‘Artivists’ bring together art and local activism

The organization is partnering with stArt gallery to display their sustainably made collection


Evan Harris

This piece, titled “Patchworked Identities,” invites viewers to add their charcoal handprint onto the canvas, which is made of recycled cloth as a criticism of the fast-fashion industry.

Selinna Tran, Senior Writer

The Artivisits, of which Maya Whitaker and Dianna LaTerra are co-presidents, seek to transform the social environment of Winston-Salem through art and visual communication. This comes in the form of creating art from recyclable or discarded materials to make pieces that reflect social issues and engage people in the community. The Old Gold & Black provided Whitaker with questions in writing. Her answers, which have been edited for brevity, clarity and AP Style, are below.  

Tell me a little bit about how the Artivists started on campus. 

I transferred to Wake Forest in the middle of the pandemic in spring 2021. I have always felt a passion for art as a tool for social change and community building. I realized that at a time when social distancing was necessary, it would be hard to do socially engaged work. And yet, it felt more important than ever to build and strengthen community. 

The collective formed out of both a passion and a need for a creative community on campus. Dianna LaTerra, a sociology major and music minor, joined the collective and became co-president in the fall of 2021. Dianna and I, as musicians and visual artists, both felt that any art could be used in a generative way with the right knowledge and encouragement. With the support of Deb Marke, the Assistant Director of Advocacy and Social Justice Education in the Office of Civic and Community Engagement, we were able to form this idea into the Artivists collective. 

What is the current exhibit at the stArt Gallery? 

“[Sustain]ance” addresses the fraught relationship between sustainability and the arts, with every work made from almost exclusively recycled, foraged or repurposed items. The works are united through the common goals of reassigning value to devalued materials and investigating how unconventional resources have untapped potential. We attempt to bring awareness and prompt solutions to the issue of sustainability in society, the art world and our own campus. 

Most of our materials were sourced from the music department, the art department, the theater department and the waste management team in facilities and were made possible by our partnership with the Office of Sustainability. Furthermore, this show explores the nature of consumerism in its holistic definition — touching on themes of overproduction, consumption and the commodification of human necessities and non-necessities. While our works are just one step toward sustainable art production, the Artivists hope that our show brings awareness and inspires people to reflect on how we interact with sustainability and, conversely, unsustainability in our daily lives. 

Visitors attend a stArt Gallery exhibit put on by the Artivists. (Evan Harris)

What is the vision for the artivists moving forward? 

As Dianna and I are both seniors, we are turning to the younger members of our group to continue our work. We hope that the Artivists will continue to be a space of community building and creative exploration in the pursuit of social change. That being said, we want the people who will be left to lead the collective in the way that feels most fulfilling and generative for them. We hope to expand membership and reach more people with similar passions. 

What future events do y’all have planned? 

So far, we have had a booth at the Wakeville arts festival with a collaborative painting that invites viewers to write responses directly on the piece. We will also have small canvases and paints for people to take home or make works at the event. In the spring, the collective decided on a new theme or project to tackle, but since we value input from all members, we usually wait until after the fall involvement fair to solidify events. Fina Dooley will be the next president of Artivists (possibly with a co-president), and she will be in charge of what events Artivists will engage in the coming school year. 

Do you have anything else you’d like to share about the exhibit? 

Come and make your mark on the collaborative piece “Patchworked Identities,” where we invite viewers to leave a charcoal handprint on the work. This piece is made of recycled materials sourced from the Office of Sustainability and other student donations, and it critiques the harmful practices of the fast-fashion industry. As you add your handprint, consider the relationship between the items you use to present your personal identity and the oppressed identities of the hidden laborers who create the textiles themselves. 

Correction April 12, 2023: An earlier version of this article misspelled Maya Whitaker’s and Fina Dooley’s names on first reference. This has been corrected.