Principle Two: Social Justice Art

This principle generates the conditions for a youthspace to emerge. Co-learning and creating, storytelling, reflection, dialogue, and critique are designed to support youths’ radical imagining. In this way, art and creative practices provide the scaffolding, tools, and resources for young people to radically envision realities, identities, and systems than what currently exist (Goessling, 2017). Utilizing the arts and creative practices reflects the idea that world building is self-building (Stetsenko, 2015). Engaging in the arts as an emerging, living practice provides a platform to ignite imaginations in a meaningful way that “unabashedly strives to affect our very ways of living, being, and co-being” through introspection, reflection, and action (Finley, 2014, p. 531). Viewing art as cultural production challenges the dialectical tensions politics of representation—art is not merely a representation of one’s truth or experience—it is an act of sense making, identity construction, and as we create the impulse, intention, and form we are thus transformed. Youth are understood as capable social actors and cultural producers and, at the same time, experience affor- dances and constraints of the complex web of social relations within which they exist. The arts provide a meaning making practice that is both empowering and transformative. Art-making is an embodied affective experience that can enhance youths’ understanding of their own capacities for taking action.

In an earlier project, I worked with two youth activists to create a public art encounter intended to build community and a sense of belonging (Goessling, 2015). The event included making anti-oppressive wearable art (buttons), a collaborative mural, and an ever-expanding web of identities that people could write on pieces of muslin that were later sewn together and hung in a tree in a public square. Their public encounter was an act of resistance through the appropriation of public space to create a place for people to reflect, imagine, connect, and be seen and valued for all of their multiple identities (Goessling, 2015, 2017). The youths’ reflections upon their project was mixed, one was satisfied with how it went and felt like they achieved their goals. The other young person felt disappointed because there was no permanent or structural change, yet she named the action as pivotal in her taking on an activist identity. This example illustrates the ongoing, negotiated, contentious, complicated, socioculturally situated creative inquiry of a youthspace.

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