The Gustavian Weekly

Still We Rise: a fusion of activism and art | The Gustavian Weekly

By Emily VanGorder - Staff Writer | October 3, 2018 | Variety

On September 29, Gustavus held its first “Still We Rise” event in Anderson Hall. The event was created “to try to address a number of needs that we saw in our community” event coordinator and Professor Michele Rusinko said.

She was joined in planning this event by Gustavus Alumni McKayla Murphy and Julio Zelaya.

One of the primary objectives of this event was to address the currently divisive nature of the country and the breakdown of foundational democratic systems, as well as to talk about the numerous ways to get involved in various organizations or movements. 

“The past few years, since the election… have been difficult for many, many people” Rusinko said, and “I think it [the event] was successful on many levels.”

Still We Rise event coordinator and Gustavus Alumni Julio Zelaya is the current coordinator of the Racial Justice Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, and works primarily in rural Southern Minnesota. 

While at Gustavus, he studied and performed theater utilizing art. He has a background and passion for law and art, and graduated with a degree in Political Science. 

Gustavus Alumna McKayla Murphy is also a Still We Rise event coordinator, and is currently a Program Resources Specialist at Girl Scouts River Valleys and lead instructor for the City of Plymouth Dance Program. 

While at Gustavus, she was involved with the Theatre and Dance departments, and has a background in racial justice, women’s and girl’s leadership, and youth development. She graduated with a major in Communication Studies and a minor in Dance. 

The Still We Rise event was “sparked by a conversation Julio and I had about how we really wanted to better engage with art in our activist work. We had a few students attend, but most attendees were community members” Murphy said. In planning the event, “we saw the natural overlap between arts and activism. Musicians, dancers, and visual artists have engaged in activist work through their art for a very long time”, and while “the idea of artists as activists is definitely not a new idea… in the current political climate and social environment, we could be doing a better job leveraging art as a mechanism… and a way to replenish and inspire”, Murphy concluded.

Both have been involved in the Minnesota Fringe Festival, an annual event where over 1,000 artists of all disciplines are brought together to display and perform their art in an open and diverse setting. 

Among participants was Gustavus Alumna June Wilson, who gave a keynote address during the event’s lunch. Wilson is the former Executive Director of the Quixote Foundation, an organization focused on “free people in fair societies on a healthy planet”, according to the foundation’s website. 

She now advises foundations about racial equity and various management strategies. Her work has affected many organizations, including the Minnesota Dance Alliance and the National Performance Network in New Orleans. 

The event was composed of several breakout sessions followed by an Open Spaces Facilitation and group sharing. The first session, “All Together Now”, was led by Professor Michele Rusinko and Wendy Goldberg, and analyzed how to add body rhythm to the messages in order to strengthen the message being communicated. The session ended with a combination of learned moves into a flash mob. 

Afterwards, a MEISA (Movement- Exploration- Imagination- Sensation- Awareness) session was led by Professor Melissa Rolnik. 

The session integrated movement, breathing, stretching, and combined those with opportunities for moving with less tension and heightened mobility.

The third session, “What you Bring to the Movement” was led by Gustavus Alumna and Alumni Murphy and Zelaya and focused on engaging with issues in the community and the intersection of arts and activism.

The next session, “Saying What You Need to Say, Many Times Over”, was led by Senior Emily Dzieweczynski, and was centered around printmaking as an easy-to-use and popular method of conveying political and activist messages. 

The session ended with participants creating their own prints on materials they had brought with them. 

An “Image Theatre” session led by Professor Amy Seham reviewed the medium of Image Theatre, which has one person act as a “sculptor” by moving and positioning others. 

The session saw participants go on to create their own works which represented forms of oppression, and was followed by group discussion. 

The last session “Hip Hop Activism” was led by the Minnesota Hip Hop Coalition, and set out to educate participants about differences between the culture of hip hop and rap music, and its role in civil rights, activism, and community organization.

The session ended with a message about deciding between the world and its principles, and one’s own principles and ways.conceived from. Decide between the world and its principles and one’s principles and ways.

This event was planned and created by Professor Michele Rusinko, McKayla Murphy, and Julio Zelaya. 

The work of Professor Melisa Rolnik, Wendy Goldberg, Senior Emily Dzieweczynski, Professor Amy Seham, as well as The Minnesota Hip Hop Coalition added greatly to the sessions and the importance of this event.  

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