Artivist Shares Three Ways You Can Add Social Impact to Your Life

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I must admit that the term artivist, while easily recognizable as a combination of artist and activist, was new to me when I saw it used in the title of a recent DELL EXPERIENCE at SXSW panel.

Five social good artivists pose together at the Dell Experience at SXSW 2018

Apparently, it is at least 10 years old, however, since it appeared in academic writing back in 2008 when M. K. Asante wrote, “The artivist merges commitment to freedom and justice with the pen, the lens, the brush, the voice, the body, and the imagination.”

Five such creative people (pictured above) shared with us last week how they blend their artistic skills and passion for social good in the areas of fashion, photography and music; and, one had advice for how others can do the same.

Old Becomes New Fashion

Reduce, reuse, recycle is not always the mantra of the fashion-forward. But two young designers are looking to change that.

“There’s so much waste. Anything somewhat old is automatically garbage,” Sloane Lenz said of the fashion industry. “I like to help people see things differently and that not everything is garbage.”

This desire, along with a childhood spent in a rural area of Texas where there was no fabric store, built Lenz’s aesthetic for using unconventional materials. At 15 she created a dress out of 600 plastic bags to wear to a concert and today she creates custom pieces for musicians, artists and actors.

Similarly concerned with reusing materials, high school student and designer Najai McKenzie-Robinson searches for old denim at thrift stores that she disassembles, paints and reassembles into 80s- and 90s-inspired pieces that fit today’s unique styles.

McKenzie-Robinson’s one to watch as she grows her business. She is part of the Student Inc program featured in Inc. Magazine last year, and was one of four students chosen among 100 high school girls in the Central Texas area to participate the ChickTech Austin program.

woman standing in middle of arches built from computer motherboards

©Von Wong

Ugly E-Waste Transformed

“What I’m good at is convincing people to believe in stupid ideas,” Benjamin Von Wong joked when telling the audience of his journey from engineer to viral photographer. He shared that after his first financial success in photography, however, he realized that he wanted to do something with more soul.

That led him to focus on conservation-related projects which brought him to the attention of Dell and an invitation to our Legacy of Good Change Maker Brunch at SXSW 2017. From there, he put his power to convince to work with an idea and some pencil sketches.

“Let’s be real, e-waste is ugly. No one wants to talk about it,” said Sarah Gilliam, Marketing Consultant on Dell’s Corporate Social Responsibility >, as she explained that what she saw in Von Wong’s idea was an opportunity to make something ugly beautiful and speak to our hearts, as well as our minds.

I gave you a preview of the results leading up to SXSW, but the final photos — and your chance to win one — can be found on Von Wong’s blog. It took a lot of “low-fi” tools to like chalk and a yardstick, and even a leaf blower, to bring them to life. Because he believes people are inspired by the process as much as the end result of this photography, Von Wong created this video to take you behind the scenes.

Von Wong explained that this #RethinkRecycleRevive project all started with pretty humble beginnings, and that it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of many volunteers. Some even drove from as far as 12 hours away to help assemble the sets for these photos.

“This idea that you could make a difference is something that people are really interested in and something they’re willing to put time and effort into,” he explained. For those who are interested leveraging their artistic skills to implement social impact Von Wong shared three tips:

  1. Make a commitment
  2. Focus on you (not external things that could impede you)
  3. Take (little) risks

Watch his full talk in the video below to hear him explain these more fully.

Tourism Gives Back

Another photographer making a difference is Colby Brown. As his landscape and travel photography took him around the world, he came to realize that tourists never really know where our money is going. Are we supporting a local community with the dollars we spend there, or is it going to a larger corporation somewhere else?

So he founded The Giving Lens, an organization that blends photo education with support for various nongovernmental organizations and causes spanning the globe.

“I started giving lens with the idea of making it easier for artists to make a tangible difference in the world,” Brown said. They do this by taking teams of photographers of all skill levels on photo adventures to places like Nicaragua, Tanzania, Uganda, Morocco and Jordan.

While trip participants get to see the world and improve their photography skills, they also partner with non-profit organizations to support the work they’re doing in the community. And The Giving Lens donates up to 50 percent of their profits to these groups doing incredible work.

I’m adding one of these trips to my bucket list, even though my current photo skills are limited to my smartphone’s capabilities.

Nature Sounds Become New Music

The final social good artivist to speak at this event was the most surprising to me. I mean, would you expect to see the DJ at your favorite club use bird calls to make you move?

Ben Mirin dj at Dell Experience at SXSW 2018

That’s the unique way Ben Mirin blends his music producing skills with his love of the sounds of nature to inspire and teach people about the world.

“My job as a producer is to be a vehicle for what is already singing around the world,” Mirin said. “We can use art to break down perceived barriers and allow anybody to get involved with saving the planet,” he said.

A lifelong naturalist and musician, as well as a National Geographic Explorer, Mirin leads expeditions to record endangered wildlife sounds and samples them into his music to raise awareness.

If you watch this replay of this event until the end, you can hear the results.

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