated to the refugee crisis. Most recently the exhibit A World Not Ours has received a significant amount of attention.

A World Not Ours is an exhibition backed by the Schwarz Foundation and curated by Katerina Gregos at the Art Space Pythagorion in the Greek Island of Samos. Greece is currently home to 57,000 refugees. A diverse group of artists illustrates the hardships and trauma of refugee life, hoping to create a greater understanding of the crisis and empathy for those 21 million refugees.

Lebanese artist Ninar Esber created a two-hour live performance piece, The Blind Lighthouse. A woman’s face is completely covered as she stands on top of a lighthouse facing the sea. The lights on the structure are very dim but the audience is encouraged to approach. However, once they approach, she turns away. It is an attempt to demonstrate the treacherous and unpredictable voyage refugees must take when they leave their country. The Schwarz Foundation states the performance “encourages us to reflect upon our relations with those on the ‘other’ side.”

Another artist featured is Tanja Boukal, who originates from Austria. She exhibited the photo collage Memories of Travels and Dreams which consists of a collection of items the artist found on her trip from Kuşadas, Turkey to Samos, Greece. She compares the trips between tourists and refugees. Though they are going to the same destinations, the trips are vastly different. Tourist buys a $40 ferry ticket in which they are offered varied amenities. A stark contrast from the $1500 refugees must pay to travel on a small, overcrowded and usually faulty boats.

Other artists include Yannis Behrakis, Róza El-Hassan, Mahdi Fleifel, Marina Gioti, Sallie Latch and many others.

Curator Gregos says “while exhibitions like these do not solve the problem, they do keep it alive in our minds and maintain public awareness so that the necessary debate continues. What is needed, ultimately, is empathy, the ability to consider the question ‘what if this were me? How would I react then?”

It is worthwhile to view the artwork presented in A World Not Ours because it offers an emotive perspective on the refugee crisis.

Karla Umanzor

Photo: Flickr

Ai Weiwei
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is well-known for using his art to protest against human rights abuses committed by the Chinese government.

Ai’s concern, however, is not limited to his home country. He has lately made several efforts to support refugees and protest the conditions they find themselves living in.

On the Greek island of Lesbos, Ai recently set up a studio to highlight the plight of refugees. “The island has been the main point of entry into the EU for hundreds of thousands of refugees over the past year and the studio would produce several projects with themes related to the refugee crisis from him and his students, Ai told reporters,” said a January 2016 article in the Guardian.

Ai noted the lack of awareness of the situation and willingness to act in Europe and the rest of the world. “The border is not in Lesbos, it really [is] in our minds and in our hearts,” Ai said.

In Copenhagen, Ai closed down his exhibition in response to new laws and reforms. These laws aim to discourage refugees from seeking asylum by delaying family reunification and by allowing Danish authorities to seize refugee’s valuables. “The law has provoked international outrage, with many human rights activists criticizing the delay for family reunification as a breach of international conventions,” as reported by the Guardian.

“The way I can protest is that I can withdraw my works from that country. It is very simple, very symbolic – I cannot co-exist, I cannot stand in front of these people, and see these policies. It is a personal act, very simple; an artist trying not just to watch events but to act, and I made this decision spontaneously,” Ai told the Associated Press.

Perhaps most publicized and controversial of his recent efforts was a reenacted photo of deceased Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi. In this photo, Ai posed in the position of Kurdi’s dead body. Ai described to CNN his emotional experience of posing for the photograph: “I was standing there and I could feel my body shaking with the wind – you feel death in the wind. You are taken by some kind of emotions that you can only have when you are there. So for me to be in the same position [as Kurdi], is to suggest our condition can be so far from human concerns in today’s politics.”

Ai continued to express his frustration with the lack of action and compassion for refugees: “…you see all those politicians that are not really helping, and trying to find all kinds of excuses. To refuse and to even put these refugees in more tragic situations.”

For this effort in particular, Ai Weiwei received significant criticism. Various news publications and art critics derided the photo. For instance, a headline in the Spectator labeled it “crude, thoughtless and egoistical,” and an article in the Guardian discussed the danger of the photo having a “very real possibility of diluting a worthy cause.”

While the criticism may be valid, to expect Ai Weiwei to stop trying may be very mistaken. He plans to continue to raise awareness and support for the refugees. “As an artist, I have to relate to humanity’s struggles…I never separate these situations from my art.”

