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caption: Seattle artist Noelle Price
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Seattle artist Noelle Price
Credit: photo @ Evelyn Sanford

Art and activism. 'It's not why art matters, it's what matters'

For artist Noelle Price, her art is her megaphone.

“The song, the illustration, the poetry, the dance, it amplifies, it magnifies,” Price says. “It provokes.”

Price says it’s taken six years for her to acknowledge that the work she creates with her company, PRICEarts, is activist art, but she proudly embraces that mantle now.

“When I make art, it tingles through my whole body,” she says. "And it is undeniable that something needs to change.”

Change is the watchword for hundreds of thousands of people in this country and around the world. They’ve taken to the streets in the weeks since Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, demanding an end to violent, racist policing, and along with the systemic racism they believe enables it.

Like most Americans, Price has been swept up in the huge public outcry, although she hasn’t been marching; fear of coronavirus keeps her at a physical distance from the crowds. Instead, she’s been initiating conversations about systemic racism in this culture. She has gone online to discuss with the artists in her company, and with white friends who reach out to her.

“What’s happening in our world right now is making everyone so uncomfortable,” Price says. “When they ask, in quotations, ‘how are you doing with all this stuff?’ I get the opportunity to say we have to call this what it is.”

Price wants people to acknowledge racism’s various shapes, from overt hatred and violence to the unspoken dominance of white, Northern European cultural values.

caption: Seattle artist Noelle Price
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Seattle artist Noelle Price
Credit: photo @ Evelyn Sanford

And while she appreciates the many public messages of solidarity for Black Lives Matter, she sees them for what they are: a first step in the process of changing race dynamics in this country. Price believes they can serve as wake-up calls to people who haven’t given much thought to how racism manifests in this country.

Beyond the hard conversations, Price has been thinking deeply about why art matters at a time when the movement is focused on broad societal change, from defunding police departments to investing in community services like education, housing and health care.

Price embraces those causes, but fighting for change doesn’t preclude artmaking—she calls it "arting." Price says she needs to make art in the same way she needs to breath. She may not be marching in the streets, but she believes her creative output can, and should, be a force to push for the societal change she wants to see.

“It’s not ‘why art matters,’” she says. “It’s what art matters.”