Shira Walinsky, Laila Islam, Isa Matisse, Rheagen King, Diane Wong, and Denise Brown

This was a multi-city event with arts organizers from Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York City. Speakers reflected on their work, group organizational structures and strategies, what they’ve learned in the last 2 years and aspirations for organizing moving forward.

The event was initiated with introductions by Daniel Tucker and Jange Golden (Mural Arts) followed by presentations by Shira Walinsky about Southeast by Southeast a community space through Mural Arts (Philadelphia); Laila Islam and Isa Matisse about the Future Is Us Collective (Philadelphia); Rheagen King about Nomunomu (Baltimore); and Diane Wong about Chinatown Art Brigade (New York City). The presenters were joined by Denise Brown (Leeway Foundation, Philadelphia) who moderated a discussion and facilitated audience questions.

This event was a collaboration between Mural Arts Philadelphia, Jefferson Humanities & Health, and Moore’s Socially Engaged Art MFA and MA programs.

Speaker Bios

Shira Walinsky is an artist and educator in Philadelphia. She co- teaches Big Pictures Mural Arts in Philadelphia with Jane Golden, Director of the Mural Arts Program at the University of Pennsylvania. She has worked with Mural Arts Philadelphia since 2000 creating over 40 murals. Much of her work centers on migration. She has worked as a socially engaged artist embedded for ten years in South Philadelphia with new communities. She creates participatory work that is often a hybrid of events, teaching and visual artifacts from the process. Her recent work has centered on portraits of and with community members. In 2022 she showed six short videos at Scribe created with Karen and Bhutanese refugee communities. She believes in the role art can play both in classrooms to empower and to make visible those communities who are often not seen or heard in the city.  She is inspired by the struggles and vibrant spaces of the city, where history and growth run parallel. 

In 2012, she developed the Southeast by Southeast storefront space with Melissa Fogg and Miriam Singer. Southeast By Southeast is a community arts space for and with refugee, immigrant and migrant communities in South Philadelphia. Through the space she created projects and programs that bridge mental health, storytelling, art and learning, poetry and film, citizenship and community building. Since 2019 she has developed six films centering on the stories of Karen from Burma and Bhutanese from Nepal families through the project Making Home Movies. Shira co-teaches at the University of Pennsylvania with Jane Golden. She is a lead artist advisor with the Mural Arts Institute supporting artists in Santa Fe, Portland and sharing practices of public art and engagement at workshops across the globe.

Laila Islam and Isa Matisse (The Future is Us Collective): Founded as a youth coalition of 8 artists in 2017, The Future is Us Collective exists as an all-inclusive visual arts collective based in Philadelphia. We provide free platforms for emerging artists to showcase their artworks while giving young Philadelphians a safe space to enjoy the arts. In addition to exhibitions, we facilitate public programming for young creatives, cultivating spaces where participants can collectively process trauma, share knowledge, and create art. As a collective we are organized and facilitated by young adults, serving with a “For Us By Us” model.  https://thefutureisuscollective.com/ 

Diane Wong is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University, Newark and an affiliate faculty of Global Urban Studies, American Studies, and Women’s and Gender Studies. Her research and teaching interests include American politics, race and ethnicity, critical urban studies, comparative immigration, gender and sexuality, cultural and media studies, and community rooted research. Her current book project, You Can’t Evict A Movement: Intergenerational Activism and Housing Justice in New York City, combines ethnography, participatory mapping, archival research, augmented reality, and oral history interviews to examine intergenerational resistance to gentrification in Manhattan Chinatown. Her work has appeared in Urban Affairs Review, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Amerasia Journal, PS: Political Science & Politics, Politics, Groups, and Identities, Gateways, Journal of Asian American Studies, and a variety of edited book volumes, anthologies, podcasts, and exhibitions. As a socially engaged artist, Diane is a member of the Chinatown Art Brigade and co-founder of The W.O.W. project, a queer, non-binary, trans youth-led initiative based out of Manhattan Chinatown that uses arts activism to combat displacement.

Chinatown Art Brigade is a cultural collective of artists, media makers and activists creating art and media to advance social change. Our work focuses on the belief that collaboration with and accountability to those communities that are directly impacted by racial, social and economic inequities must be central to cultural, art, or media making process. Through art and public projections, CAB aims to share stories of Chinatown tenants to fight displacement and gentrification. Chinatown Art Brigade collaborates with the Chinatown Tenants Union of CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, a non-profit organization that fights against tenant rights violation, evictions, and displacement of low-income pan-Asian communities. https://www.chinatownartbrigade.org/ 

NoMüNoMü is an intersectional arts collaborative working to challenge the perpetual systems of oppression within and beyond the art world. We work collaboratively with artists + grassroots organizations at the intersections of race, age, gender and orientation. We see collaboration in the arts as a means to challenge the status quo, specifically in informing movements of decolonization, resource sharing, and learning new ways of being within and through the field of art. https://nomunomu.org/ABOUT 

About Rheagen King (she/they) Rheagen is the Design Manager for NoMüNoMü, supporting activists and artists by creating resources, including guides on Abortion Access and Rent Strike Handbooks. They are also the founder of Denae Creative, a design studio utilizing bookmaking to heal and tell stories of socially aware folks sparking critical conversations around identity, primarily Black women. Her work centers around connection, collaboration, and magic, and they hold a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design and Book Arts concentration from Maryland Institute College of Art. Before receiving her BFA, Rheagen worked at a local magazine educating youth about journalism and financial literacy. She has created a photo book for Washington D.C.s Long Live GoGo’s Movement, an archival book exploring Black women preservation for Washington Projects of the Arts, and a coffee table book featuring poetry, prose, and photography for creator Morgan Dezurn. In 2021 they completed a Design Research, Writing and Criticism Intensive at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She recently received funding to begin Denae Creative’s new community-driven book project titled Arc: Altars, Ritual, &Care, launching in 2023. In their free time, Rheagen can be found meditating with her partner, practicing tarot, or avoiding the merciless bosses in Elden Ring.

About the Moderator:

Denise M. Brown (pronouns she/her) is a cultural organizer and strategist, coach, and facilitator who is passionate about using her skills and energies on creating, supporting and illuminating work at the intersections of art, culture and social justice. She is the executive director of the Leeway Foundation, an organization whose mission it is to support women and trans* artists and cultural producers creating art for social change. For over 25+ years, Denise has consulted with cultural and social justice organizations, individual donors and foundations on program development and grantmaking strategies regionally and nationally. She currently serves on the boards of the Henrietta Wurts Memorial Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation and Scribe Video Center, a Philadelphia-based media arts organization.

*Leeway is a trans-affirming organization committed to gender self-determination, and we use the term “trans” in its most inclusive sense, as an umbrella term encompassing transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, Two-Spirit people, and anyone whose gender identity or gender expression is nonconforming and/or different from their gender assigned at birth.

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