NEA Racial and Social Justice Conference, Minneapolis (June 2018)

The Art Build Workers organized a two-day art build during the NEA (National Education Association)Conference on Racial and Social Justice. The conference was from June 28-29, 2018 and brought together 700-plus people – primarily, but not exclusively, K-12 teachers who are part of their local teachers union, under the national umbrella of the NEA. Our task was to paint 15 large-scale parachute banners (24′ wide) throughout the duration of the conference. The goal was to showcase the tactics and the power of art builds, to create specific banners for the June 30th march in Minneapolis (in conjunction with the National Day of Action: Families Belong Together), and to supply the NEA with 15 parachute banners for their emerging banner-lending library.

In Minneapolis, we set up the night before the conference was to begin in a corner of the Minneapolis Convention Center and began painting. The next morning at 8:00am the conference was in full swing. And so were we: painting at lightning speed with an steady stream of volunteers (conference attendees) who would stop by and help out.

Joe Brusky and Nicolas Lampert also gave a presentation during a workshop session called “Plot, Paint, Power: Building Creative Community.” Prior to presenting we came up with a list (with help from Kim, Paul, and Claudio) on why art builds are so essential – especially in the context of organized labor.

1. Provides creative entry point into the union and its organizing for members and the community.
2. Honors the Intersectionality of Movements / Builds coalitions.
3. Honors a multiplicity of voices / collaboration / inter-generational.
4. Creates a Space for engagement and action / a space for healing / art builds nurture the soul.
5. Engages/invites  artists to create art for the movement.
6. Generates social media during the art build: promotes the upcoming event / creates  buy-in / a lasting memory.
7. Art in the streets: visualizes the message / creates cohesion / attracts the camera – the media / art brings joy to the demonstration.
8. Movement Imaginary. Helps visualize the world we want to live in.

The art build itself was perfectly located in the conference center space. While we painted we could listen to the keynote speakers, the DJ (Rich Medina), and we could welcome anyone in the conference to take part in the art build. During the two-day conference we heard presentations by some of the best organizers working today: Rashad Robinson, Shaun King, and Rinku Sen.

At the conclusion of the conference there was a march in downtown Minneapolis (in conjunction with the National Day of Action: Families Belong Together) and some of the parachute banners that had been painted were carried in the streets.