When I first walk into Hillside Community Center's ARTSpace Gallery, a room full of public-service announcements assaults me. They range from anti-drug and stop-the-violence slogans to messages such as "Education is powerful" and "Incarceration is bad."
I've heard and seen it all before. But the image of a young African-American boy with soulful eyes is so compelling, I look again and see the text, "Every child deserves an equal chance in life," and it resonates.
These are not government slogans. These messages are brought to us courtesy of real people, about the issues most important to them. The artists are the disenfranchised, disengaged and dissatisfied. They are people of color, women and young adults. They are the homeless and the incarcerated. They are legal and illegal immigrants.
They are our neighbors, and some of us.
With a little help from the Active Citizen Project (ACP), which partners with organizations and residential facilities in local communities, these people gain a voice.
Their posters, stickers and videos on exhibition are the end products of a program facilitated by the New York City-based ACP. Participants actively identify problems in their facility, community, city and nation, and decide how to take action.
When they begin a session, explains filmmaker, artist and ACP founder Linda Goode Bryant, "the pervasive attitude is one of futility." The biggest part of what the organization does is convince people to try, get involved and come together to address issues that are important to them.
Bryant started the ACP late in 2003, while making a documentary on the 2004 election. She felt disenfranchised, having lost interest in the political process.
"Our interests weren't being represented in public discourse or in political debates," says the 57-year-old African-American woman.
Fueling change at a grassroots level, the ACP transforms participants' ideas and images into visual material. Much of it can be viewed at thepeoplesplatform.com.
"It is our commitment to get their messages out there," says Bryant.
A longtime connection with art colleague Senga Nengudi Fittz, founder and co-curator of ARTSpace, gave Bryant's organization the first opportunity to publicly display works created by groups like those at the local Spring Creek Youth Services Center.
The exhibition fit both the ACP's needs and the gallery's mission: to bring art to the people, allowing all artists to be represented. Bryant hopes this is the start of something big: She aims to bring ACP exhibits to 34 cities by 2008.
From the People: Speaking Truth/Taking Action
An "Active Citizen Project" Community Event
ARTSpace Gallery at Hillside Community Center, 925 S. Institute St.
Runs through May 3;
call 385-7900 for more.