Interview Feature: Young Artists for Black Lives Matter!

Sandhya Ganesan is a seventeen-year-old writer and rising senior from the San Francisco Bay Area. She co-founded and is the Outreach Coordinator for Young Artists for Black Lives Matter, an international organization of artists raising funds for the Black Lives Matter movement. Additionally, she reads for and has work published or forthcoming in various literary magazines. In her spare time, she can be found conducting research in genetics, teaching programming lessons, or drinking boba. Find her on Twitter at@sungslept.

Interview by Joann Lam

Would you mind talking about or describing your organization?

Of course! Young Artists for BLM is an international collective of young artists dedicated to using our own forms of creative expression to support the Black Lives Matter movement. We do this by accepting commissions (in the form of proof of donation to organizations supporting BLM, including bail funds, the Minneapolis Freedom Fund, Reclaim the Block, the ACLU, and more) in exchange for custom pieces of art, writing, and other disciplines. We're composed of over 60 talented young artists from around the globe, many of whom have already begun working on commissions, and we're all excited for the opportunity to use our art to further the Black Lives Matter movement at the local and national levels!

When did you start this organization? Why did you feel you should start this organization?

After hearing about the unconscionable murders of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and Breonna Taylor by Louisville police - which are only the latest in a long history of police brutality against Black Americans - and seeing the resulting calls of "No justice, no peace" out on the streets of America and on social media, we knew we wanted to support this movement in any way we could. As young artists and writers, it's our duty to use our art to drive change; we wanted to use our own skills to combat injustice by helping provide necessary funds to organizations in service of racial justice. We felt the best way we could do this was through commissions, allowing us to involve young artists from around the world and directly fund the movement. Ultimately, money talks. We know that every dollar going towards these organizations is a dollar towards racial equity and justice, and that's what we've set out to uplift through Young Artists for BLM.

What are your future intentions with this organization?

Great question! Black Lives Matter isn't a moment, it's a movement; we plan to continue producing art to fund legislative and societal change until racial justice is a reality across the nation. In the future, though, we definitely intend to address other pressing problems within our society: gender equity, environmental justice, LGBTQ+ rights, gun reform, and more. At the moment, there's no shortage of issues to combat; as long as there's a cause that we can support, we'll work to raise funds for it! We also hope to expand the size of our team to increase our global impact, one work of art at a time.

As you said before this is an international organization, how did you reach out to these people? How has the process been keeping tabs on their artwork and staying on schedule when you are so far away?

We communicate via Discord! Currently, we use our Discord server to make announcements, plan meetings, and discuss plans for the organization; people can check in whenever time permits, which really lets us work efficiently across time zones. We also use a shared folder on Google Drive to keep track of commissions, regional chapters, and our roster of artists. Our team's very self-driven, and they do a fantastic job of staying updated and spreading the word about the work we do - we're so grateful to work with such an amazing group of artists!

How has the progression of the black lives movement reflected the progression of this organization? How has the change in the black lives movement affected your organization?

We definitely acknowledge that this movement is far greater than any one of us, and we're a small part of a once-in-a-generation effort to advocate for racial justice. There's no facet of this that isn't important, from protesting out on the streets to combating stereotypes and racist mindsets within our own communities to using art to spread awareness to directly calling on those in power for legislative change. What we do - using our art in service of justice and equity through raising funds - is one in a myriad of ways to address social inequity. This diversity of paths to justice is mirrored in the diversity of art forms our team creates, from prose to poetry to photography to even philosophy lessons; we're all ultimately doing what we can to bring about immediate and lasting change.

Why does your organization matter? Why should people participate in this organization?

