“The Art of Social Justice”

Below is an essay originally written by Maria X. Martinez for the journal Social Justice, Volume 34, No. 1, “Art, Identity, and Social Justice.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Staring directly at the Northern Ireland checkpoint, briefcase in hand about to be opened, Chilean political refugee René Castro poised himself for a battle.    British soldiers drew their rifles immediately and ordered him to halt.  “What’s in the  case?” they demanded.  “My weapon,” he answered.  Their rifles cocked as he opened the case and withdrew his sketchbook.


I first heard this story over 15 years ago while volunteering at the Mission Cultural Center in San Francisco.  I was a healthcare administrator, having spent my entire career trying to improve systems that treated disease and injuries.  Using art as an agent for social change was a perspective I had never studied in art history classes and the image in my mind of the soldiers’ startled faces opened a lens for me that has never closed.  That same summer, the Mission District was in the height of gang violence.  Kids were killing kids…19 of them so far and the prospects for peace were not hopeful.  We dedicated the Day of the Dead Procession that year to the youth who had fallen.  Hundreds of people walked down 24thStreet to Garfield Park where artists wrapped their poems, dances, and music around the community and the families of lost children to affirm our young people and to help them heal.  No healthcare system I had ever improved came close to reaching that many people, that deeply.

Download the full article here: The Art of Social Justice (303KB PDF)