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Favianna Rodriguez’s ‘Butterfly Effect’ to advocate for free, boundless art

Favianna Rodriguez, a self-taught artist, said she believes art should include the voices of as many people as possible. As executive director of CultureStrike, she said she works to include migrant rights in the subject matter of various art forms. (Courtesy of Favianna Rodriguez)

"The Butterfly Effect: Activism & Transformation through the Arts"

Wednesday, 6 p.m.

Glorya Kaufman Hall


By Cameron Vernali

Feb. 5, 2019 10:25 p.m.

Favianna Rodriguez originally created an artwork of monarch butterflies to advocate for freedom of migration back in 2012.

Seven years later, her butterflies are the namesake for an on-campus panel discussion.

“The Butterfly Effect: Activism & Transformation through the Arts” will be hosted by the Visual and Performing Arts Education Program in Kaufman Hall on Wednesday, with Rodriguez, an artist and cultural creator, as the featured guest. Drawing on the goal of bringing diverse backgrounds into the conversation surrounding the arts, the event features panelists, ranging from a mother who doubles as an artist to a principal at an arts-focused public school, who encourage expression in various ways.

Rodriguez aims to create more conversations around art that address topics of social importance through universal means like social media; the diverse communal backgrounds of the other panelists add to this inclusive discussion, she said. The conversations intend to show how art can aid in personal self-expression and community activism simultaneously, said Kevin Kane, director of VAPAE.

“Pushing on all of our radical imaginations, how can we imagine a safer, more beautiful future for all of us and our communities?” Kane said. “By starting a conversation with folks from different disciplines, there is an opportunity to engage deeply.”

Rodriguez’s involvement with VAPAE began years ago when Kane heard of her through a former student of his that saw her community-level impact in Oakland. Kane followed up through Rodriguez’s Rod social media – specifically her Instagram, he said. Her art was not just vibrant but also worked toward inciting change, including by holding workshops that drew attention to topics such as immigration and climate change. Ben and Jerry’s even featured her artwork on a special ice cream flavor called Pecan Resist – a take on “we can resist,” which drew Kane’s attention, he said.

Rodriguez also is the executive director of CultureStrike, a national arts organization centered around advocating for migrant rights with art, written word and performances. She has a history of using social media and hosting events to spark conversations around societal change. Rodriguez said as a result of growing up in a working-class environment, she became a self-taught artist and worked hard to find ways to express and share her artwork with the community around her. Social media is a key way to involve women of color and other groups of artists who often don’t have access to the art world, she said. She also said she uses social media to alert her community about current social issues by posting about them to her followers.

“The reality is, in the arts sector, it’s still predominately white men. It requires for myself, as a woman-of-color artist, to figure out how to close that gap,” Rodriguez said. “Social media is the primary strategy for that.”

Lindsey Kunisaki, the public events and special projects coordinator at VAPAE, said Wednesday’s event adds a spin to VAPAE’s usual art programs because Rodriguez will talk about socially relevant topics and help people think about them, all through different pathways of art.

“(What) really sets her apart from other artists and activists is that she’s thinking about the role of the arts in a very different way … she speaks to what artistic, creative and cultural work can do in changing not just policies, but in changing minds,” Kunisaki said.

“Migration is Beautiful,” Rodriguez’s piece involving monarch butterflies, makes an activist statement through nature-based art. The large butterflies have the faces of indigenous people drawn prominently into the wings. She said the imagery relates to her belief that migration is a right for every living being – from insects to humans. Kane said the monarch butterfly and its symbolization of immigration shows how art naturally transcends man-made limits.

“Art doesn’t respect arbitrary borders,” Kane said. “I’ve been interested in the way a butterfly brings something from one area and brings it to another area without checkpoints and scrutiny.”

In addition to Rodriguez, there will be four other panelists at the event who come from different backgrounds and will discuss art accessibility in different communities. One is Alyssa Garcia, the programs manager for Las Fotos Project – a community-based nonprofit that promotes teenage girls finding their artistic voice through photography. The wide breadth of speakers adds to Rodriguez’s interest of creating change within communities through accessible and diverse art, Kunisaki said.

Rodriguez also said she believes in the inclusion of as many voices as possible, since the beauty of art is found in its many possible manifestations. Though the panelists all come from different backgrounds from motherhood to museums, the event will be held together by what Rodriguez said are the core uniting themes of art: expressing topics and creating dialogues.

“People understand the world through art,” Rodriguez said. “Expression is innovation.”

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Cameron Vernali
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