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A Newsletter from the Bioneers Community

Art for Action in a World Seeking Change

Bioneers | Published: June 5, 2024 Art ARTICLE

The most significant movements for positive change have often been advanced and amplified by artistic expressions that spotlight injustice and bring ideas for a more equitable society into focus. As we face today’s unprecedented challenges — accelerating climate change, deeply rooted social inequities, a renewed spread of authoritarianism — data and talking points are not enough. To maintain forward momentum, we must tell our stories in the way only art can. A way that can be visual, musical, narrative or poetic — but above all empathic. Through art, we cultivate the understanding to change hearts and minds and the motivation to inspire action. 

Explore how some of today’s most resonant artist-activists are producing cutting-edge work that combines creative imagination with social change. Be inspired by Claudia Peña, Executive Director of the artist collective For Freedoms and Co-Director of the Center for Justice at UCLA; the highly acclaimed, socially conscious singer-songwriter Chris Pierce; a multifaceted panel of leading artist/activists; the moving musical duo The Local Honeys; and Peña’s conversation with Erin Matariki Carr, a leading Indigenous legal scholar and Rights of Nature activist in Aotearoa (New Zealand). Help us spread the word by sharing the stories that move you. 

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Using Storytelling to Change the Narrative on Mass Incarceration

When Claudia Peña brought the show “Lyrics from Lockdown” to Houston, she saw that the crowd was mostly older white people and worried there could be some walkouts. She even positioned herself in a chair by the door so she could talk to anybody who walked out about why they had done so. But it turns out there was no need. Not only did no one walk out, but the crowd was energized. In this Q&A with Bioneers, Peña talks about the power of stories to change hearts and minds and why she stopped relying on statistics to discuss incarceration and prison abolition.

Peña is Executive Director of For Freedoms, an artist collective that centers art and creativity as a catalyst for transformative connection and collective liberation. She serves on the faculty at the UCLA School of Law and is the founding Co-Director of the UCLA Center for Justice. The Center runs the Prison Education Program, which creates innovative courses that enable faculty and students to learn from and alongside currently incarcerated participants. Check out her 2024 Bioneers keynote here and the link below to read the Q&A. 

Musical Performance by Chris Pierce

“Sing strong. Sing cheerful. Even when the shadows of the night fall upon you, look up and do not allow the thief that is fear to enter the treasure room of your heart.” — Chris Pierce

So opened Pierce’s musical performance at the 2024 Bioneers Conference. Pierce, a highly acclaimed, socially conscious singer-songwriter, has been described as “one of America’s most talented, gifted, and affecting artists.” He has played with such greats as Neil Young, B.B. King, Seal, Al Green, Steve Earle, Allison Russell, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Rodrigo y Gabriella, Jill Scott, and more. His most recent albums are 2021’s American Silence, widely viewed as one of the best folk albums of that year, and 2023’s Let All Who Will. In addition to his solo career, Pierce performs/records with Sunny War as War and Pierce, with the Americana/roots band Leon Creek, and occasionally with the Black Opry Revue.

Artivism in the Age of Climate Chaos and Societal Instability 

“Our battles for the kind of world we want to live in are battles between stories, and the sharpest storytelling tools we have are the arts.” — David Solnit, renowned direct action organizer, author, puppeteer, and co-founder of Art and Revolution 

We are currently facing unprecedented challenges as our climate unravels and reactionary authoritarian movements gain in momentum. In the following excerpt from a panel discussion held at the 2024 Bioneers Conference in Berkeley, California, leading artist/activists discuss whether navigating these seemingly perpetual existential crises necessitate new strategies from the “engaged” creative community. It features Devon Bella, co-founder of Art + Climate Action, a Bay Area collective committed to fostering a sustainable and environmentally-conscious arts community; David Solnit, renowned direct action organizer, author, puppeteer, and co-founder of Art and Revolution; Orion Camero, former Brower Youth Award winner and Spiritual Ecology Fellow; and Favianna Rodriguez, world-renowned interdisciplinary artist, cultural strategist, and social justice activist based in Oakland, California. 

Musical Performance by The Local Honeys

“We met in college, and we were playing a lot of traditional old-time fiddle and banjo music and playing at lots of local square dances. It was kind of around that time that we started thinking of traditional music and folk music not as something that’s dead and gone, but something that’s a living and breathing entity. You’ve got to breathe life into these old songs, but you also have to tell your own stories.” — Linda Jean Stokley of the duo The Local Honeys

The Local Honeys (Montana Hobbs and Linda Jean Stokley) is a highly acclaimed musical duo from Kentucky that was formed a decade ago. During the duo’s performance at the 2024 Bioneers conference, Stokley spoke to the importance of honoring traditional folk music while also telling your own history. The performance included a rendition of Jean Ritchie’s 1965 song “The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore” and The Local Honeys song “Cigarette Trees,” about a coal sludge pond spill that occurred in 2000 and continues to contaminate the drinking water of Martin County, Kentucky. The duo’s most recent album is the eponymous, The Local Honeys, on La Honda Records.

Learning How to “Be” Again with Claudia Peña and Erin Matariki Carr

Through colonization, hyper capitalism, and unaddressed trauma, many of us have forgotten how to play our part in the orchestra of the natural world. In this excerpt from a panel discussion, Claudia Peña and Erin Matariki Carr — two remarkable activists and legal practitioners who work on different continents but share a belief in the power of creative expression — offer ways we can all reconnect deeply to the web of life.

Peña is Co-Director of the Center for Justice at UCLA and Executive Director of the artist collective For Freedoms, and Carr is a leading Indigenous legal scholar and Rights of Nature activist in Aotearoa (New Zealand).

Upcoming Bioneers Learning Courses 

We’re excited to announce that our new season of Bioneers Learning is online, and registration is open! You can register for our first-ever self-paced courses, along with courses covering topics such as the Rights of Nature movement, gender equity, regenerative herbalism, and sacred activism.

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