Art and Activism

Thoughts arising from Art of The (Im) Possible

Unconference, Melbourne, Thurs 31 Oct & Fri 1 Nov

Deakin Arts Participation Incubator with Doing Something Good  

Brief Notes and Reflections by Genevieve Roberts, prompted by the Discussion with Bianca Tainsh and participants.

Bianca is a Melbourne Artist involved in saving Lake Weyba, Queensland.

“Art for Art’s Sake” – does it exist?

Should Art focus on Aesthetics or Outcome?

Is Activist Art  – a Comment on society?  Or  – Designed to intervene?

Example – Bianca Tainsh organised a Curated Art Show near Lake Weyba to raise awareness. Outlets for publicity included Local news – TV, Radio, Papers. Bianca asks, Can you make a difference through Art?

In Australia, the Lake Weyba Art Show was a celebration of the beauty of the place. However, Bianca says those who attended did not necessarily feel compelled to take that connection to place, and turn it into political activism to protect the place.

In Germany, Bianca more explicitly linked the work to saving the Lake Campaign. The response in Germany was different – there was an acceptance of actually having a petition embedded in the Art work. There was no question “is this art?” in the German context.

Lake Weyba German Support

Lake Weyba Top of ‘Species’ List

Is High Art linked to notions of Art for Art’s sake? and Low Art linked to Activism?

Art is about Attention and Passion

There is a need to reclaim the word “Activism”

From an Arts funding point of view, activism can be a dirty word.

In a recent interview I heard on radio, David Williamson said that, in his experience of 4 decades working as a playwright, the actual amount of funding going to the Arts does not vary whether it is a progressive or a conservative government in power. He said a conservative government would not be so foolhardy as to cut core funding to be flagship companies which are the ‘cultural diet’ of their voters. What does vary when there is a conservative government in power, is who gets funded. Conservative governments will fund established Artists and Art forms: Mainstream Theatre, Ballet, Opera. Since it is the job of the passionate young artist to respond to life and hold a mirror of critique up to the system, conservative governments will not tend to fund them. Conservative governments do not like voices of dissent and change. Yet dissent and change is exactly the job of the artist.

In reclaiming the word, “Activism”, which these days can be seen as a dirty word apparently, other words considered are:

  • Social Changemaker
  • Advocate
  • Influencer

“Activism” can imply being ‘against’ something, in opposition or conflict.

Environmental Activist Julia Butterfly Hill, does not particularly like the word “Activist” for this reason. She identifies as a “Holistic Health Practitioner” – an interesting name for an Environmental and Political Activist.

Similarly, I myself identify as a “Wellness Practitioner” – someone who creates social change by promoting holism, connection to self, others and earth, through Play and Art.

The difficulty with Julia’s nomenclature, and mine, is the implication of Alternative Medicine Practitioners. Sometimes I deliberately exploit this association: I do believe that ceremony creates wellness, and play is an alternative medicine practice. I do believe there is power in the etymological connection between the words ‘health’, holism and holiness as well as ‘wholeness’ and ‘wellness’.

I do, however, have a fondness for the power of the word “Activism”.

My Father, Bill Roberts, proudly identified as an Activist. He had foundational involvement in Action for World Development, Australia – East Timor Association and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health. Dad believed that social change can be served by:

Anger, Angst, Activism


Peace, Resistance, Stillness

Think of the diversity of the work of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and right here at home: Denis Walker and Gary Foley.

Activism is about action, about being pro-active. I also love that it is connected to Actor. I cannot separate my Art as Actor from my participatory citizenship as Activist. As I often say: I like to occupy ‘the space-in-between’ – the intersection of Art, Activism and Academia – is that Spirit / Body / Mind?

I am reminded that years ago I had the joy of meeting NY Artist, Dread Scott. His work, “What is the proper way to display a US flag?” is a powerful example of Art as Participatory Citizenship. Interacting with this Art is an act of Activism – regardless of your ‘stance’ on the issue of the US flag. To answer the question proposed by the Art work, you are invited to write in a book. In order to write your answer, you must step on a US Flag. Check out this work at:

Action is the antidote to despair – Joan Baez

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Stories from the field: Improvisational Play

To whet your appetite for Playshops, here are some ‘stories from the field’ of last year’s playful times.

A Play Expert brings us Vultures on ceiling fans
Hey Players!
Last night’s Improv Play was, as always, fabulous! What I love is the unexpected which arises from the alchemy of who turns up . . .
Well, last night we had a world expert in play come along! I kid you not, well actually maybe ‘kidding you’ is exactly what happened 😉 We had someone from a tribe of experts who so know play it is their ‘default setting’, it is in their cells. We had a Kid come and play! Thank you Arthur for coming along!

We all quickly and seamlessly entered the world of genuine play:
– where games take on “extended play” forms, one game merges with another and you barely notice, rules are made up as you go along, rules are temporarily broken and reinstated only to be broken again when necessary . . .
-where play is cheeky and subversive and flouts authority, is risqué, a bit naughty and upturns status

Suddenly we were in a world where a whispering bird became a vulture that lands on ceiling fans and poops on your head!
A Vulture became an eagle . . .
became a pirate’s parrot that leads you on extended treasure hunts
became a bird that lands on your head and gives you an accent!

