Global Issues Tackled by New Wave of Artists: Public Art

Palestinian artist Nida Sinnokrot, who was selected as one of the 2023 Soros Arts Fellows, believes that art has the power to provide hope and resilience even in the midst of war. As the co-founder of Sakiya, a Palestinian academy of agrarian traditions and contemporary art, and a faculty member in Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Art, Culture, and Technology Program, Sinnokrot understands the importance of disrupting convention and cultivating new stories that challenge divisive binaries.

The Soros Arts Fellowship, established by the Open Society Foundations, awarded Sinnokrot and the other members of this year’s class $100,000 in unrestricted funding to develop public art projects that tackle climate change through community-based solutions over the next 18 months. According to Tatiana Mouarbes, the Open Society’s Team Manager for Culture, Art, and Expression, there is a clear need for bold action, justice, and equity-based solutions to ensure a more regenerative and life-sustaining world.

Mouarbes highlights the role of art in driving social change and believes that robust, diverse, and fortified arts and culture landscapes are prerequisites for inclusive and just societies. She emphasizes that art has the power to expand political and collective consciousness, challenge oppressive power structures, and create momentum for change. In a time when philanthropy is reevaluating priorities, including the Open Society Foundations under the new leadership of Alex Soros, Mouarbes argues that supporting artists and their impactful work is just as crucial as traditional investments.

Jordan Weber, a New York-based artist and another member of the 2023 Soros Arts Fellows, commends the foundation for supporting art that leads to direct action instead of merely discussing community issues. Weber plans to plant an acre of conifer trees in Detroit as part of a remediation project to counter pollution from nearby factories, engaging the community in enjoying the open space and learning about environmental justice. He believes that this opportunity is a launchpad for a new realm of direct action in the arts.

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Molemo Moiloa, a fellow recipient from Johannesburg, South Africa, aims to address the weariness felt by many young South Africans since Nelson Mandela’s inauguration as the country’s first Black president in 1994. Through her project “The Ungovernable,” Moiloa plans to help people connect with the land and equip them with strategies to survive uncertain times. Her project includes urban farming areas and community centers that facilitate reconnecting with traditional and indigenous knowledge systems.

Sinnokrot’s project, titled “Storytelling Stones: How far does your mother’s voice carry?” draws inspiration from ancestral knowledge systems to develop sustainable approaches to complex issues like climate change. He envisions repurposing Palestinian stone shelters known as mintar into acoustic chambers that resonate with the environment and oral histories. Despite the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, Sinnokrot remains determined to build his project in Palestine.

Sinnokrot believes that the global solidarity showcased through initiatives like the Soros Arts Fellowship gives him hope and demonstrates the power of collective action. As the program continues to grow, it embraces the importance of supporting artists who can drive social change and contribute to a more inclusive and transformed world.

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