Art Speaks: Using Art for Advocacy

Guest Blogger: Alicia M. Hopkins

Art has the power to tell stories, change perspectives, and help unite communities on various causes and issues. We can use art to engage people in dialogue about a particular cause or idea that is important to us or others in our community. As an artist and advocate, I use art as a sound board for sharing messages, and as a forum to bring awareness to issues that need attention.

It is one thing to engage people in dialogue on an issue and another to give people a voice through art. Inclusive art empowers people. Contributors learn that what they share matters and their voices have a place in the community. By using art as a platform to share diverse thoughts and stances on important topics, these conversations can find their way outside the frame of a meeting or community event.

During the Akron Cultural Plan development, I attended a meeting at United Disability Services. While attending the meeting, I took notes and then went to work on the art piece, “It Starts in Your City” which is now hanging in Akron City Hall. This art piece is a visual representation of statements from people with disabilities in the Akron community about accessibility in the arts. 

Black wheelchair wheel with a sky view triangular views of a city with it starts in your city painted on couple of triangular wood cutouts then things needed for accessibility in the arts such as accessible parking, ASL, Braille, closed captioning, wheelchair access and accessible parking. Anchor in middle. 

My work didn’t stop there, I discovered that being an advocate means one must hear from people of all walks of life. We must include the voices of our neighbors, colleagues, and underrepresented populations in any way we can. My most recent piece is about the Ohio Caregiver Crisis – a very big issue dear to my heart; this same issue affects people all across the state. The 3 x 4 foot art piece is made up of four 16×20 inch canvases. 

I attend weekly and monthly meetings for various disability advocacy groups in Ohio.  Over the last year, I have participated in many advocacy meetings and heard hardcore stories, watched disabled advocates being pushed back on ideas to help the caregiver crisis, and dealt with my own battle to remain in my community with adequate supports. 

In the past, I had reached out to state leaders only to be told to be more organized. I know that even the organized groups are having a hard time being heard. The caregiver crisis in Ohio is in hospitals, nursing homes, developmental centers, group homes, and in OUR VERY HOMES. Ohio doesn’t speak much about the thousands of people on Medicaid waivers and those under 59 living in the community with physical disabilities that don’t have the support they need. The news only talks about the aging population or the direct support crisis for those on waivers through the developmental disabilities boards. You never hear about people like me and how we struggle… all in all the caregiver crisis is bad for everyone on all home and community-based waivers.  

Surely you haven’t even heard about the frontline workers that come to our homes who are overlooked and very much underpaid. Especially during the pandemic, the government has failed to recognize the crisis in our homes for anyone with a disability. Many would love the directors of Medicaid, Aging, and Developmental Disabilities to form a solid plan to help this crisis. In the meantime, I decided to turn my art into an advocacy forum. 

I invited people with disabilities, families of people with disabilities, and those that care for the disabled and people around Ohio to give a statement or two about the caregiver crisis and how it affected them. I drew and painted people into my piece and gave each person a speech bubble to share their thoughts. 

This piece, painted with diversity and inclusivity in mind, honors the voices of Ohioans who want to live and thrive in the community of their choice as defined under the Supreme Court Olmsted Decision. Without caregivers, we face the unjust path to institutionalization. 

This piece also addresses the systemic problems that drive out caregivers and reminds people that this caregiver crisis is a human rights issue. The Supreme Court’s Olmsted Decision says we have the right to live in our community with the necessary supports possible, yet we are denied this because our state won’t invest in this workforce and as the baby boomer generation gets older the need for it becomes greater. Who will care for them? Who will care for you? Many people are one accident or injury away from needing a caregiver. The voices in my art piece speak loud and clear – Ohio must form a plan!

Art and advocacy. This is how I addressed what isn’t being said or printed or broadcasted. Art can ultimately be a powerful tool to bring attention to issues so people, the media, and leaders can advance this dialogue.  

Alicia Hopkins is a disabled advocate from Ohio. She was the 2018 Arts Alive Community Outreach Award Recipient and applauded as an Unsung Hero in the Beacon Journal in 2019. Some of her projects include founding the Art Speaks All Abilities Art Expo, Art Speaks Ohio Art Supply Program, the Poetry4All Initiative, and the Art of Christmas. Alicia has a Bachelor of Arts from Malone University and has written numerous articles on disability rights, arts advocacy, and accessibility. Additionally, she has been involved with Akron Cultural Plan, is a former board member for the Center for Applied Drama and Autism and Art Sparks. She enjoys genealogy, writing poetry, dance, and visual arts. You can follow Alicia’s work at @ArtSpeaksAudacity2Advocate and watch a video about her artwork on the Ohio Caregiver Crisis here.

Main image: Flamingo red road with people of different backgrounds, cultures and genders some old and some young. People with disabilities and able-bodied people, caregivers and family members. Some of people have mobility devices walkers, white canes, wheelchairs, and canes. There are people all around each with a speech bubble describing the caregiver crisis. Some of them say “pay a living wage”, “caregiver crisis is human rights issue”, “grandma wants to stay home but there are no caregivers”, “PCA shortage” and much more. There is green grass also, green and yellow grass. A human heart in middle of four canvases. Two hands overcast a city that are black brown and white and a hand comes in from the left of the bottom canvas. There is mention of this crisis being in hospitals, nursing homes, developmental centers, and in relation to community waivers. There is a court house representing the Supreme Court. An Ohio map reminds Ohioians to follow the Olmstead decision. Speech bubbles explain what imagined care might be like. The bottom lower corner has more about the crisis in nursing homes and the challenges of the pandemic, including visiting restrictions and staffing shortages. A cemetery is depicted and at the bottom, there are advocates/protestors with signs that read “our homes not nursing homes!”, “pay homeware workers a living wage!”, and also some providers and family members sharing their thoughts.