Art for aid: how Black 5Cs artists are using their work to promote and fund social change

A woman sits in a room and plays guitar to a camera. The room is lit with a red cast and is decorated with many music posters. The woman wears a long-sleeve black shirt and round classes.
Cherise Higgins PO ’21 performed her music on a livestream to raise funds for National Bailout and Black Table Arts.

With the recent surge of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, many people are reckoning with what it means to show up for a cause.

For some 5C creators, using their art to benefit or incentivize support for funds and organizations such as Nobody Fails at Scripps, Occupy Pomona and organizations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement was a way to show support. 

Illustrator Delanisse Valdez PO ’21 was one such artist. While she initially started drawing as a hobby, she began to spend more time making art when quarantine started. 

“I was alone, I had much more time for myself, and I needed something to get my mind off of everything that was happening,” Valdez said. 

Art for Aid — Delanisse Valdez PO ’21
Delanisse Valdez PO ’21 reinterpreted the classic CyberChase character Motherboard in a recent commission.

When the Black Lives Matter movement garnered global attention in the form of worldwide protests at the end of May, Valdez was disappointed that she could not attend protests. After talking with a professor and being inspired by other 5Cs artists, such as Carrie Young SC ’21, who sells wire earrings on Instagram and Etsy, Valdez realized that she could show her support through her passion. 

On her Instagram account @delanisse, she announced that anyone who showed proof of a $40 payment or more to student-organized funds (such as Nobody Fails at Scripps or Occupy Pomona), or any other funds supporting Black or brown people, could receive an art print from her.

Print commissions flooded in, and Valdez was elated by her success.

“I’ve just been having the time of my life making commissions,” Valdez said. “It’s a win-win because it goes to the cause and it’s also great for my mental health. Art is a great release for me … it doesn’t feel like work.”

Other Black 5C creatives have also been getting involved. Cherise Higgins PO ’21 has been using her voice, literally. The artist has spent recent months not only making music relating to activism but is also playing in festivals to raise funds for Black organizations.

“I can go on [virtual concerts] even though I feel like I shouldn’t have to,” Higgins said of her participation in Zoom and Instagram Live festivals. “… I just share my story and let people know people need to be heard and they need to be understood. It’s time to start pouring back into my community.”

Higgins also uses her performances to direct monetary support to funds and organizations for BIPOC at numerous virtual fundraiser festivals.

“Most recently, more so than my music, my performances have been geared around the things that are happening,” she said. “I haven’t done any shows for myself.” 

For instance, Higgins played for the Student Arts Festival on June 5, which raised funds for the National Bailout Organization, an abolitionist organization, and Black Table Arts, a Minnesota-based organization that educates Black artists and gives them a space to create. The festival ended up raising over $5,000, according to Higgins. 

Chiugo Akujuobi SC ’21 is taking a different approach to support the causes they believe in. Through photography and modeling work, they set out to celebrate unconventional beauty and challenge traditionally rigid beauty standards.

A DIY magazine cover — four photos of the same Black model make up the front of the magazine cover. The model makes various faces, sometimes smiling and sometimes puckering their lips. At the bottom of the photo, the words "PAPER: Digital Cover" appear in neon green.
Chiugo Akujuobi SC ’21 reimagines traditionally white spaces — like editorial modeling — by putting their work in DIY magazine covers.

“I want to redefine what it means to be a model,” Akujuobi said. “Models can have acne, they can be short, they can be not a size two, they can have natural hair, they can be Nigerian.”

Modeling, they said, has the power to change public influences by directly reappropriating the art for a marginalized audience.

“I feel like as an art, [modeling] specifically redefines what the mainstream media or who gets to be seen as beautiful I feel like art has a huge part in that,” they said. “Now, we’re really tackling Eurocentric beauty standards and redefining what beauty means and we’re doing that specifically through art.”

Akujobi’s reclaiming of traditional Eurocentric spaces through modeling is one that also extends to fine art. Valdez uses her illustrations to create spaces for Black lives — which are often limited or nonexistent in popular culture — thus upping Black representation while also prompting people to reconsider mainstream media. 

“I just realized that when I grew up, my perception of angels were only white people,” she said. “And I feel like the only reason that [my perception] was that was because all the art I saw about angels was white. So I was like, ‘I’ll go ahead and make a Black angel.’”

Similarly, a meaningful commission that Valdez worked on was an illustration of a Black Motherboard from the cartoon CyberChase. She said she always imagined the character as being Black, and creating it brought her peace and warm childhood memories.

For Higgins, playing at the Student Arts Festival was especially meaningful because of its cause and the wide support it garnered. Not only did the virtual event receive many donations, but Higgins was particularly uplifted by the large turnout, even getting to perform for several of her professors. 

“Seeing those people donate and then also just seeing the friendly faces and the encouraging atmosphere, I was like, ‘Maybe I’m not alone in this. Everybody’s going through this together,’” she said.

When it comes to the role of art in activism, all the artists agreed that art’s accessibility means that it can be used to spread messages to a wide audience. Valdez also spoke to how art can appeal to anyone’s emotions in a powerful way. 

“Art is a way to reach everybody,” she said. “To evoke emotion, to move people to do things — art can do that.” 

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