Racial injustice is, without a doubt, one of the biggest issues currently facing the United States and the world at large. For all of us to be free, all of us must be equal. As a nation that espouses "liberty and justice for all", it is inexcusable that Black Americans continue to be heavily policed, often with fatal results, face higher unemployment rates and a widening wage gap, arrested and sentenced at far higher rates, paid less, given unequal access to medical care, face the legacy of segregation through redlining, and so much more - solely for the color of their skin. Racial discrimination is an American legacy, so much so that to protest against it is seen by many as to protest against America itself. This cannot be what America stands for. This cannot continue. This cause matters because Black futures, and Black communities, and Black families, and Black Lives Matter. Simple as that. Young Artists for BLM provides young artists across the world with a platform to use their craft to actively fund and inspire change. Art is a powerful tool to inspire change and uplift communities, and the donations that drive our commissions work to eradicate racial injustice from our society: it’s one of the most important issues we’ll ever face, and one where every piece of art and every dollar counts. So if you’re an artist, or a writer, or a photographer, or a musician, or any sort of creative who cares about justice and equality: we’d love to have you on board.

How have you tried to advertise your account or make your account more verbal to gain more followers?

Social media is our primary method of spreading the word about YA4BLM! Our members - especially our Social Media division - are invaluable in this regard; they've helped advertise by posting about us on their Instagrams, which is a major way we work to expand our team and gain commissions, and designing promotional materials. Our Outreach division and members have also been reaching out via email to artists we feel may be interested, teachers and administrators who can spread the word, existing literary magazines, and other youth-driven activist and artistic organizations. Currently, we're working on a website to compile our mission, regional chapters, and commission information in one source, to make learning more about and getting involved with YA4BLM more accessible!

How is your organization different from other organizations trying to raise money and awareness for the BLM movement?

As important as immediate and tangible change is, we're also focused on sustainability: funding issues after the Twitter tags aren't trending anymore, after the movement isn't in the headlines anymore. It's easy to reduce the fight for equality to a series of moments, but it's an effort that spans years and requires us to address virtually every facet of society. YA4BLM is committed to keep writing, keep drawing, and keep creating to raise funds beyond the current news cycle. We also strive to be accessible for anyone interested in working with us: if you're a young artist who loves to create, we'd love to have you on the team! At its core, art is capable of moving people emotionally, viscerally - it gets right to your heart. It's a powerful tool, and one we use to directly combat social injustice. Also, simply put, people love receiving commissions; it's been a tool that artists have used to gain funds for years. By reshaping this existing model to send funds to BLM-oriented organizations that need it, we can both provide people with art and writing they want to see, and inspire the societal changes for racial justice that we need to see.

How do you think your art will raise awareness about the certain controversy?

Part of what sets us is apart is that there's no "right" way of creating art! We welcome any form of creative expression among our members; our team includes poets, novelists, digital and traditional artists, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, and more. The specific types of art we produce comes down to what our commissioners request; once we’re provided proof of donation to an organization working towards Black Lives Matter, we ask them what they’d like us to create. The requests can be as vague or as specific as they want, and can be made either to the organization as a whole (we then partner them up with an artist) or directly to a specific artist. We both provide a space for people to use their craft to directly benefit the movement, and direct funds to organizations working for racial justice.

Lastly, do you have any advice for people who want to be a part of this organization, but aren’t artistically skilled? Or do you have other suggestions for how people can get involved?

There’s no shortage of ways to help the Black Lives Matter movement! Protest if you can, spread awareness within your community, educate your family and friends on the history of systemic injustice, contact your representatives, amplify Black voices, and stay up-to-date! Specifically for YA4BLM, we’re open to commissions - if you’re able to donate as low as $5 to an organization or bail fund supporting BLM, we would love to create a work of art for you! Spreading the word about our organization is also invaluable, either through sharing commissioned pieces of art, our Instagram post, or our flyer (reach out to us via Instagram if you’d like us to send it to you). Additionally, even if you’re not an artist, you can get involved with us by organizing, helping with web design, outreach through networking, and creating and getting involved with regional chapters! If you’re interested, reach out to us via Instagram - we’d love to work with you.

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