– Anton Li

Sources: CNN, The Spectator, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, The Guardian 3
Photo: Washington Times

Creativity for Social Change
Creativity for social change includes non-linear thought processes when rigidity is not conducive to resolution, change or positivity. Creativity also broadens one’s audience and allows one’s message to further spread across time, space and culture.

There has long been a connection to creativity and social change, for artists and creative thinkers have employed countless songs, paintings and other visual arts in the name of activism in order to raise awareness of oppression, inequalities and injustice. Technology has furthered the prominence of creativity in social activism, through video installations, movies, short video clips and the infinite possibility to share links.

Creativity allows for a proliferation of education. Audiences affected by poverty, narcotics and violence are able to be accessed through creative avenues. Engaging the youth in the arts can both transform individual lives while creating a new generation who may go on to produce important works that raise awareness of the issues they feel passionate about. Art is able to act as a tool for therapy, for reconciliation is vital for social change, conflict prevention and fomenting a positive future. Creativity encourages communication and self-expression, and these factors are invaluable in an attempt to foster social change.

Creativity acts as a natural conduit to create interest, and creative thinkers and artists have power in organizing civic engagement and activists for a common cause. Creative leaders are able to inspire the people, particularly the youth, and are able to mobilize communities. Creative leaders are necessary for social change, for they are able to challenge the status quo while engaged in productive dialogue. Creative leaders articulate clear ideas, take courageous risks, focus on a positive future, generate alternative solutions and most importantly, are adaptable to changing environments.

Organizations, such as ArtCorp, believe that every person has the capacity for creativity. It adheres to the idea that a message is much more effective if the audience is involved; it believes in the power of human beings to overcome problems through communication and collaboration; that art is a crucial leverage tool for creative thinking, critical analysis and generative solutions; and that art and culture affect change by accessing all of the senses and speaking to multiple types of intelligence.

The act of art and creativity ultimately inspires action and reaction. The Art of Dismantling offers, “Visual art forms can transcend all barriers and stimulate a lasting emotional response. As long as oppression, inequalities and injustice exist in the world, art and artists will have a role, even a responsibility, to make a positive change to people’s lives; whether on a global or individual level.”

Neti Gupta

Sources: ArtCorp, Creative Social Change, The Heart of Dismantling
Photo: Flickr

art alleviates poverty
Researchers at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile have found a way to combat some of the negative psychological effects of poverty by using art.

Marianne Daher and Ana María Haz’s study, published in 2011, looked at the impact of artistic activities on the minds of 10 impoverished women living in Chile’s capital, Santiago. The study used art to help these women better understand the impact of poverty on their lives.

The researchers defined poverty as a deprivation both of physical needs and psychosocial needs, the latter of which includes self-knowledge, education and confidence.

Deprivation of both has been shown to arouse anxiety and affective disorders in women who live in poverty.

The study’s participants worked with a variety of materials and in a variety of mediums, including drawing, collage and painting. They worked alone and collaborated with other participants as well. At the end of the study, they invited friends and family to an exhibition of their work.

Researchers collected qualitative data through interviews with the participants. The women answered questions that asked them about their psychological state before, during and after the creation of their art.

Through their work, the scope of the burden of poverty became clear both to researchers and to the women themselves, who noted they rarely had chances to express themselves before. The women felt overwhelmed by their lack of education, their large families, their dangerous neighborhoods, their inadequate access to health services, their unfulfilling and unappreciated role as housewives and their inability to hire others to look after their children.

Art alleviates poverty by combating the stress that threatened to overwhelm these women. Women described the process of painting as relaxing, and they appreciated having time for self-development. Many women also learned about themselves during their artistic experiment.

“I find something absolutely different,” one participant said. She continued, “I find myself and my feelings. More than the painting itself, I find something I have always had, but now I got it: I find myself.”

Researchers discovered that the feeling of well-being nurtured by the artistic process carried over into the women’s daily lives. One participant described the metaphor between the correction of her mistakes while painting and the correction of her mistakes in her daily life:

“Many times I have complained because it [the painting] went wrong, but finally I could fix it! So, why shouldn’t I believe this is possible if I was also capable to correct my mistakes [at home].”

