Can art change the world?

By Karen Harrison

When was the last time a work of art changed your perspective on the world?

For artist Diana Gilon, who recently led a crowdsourced project to paint an Oxfam-inspired mural on a California college campus, this is the definition of a successful piece. “I believe art is one of the most powerful tools we have to communicate and make changes within our society,” said Gilon. “Art has initiated revolutions throughout time and will continue to do so.”

This spring, Gilon joined University of California Santa Cruz students in an effort to spark that kind of change with a work of public art. The students envisioned an inspirational image that would represent the global development issues they are studying in their classes. ogether, they produced a colorful mural—which incorporates elements of Oxfam’s logo, values, and beliefs—covering a long span of cement wall at the entrance of the college.

“I want to be doing something that requires me to be socially, politically, and ethically conscious,” said student Angeline Vu, a participant in the project and an Oxfam America CHANGE Leader. Vu said she sees many organizations promoting important values like peace, justice, equality, dignity, and respect. “Ultimately, I just want … to be part of anything that works towards elevating those values,” she said.

Zoe Tofaletti, UC Santa Cruz film student captured the artistic process in this short video.

Students spent several months imagining a public art piece that would powerfully express the themes of the International and Global Perspectives college.  Words like impact, unity, and change rose to the top when muralist Gilon asked students to upload images, phrases and ideas onto a shared online photo album.  The process was meant to spark creativity and foster a sense of sharing and community.

So why choose Oxfam in particular as an inspiration? UC Santa Cruz programs coordinator Erin Ramsden said the university has used Oxfam materials and resources for several years in a student-led course called “Global Action,” which focuses on international social justice issues. “I have always been impressed by the way Oxfam makes complex problems accessible to young people who are interested in creating change,” said Ramsden.

Whether it’s painting a mural, taking a thought-provoking class or volunteering with a campus club, young people all over the world are seeing the intersection of individual action and global change.  The colorful mural in Santa Cruz expresses this belief that we all have a role to play.