Americans across the country started protesting in January 2016 and haven’t stopped since. What’s emerged from these years of #resistance is a lot of art, whether it’s crafts like pussy hats or the creative posters at every rally. Those looking to hone their art skills and find a way to protest at the same time, the Forward Union Fair is for you.

“We wanted to do something that took the model of an art fair but put the emphasis on all of the causes that seemed to be popping up as relevant at that moment,” says Holly Shen, the director and curator of visual arts at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and co-founder of Forward Union Fair. “We’re all art workers, and we really believe strongly in the power of art to not only change people’s lives but to communicate issues and problem solve.”

Returning for its third year Sept. 29-30 from noon-6 p.m. at Red Bull Arts (220 W. 18th St.), the fair is part art show that attracts some of the most provocative protest works from around the world, and part Activism 101 with two full days of workshops, talks and a “marketplace” of social justice organizations where you can invest your activist time and money.

forward union fair 2018 art activism

 

Who's coming to Forward Union Fair 2018?

Among the works on display are United for Intercultural Action’s The List, a controversial memorial featuring the names of 34,000 asylum-seekers and counting who have died in Europe or while trying to get there. Artist Aram Han Sifuentes’ acclaimed Protest Banner Lending Library is a workshop where attendees design and sew their own durable fabric signs. Another Protest Song: Karaoke With a Message is exactly what it sounds like, and you won’t attend any political rally like Iranian-American artist Amy Khoshbin’s “cathartic rap dance-party,” part of her campaign for Brooklyn City Council in 2022.

Once you’ve been inspired by the art, there’s a slate of panels focused on four main themes. There’s civic engagement with Run For Something regional director Amanda Clarke; immigration, including training to accompany immigrants facing deportation to ICE check-ins with the New Sanctuary Coalition; healthcare through the proposed single-payer New York Health Act; and gun violence at This Is Not A Gun, a workshop led by Cara Levine where attendees use clay to make objects that have been mistaken for guns by police officers in civilian shootings.

“Outwardly, it’s a ceramics workshop, but during the process of making there’s also a conversation that’s facilitated by a moderator,” says Shen. “So these workshops have two steps to them: the creative element and the dialogue that comes out of them.”

forward union fair 2018

How can I make a difference in NYC?

Now that you’re inspired and educated, meet with the nearly 50 nonprofit groups tabling at the event. While Forward Union Fair started out partnering with big, national organizations, this year’s participants focus on how you can help right here in the five boroughs like the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, OutSmartNYC and Make the Road New York.

There’s no age limit to attend — an all-ages art-making workshop will be going on both days from noon-6 p.m, and the Forward Union Fair’s keynote speech on Saturday morning will be given by a group of teens from the Youth Action Council of No Longer Empty, which advocates community engagement through art.

“We were so inspired by the teen activists who came out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting,” says Shen. “The youth are holding voters accountable for these issues that are important to them, gun restriction being the top priority among youth these days.”

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