In the study’s conclusion, the researchers noted art’s potential to serve as a defense against the stresses of poverty. However, the study also shows how effective the artistic process can be at digging up the frustrations that impoverished women bury within themselves as a coping mechanism.

Bringing those frustrations into the open is a challenge that has perplexed many who have sought to find a way to measure poverty’s impact on the mental well-being of the poor.

During the past decade, traditional measures of poverty have seemed more and more inadequate—Chile’s CASEN survey, for example. The CASEN survey focuses on economic factors, comparing “homes’ per capita income with a minimum expected income,” but these factors say nothing about the psychological traumas that poverty can inflict on the impoverished.

To uncover those traumas, art may be the answer.

Ryan Yanke

Sources: Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative 1, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative 2, Psychology Today, American Journal of Community Psychology

Photo: Photography Blogger

brazilian artist
Brazilian artist, Carol Rossetti, began her project with the hopes of simply helping a few women in the world. What she got was much greater-international recognition and respect from men and women all around the world. Rossetti is a Brazilian graphic designer who takes on the responsibility of addressing the highly oppressive gender conventions heavily experienced in traditional Latin American culture.

The exceptional project remains unnamed, as it racks up over 83,000 Facebook likes, and counting. What was meant to be a local project has grown into an international movement, offering voices and calming support to women.

An example of the project is the simple image of a woman clutching her knees with the caption “Ana was raped.” It reads “Ana, you are not alone. It’s not your fault. This experience is not what defines you as a human being. You are so much more than this.” The powerful, yet simple, statement offers support to victims without focusing on the traumatic event. This is the most popular image on her site, along with many others in the same vein of topic.

When asked to describe her images, Rossetti tells CNN, “I think the point of my illustrations is to show, in a gentle and non-aggressive way, that there is still a lot of oppressive control over women’s personal choices and identities, and expose a problem of representation toward women, people of color, people with disabilities, (LGBT concerns) and so on.” Her poignant description allows any viewer to understand the concept without obviously stating the issues seen in modern society.

What started as a feminist project has, with the input of viewers, inspired Rossetti to become the voice for many social stigmas. Rossetti hopes to address racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and the like. Rossetti has expressed her frustration with “the world attempts to control women’s bodies, behavior and identities” and hopes that these images will inspire not just women, but all humans to reconsider their conceptions of society, and the realities within.

In many countries, women are generally accepted as the lesser gender, with restricted rights and restricted access to privileges. Rossetti’s images have spread to the far corners of the world,  inspiring women in India, for example, to question and rebel against the role given to them.

Today, women fight in every nation to receive the level of respect and acceptance given to men. Rossetti perfectly captures this internal dialogue experienced by every woman and gives them a way to portray it. Her simple designs allow the words to speak for themselves. Her message cannot be skewed by criticism if it inspires, at the very least, one viewer.

-Elena Lopez

Sources: ABS-CBN News, Bustle, CNN
Photo: CNN

is an online marketplace for consumers to purchase art and handmade crafts from global artisans. It is also a Certified B Corporation, meaning that the company operates as more than a profit-seeking business; it is a company that uses its power to solve social and environmental problems.

Etsy is not the only company focused on improving the lives of global artists. GlobeIn launched in 2013 to help connect local artisans to the global economy. Many artists featured on GlobeIn’s online marketplace may not even be familiar with the idea of the Internet, but they now have a way to expand sales of their crafts.

GlobeIn focuses its efforts in nine countries with regional managers, who oversee shipping and money transfers to the artisans. The website presents the story of the artists along with their products. The artisans decide the price of the items and they receive the full amount. GlobeIn’s local infrastructures are managed by regional directors, who help artists get their product listed on the online marketplace.

In contrast, Etsy users rely on the online marketplace to sell their crafts. Etsy was established in 2005 and continues to grow. The website hosts 875,000 sellers from all over the world, and the company is working on creating more international websites that operate in more languages to reflect the 147 countries of the sellers.

GlobeIn is a newer company—it was established in 2013—and caters to those who may not be able to use Etsy because of language barriers or lack of access to the Internet. Both companies are fighting global poverty by giving access to those who otherwise would not have access to the global online marketplace.

Both companies share a mission to connect local artists to the global community through an online marketplace. By giving these artists a platform on which to sell their crafts and goods, Etsy and GlobeIn help bring income to the artists and to make their stories known.