With only 4 people we had a fabulous game of “Bunny Bunny”, which became a rhythmic train with a generous and infectious energy! If you ‘fell off’ the train, no worries- just get scooped up by the rhythm and jump back on. I love Bunny Bunny! 😉

Train wreck leads to gold
Improv Play was, as always, fabulous! What I love is the unexpected,which arises from the alchemy of who turns up . . .
We had 2 completely new players: thanks for joining us Mel and Soph!
We spent extended time playing games that rely on multiple intelligences: memory, sequencing, kinaesthetic knowledge, layers, complexity.
We also played games built on imaginative impulsive offers.
We finished with a purely physical game, involving players as either ‘performers’ or ‘audience’.
Interestingly, this final process was a bit of a ‘train wreck’ on one level – and absolute gold on another!
That’s what I love about playing – you never actually get it ‘wrong’. There is no wrong, there is just the way things are. The process reveals the state of the players, and the state of play.
We all enjoyed the ‘debrief’ and generous insights and revelations.
Finishing with the check-out circle brought us more deeply into connection with ourselves, and each other.
This is what we harvested from the circle: delight, gratitude, warmth, friends, insight, inspiration, laughter!
I love the circle!

Sneaky Deep Play
Each week of Improv Play is so surprisingly different.
Last Thursday was magic: the alchemy of story and metaphor leading into liminality!
Equipped with imagination and narrative, we explored cosmology and the nature of reality . . . with a good dose of lightness and magic . . .
Sands of time, ecological connection to earth, Nature grappling with Development, place, mindfulness, time and eternity, presence, music & merriment, Leprechauns, Maypoles . . .
There was fun, laughter and physicality. It was also an evening of narrative and story.
Trust and intimacy enabled us to explore the things that matter, “the real stuff”.
Jewels we harvested from the circle: discovery, awe, gratitude, moon, stars, rainbow, stories, collision, synchronicity!
I love the circle! Thank you players!

Play makes you Clever
I’m back down the coast: fresh from the Gawler “Profound Healing, Sustainable Wellbeing” Conference, at which I did a workshop on Play and Neuroplasticity. Amazing stuff – lots to share. According to Dr Judy Tang (Research Officer, Faculty of Health Sciences, La Trobe University), there are three key elements to enhanced learning:
1. If it ain’t fun, yer not doin it right!
2. Make it social
3. Make it different
So Play is essential to learning!
This is due to the “bilateral cortical activation with a focus on enhanced long-term potentiation during task engagement“,
Otherwise known as FUN!

Also, on Tuesday night I was co-conspirator with Jo Scott in a Play Workshop, “Collab Play” with Collab Melbourne. We had a ball: 28 players came along!
Last week’s Improv Play was very funny, in response to a Twitter movement, Kirstin, Sue, Mel & I invented “The Hashtag Game”. Kirstin also helped turn the classic “Bunny Bunny” into a waltz!
Improv Games 1

Show Up, Be Present, Jump In! Improvising into a flourishing world!

I’ll make you an offer:
Start playing and I guarantee you’ll increase your well-being, flourish under stress, tap into your creative potential and have fun!
Yes, and . . .
you can get connected and make the world a better place!

Improvisational Play is a process involving resilience, flexibility, responsiveness and creativity. Play is how we revitalise and re-create ourselves. Through play we come into community and we entertain possibilities, future selves and change.

Improvisational Play enables:
• Mindfulness
Play nourishes mindful noticing, being fully present and attentive listening. Wellness benefits of mindfulness include connectedness to self and reduced anxiety.
• Connectivity
Trust, acceptance and attentive listening are key, fostering co-operation, collaboration and collective growth.
• Laughter
Play is rich with laughter, a well-established antidote to stress. Laughter also nurtures problem solving and social connectedness.
• Adaptation
Play promotes resilience through adaptive flexibility and coping with change.
• Creativity
Play is intrinsically creative as it continually remains open to and explores possibilities and innovation.
• Experiential Learning
The embodied thinking, self-derived solutions, and collaborative participation of play provide a rich learning environment.

Viv McWaters and I have discussed how these aspects of improvisational play actually work holistically and synergistically together.

What does neuroscience tell us about Improvisational Play?
Resilience is fostered by taming the triggers to the fight or flight response, enabling flexibility and greater ability to deal with the unexpected. “Aha” moments of discovery activate the brain’s reward system, nurturing learning. Creativity and play reduce stress by increasing activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Play promotes personal well-being, flourishing and fun!
(Crawford J, 2009, This is Your Brain on Improv, Applied Improvisation Network 2009 Conference, Portland Oregon)

Viola Spolin, a founder of Improvisation, said that playing seeks “to free each person to feel his or her own true nature, out of which a felt, experienced, actual love of neighbour will appear”. Will you accept my offer to improvise your way to wellness, get connected, have fun and change your world?
All you have to do is Show Up, Be Present, Jump In!

Genevieve Roberts
Full References for this article are available on request

Welcome, announcing Playshops at Anglesea Hall

I’m excited to be announcing the offering of Playshops at Anglesea Hall. Come and experience the creativity, connectivity, nourishment and fun of Play, starting Monday 3 June. Bookings and prior payment are essential; check under Playshops for details. I look forward to seeing you there!

We all have the extraordinary coded within us waiting to be released” –Jean Houston

This is my new website! The pomegranate photographed was given to me as an Easter offering by my friend Iris. Easter is a time of new beginnings. The luscious pomegranate is full of the seeds of possibility, growth, change and incredible potential.
My friend Sue and I have had fun photographing the pomegranate, and playing together to build this website.
I’m excited about launching this website, have fun exploring Pomegranate!

Let the playing build your inner strength, your vast incredible potential.”
-Viola Spolin