As most good things do, the idea for ArtUnited started over a cup of coffee. Co-founders Lola Ibrahim and Lexi Balfour met by chance prior to the 2016 election and began sharing their thoughts about the two things that inspired them most: art and social justice, along with their general dissatisfaction with the separation between the two.
Ibrahim and Balfour mixed all that with a little bit of good timing (and some half-and-half), and soon an organization with a goal of bringing together activism and artists was born.
The two founders have a combined 20 years of service in the nonprofit world with a focus on social justice philanthropy and arts based activism. Ibrahim was once an aspiring artist and while originally from Sudan, she traveled extensively throughout her youth, and now resides in New York. She’s worked in youth community engagement, arts-based activism, human rights, gender, and social justice philanthropy.
Similarly, Balfour grew up with a passion for performing arts and social justice work in the U.K. and also experienced living in different countries throughout childhood, and into her adult years. While living in Africa for three years, Balfour worked to develop a network of local artists to highlight messages about gender equality and HIV/AIDS.
Together, Ibrahim and Balfour hope to create social change through art exhibitions and events that “shift mental models and empower people to interrupt and alter oppressive, systemic patterns.”
And they’re doing it big with the first ever Creative Disruption: A Visual Protest for Social Change event right here in Philly. The free event will fuse together visual art, installations, street art, poetry, and other media. It will host more than 30 Philly-based social justice artists whose work will be focused on three themes: gender justice, climate justice, and racial justice.
“It’s all artists that work at the intersection of art and social justice issues,” Ibrahim says. “It’s about bringing it all together to tell a much fuller story about what the issues are, how they’re connected, and how people are tackling them locally.”
Ibrahim and Balfour have spent the last year planning this exhibition, starting before the election last November, but taking on new meaning in the last 11 months. And they are focused on connecting deeply with communities in order to ensure this. At the exhibition this weekend and againat a subsequent one in New York this December, all artwork will be sold for $150 or less.
“We want everyone to be able to go home with a piece that speaks to them,” Ibrahim says.
As a nonprofit organization, ArtUnited is a project of Fractured Atlas that works to initiate innovative art organizations. And since its inception, ArtUnited has been working to find ways to invite more people into the art world. “We were inspired by protests happening all around us,” Balfour says. “And we kept saying there’s got to be a way that we change people’s perspectives about art having a role in social justice.”
For Ibrahim and Balfour, Philly felt like a natural hub to achieve their goals. Arts organizations across the city are working to engage with communities around important issues and ArtUnited aims to bring that all together during the Creative Disruption event.
Visitors this weekend can expect to see a range of artists new and old including Philly based poet Kai Davis who was a two-time international grand slam champion and has been featured on TEDXPhilly.
“It doesn’t have to be this closed world,” Balfour says. “We all have the ability for creative expression.”
Saturday November 4, 7 p.m. – 10 p.m., free, Warehouse on Watts, 923-29 N. Watts Street.