OWS: Cultural Moment, Political Movement

From Day One, Arts & Culture have been a driving force of the Occupy Movement. In fact, one could argue that OWS was a cultural moment even before it was a political movement. In the weeks leading up to September 17, most of us were introduced to the notion of trying to ‘Occupy Wall Street’ through a poster image created by AdBusters (an arts magazine based in Canada, with no actual organization in NYC). At that point, OWS did not yet exist as a group. There was no plan beyond just showing up. There was no infrastructure in place. No massive General Assemblies or spokescouncils. There was just a surreal image that proposed a radical first step, which seemed just impossible enough to be worth trying.

The now iconic poster - of a ballerina poised atop the Wall St. bull being swarmed by teargas - presented a transcendent vision of a more humane world. One where peace and beauty could rise above, and triumph over a ruthless financial system backed by violence. This image, accompanied by the haiku-like statement 'Occupy Wall St. Sept 17th. Bring Tent' somehow triggered enough of a sense of anguish and yearning within people, that a few of them began began consider ways to pull it off.

This image was then joined by  other works of art. Taking a cue from Adbusters, the mysterious hacker organization 'Anonymous' began posting videos online that adeptly used cinematic techniques borrowed  from popular movies. These videos, structured like the melodramatic previews for action movies, perfectly captured the feeling of something important about to happen, only this time, for an event that was about to take place in real life. For many viewers,  this tipped the scales from being witnesses to history, to wanting to make it. 

Since that cultural moment inspired people take unprecedented action, and people did in fact 'Occupy Wall St.', the Occupy Movement has been in a race to try and catch up with its own imagination. Thousands of people have been working tirelessly to build the infrastructure, both physical and virtual, needed to turn these bold visions into workable realities. 

It happens to be a great coincidence that this project, ArtIsMyOccupation, was also begun in August 2011, in those same weeks  before OWS officially began. Although it did not yet have a name, the goal of AMO was the same as it is now: to inspire, connect and support artists creating work around Economic Justice. We felt such a project was necessary, because as bad as things were in the US - from the housing crisis to the student debt crisis to the unemployment crisis - there was shockingly little cultural work being done on The Economy. The absence of art & culture was to us, a real barrier to social change.

During those first few weeks it felt like we too, were trying to do the impossible. We were mired in difficult questions: Why isn’t there more art being created about the economy? Is it even possible to inspire artists to work on issues they weren’t already inspired to do by themselves? Are enough artists sufficiently informed on issues like foreclosures,  taxation, and financial regulation? Where would we even find all these ‘economic justice artists' anyways? There was a great deal of uncertainty, but we kept moving forward. 

Then Occupy happened, and suddenly the path forward became crystal clear. 

The artwork that has burst forth from Occupy has been plentiful, dazzling and sophisticated. Suddenly the number of artists inspired to create work on the economy is so large it’s nearly impossible to keep track of. Posters. Songs. Videos. Pranks. Street Theatre. Every medium is accounted for, and new ones are being invented (Bat signals, anyone?)  What’s more, new presentation platforms have sprung up across the virtual landscape like so many flowers blooming in the desert.  Websites like Occuprint, OccupyMedia, and 99% Media have been showcasing the multitude of brilliant work being created, and in real time. 

The dream that inspired us to create AMO is suddenly becoming real, and really, without us having done a thing. It was the artists themselves  who took care of their own inspiration, created their own networks, and self-educated at lightspeed. That is of course, exactly how it should be.

Now, all we have to do is help them do it even more.

-Gan, Favi, Ian, Erin, Betsy and the rest of the AMO team. 



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