– Haley Sklut

Sources: Etsy, GlobeIn, Mashable, Venture Beat

Photo: WordPress

When a country is in turmoil, the arts can be the first thing to go. Fortunately for Afghanistan, Turquoise Mountain Arts is reviving traditional Afghan arts, architecture and crafts.

Turquoise Mountain Arts is an institute that seeks to bring back traditional Afghan art by training artisans in four schools: calligraphy and miniature painting, woodwork, jewelry and ceramics.

Historically, Afghanistan was an important cultural center for a variety of Islamic arts that have unfortunately fallen to the wayside under the various conflicts that have disrupted life in the country. Traditionally, the Afghan arts and crafts industry is a source of pride and a respectable way for a person to make a living.

Turquoise Mountain Arts helps the Afghan community in more ways than preserving traditional art forms. Since the institute was fully established in 2006, nearly 1.5 million dollars of traditional Afghan crafts have been sold, with that money going back to Afghan artisans.

When the institute turns a profit, it reinvests in itself, putting the money back toward artisans and students so that they can continue to learn and produce art. Additionally, the different arts practiced at Turquoise Mountain Arts help keep valuable natural resources, such as wood, precious stones and metals within the country. The institute also “provides education and employment for over 400 students, teachers, engineers, architects, and construction workers.”

The heads of each of the individual colleges are all Afghan citizens, and whenever there is an opening for new professors, representatives from the institute head straight to Kabul’s craft district.

Before Turquoise Mountain opened, there were no schools focused on preserving and teaching traditional art in Afghanistan. However, since its founding, smaller schools and programs have opened up throughout the country.

The apprenticeship style program is highly beneficial for artisans, who are taught for three years before going out on their own, and are given internationally recognized “City and Guilds” accreditation upon graduation.

Graduates also receive support as they go into the craft market to start their own businesses and further preserve cultural heritage by transferring their knowledge to new workers.

With growing national recognition in addition to international markets in Canada, Britain and Arab countries like Qatar, Turquoise Mountain Arts Institute is helping to preserve Afghan culture and art, and provide respectable employment for citizens.

– Cameron Barney

Sources: Turquoise Mountain Arts, Islamic Arts

Renamed “Boundless City,” Art for Global Justice began when a team of young people decided they could use art to change the world. After a trip to Accra, Ghana, these young people realized that the world is struggling with poverty and civil hardships. They discuss how when traveling to other nations, everyone has cultural differences and perceptions about the nation and its residents.

Economic inequality, political strife and violence often contribute to the complex issue of global poverty and the understanding of the general public. Fielding requests from communities, Boundless City works as a collaborative partner with schools and city programs to educate children from struggling backgrounds.

They discuss the misconceptions created around other nations, religions, cultures and people. Allowing children to draw and express themselves through art helps them develop healthy outlets for their emotions while giving them a common ground with children from all sorts of backgrounds. Planting the seed of understanding and empathy can help prevent conflict and inequality from growing in the future.

Setting up inner city workshops and gallery showings, Boundless City shared its love of art with cities and young residents while teaching them to think of others. Focusing on New York, Ghana, and Guatemala, the newly christened Boundless City teaches communities to express their desire to help and relate to people all over the world.

Using a wordpress blog, students living in foreign nations can post articles about their trips and discoveries abroad. A recent post from a student living South Africa describes how sculptures constructed in busy intersections give people a sense of community.

The whole point of public art is to foster an ideal of brotherhood and belonging to everyone involved. Art can be made by any soul, anywhere, at almost any time. Conflict and war do not decrease art but rather inspire more of it to spread the fight against injustice — and Boundless City, formerly Art for Global Justice, is an important aspect of this message.

Starting Boundless City was a way to show everyone how a simple image can open someone’s mind and change the way they see something, even how the view the world.

Art can express emotion and encourage change in the hearts of its audience. For  years, people have been telling the history of life through art. Whether elaborately displayed on church ceilings or drawn crudely in the dark with spray paint, artists send their messages into the world.

It is a universally understood form of communication, like a smile.

– Kaitlin Sutherby

Sources: Art for Global Justice (blog), Start Some Good, Art for Global Justice
Photo: Nathan Midgley