Celebrating 50 years of global impact, last weekend Amnesty International held its annual General Meeting and Human Rights Conference, entitled “From Moment to Movement,” at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott. The event was cross-generational, encompassing high schoolers, college students, young professionals and older adults.
The three-day conference consisted of keynote speakers, town hall-style meetings, voting for board candidates and informational programing. Workshops consisted of various talks on topics such as race, gender, national security, torture, international relations and police brutality. Among the various panels, Art for Amnesty announced the official re-launch of its initiative.
Art for Amnesty celebrates the role of artists in human rights and works with artists and musicians who use their voices to inspire people to act. The panel highlighted a number of artists on the front line in the struggle for human rights. Although all were inspiring, one artist in particular moved the crowd. Brandan Odums and a group of fellow artists were able to transform an abandoned Florida public housing project into a reminder of our past and inspiration for our future by painting its walls with murals that depict heros of the Civil Rights Movement.
After the artists had talked about their work, internationally known figures took to the stage to share their experiences as both artist and activists, including Laura Poitras, Nursat Duranni, Piper Kerman, Annie Lennox, Jessie Williams and Harry Belafonte.
The panel focused on the impact art can have in the fight for human rights. Belafonte said, “Art is the radical voice of civilization.”
Moderator Ari Melber stated that artists have a certain responsibility to their fans. He commented on Rihanna’s approximately 40 million Twitter followers and how the vastness of her reach is unparallelled. He noted that being able to reach so many people with the information they share gives artists a certain amount of power.
With regard to the unfortunate events that unfolded in Ferguson, Mo., actor Jesse Williams spoke about how the silence from celebrities and prominent artists was “deafening” in the aftermath.
The panel noted that oftentimes the general public looks to celebrities and media as a sort of social regulatory device. The speakers determined that well-known celebrities have access to an all-encompassing audience and that they sometimes have the power to influence how and what people think.
Arts for Amnesty recognizes the power art can have in society and looks to the artists to make a difference for the better.