On a zoom call, attendees show their drawings to each other by holding them up to their cameras.
Photo courtesy of Ji Hoon Choi

Around 50 participants virtually joined The Center for Racial Justice’s virtual workshop to learn from multidisciplinary artist Holly Bass Thursday afternoon. The discussion was part of the Racial Practice in Workshop series called “Activating joy with Holly Bass: Creative practices for authentic community building”. Bass led attendees over zoom in an interactive discussion through artistic activities to spark conversations on the intersection between activism and joy.

Dominique Adams-Santos, a senior research fellow and lecturer at the Ford School of Public Policy, opened the event by explaining how public policy can be used to advance racial equity within organizations and communities. 

“We recognize the power of public policy to bolster or undercut our life opportunities and we see policy analysis as a critical tool for us to measure, reflect, and historically examine and help us define the way forward,” Adams-Santos said. 

Bass then spoke on the workshop’s mission, emphasizing the importance of enjoying and finding joy in activism and policy work.

“We can start infusing joyful practices into the work we do now, whether we’re students, whether we are in the workplace,” Bass said. “That’s kind of the mission and intent of today’s session,” Bass said.

Bass started her activities by asking the audience to “flood” the chat of the Zoom call with descriptions of things that brought them joy in the past five days. The attendees wrote a range of responses, from nice conversations with co-workers to seeing the sunshine. Audience members were then asked to act out their response with a small on screen gesture. Bass then prompted the audience members to create a dance with their gestures, resulting in movements like hugging an imaginary cat and stretching.

For the second activity, Bass asked audience members to discuss and define a list of words and phrases, including “activism”, “organizing” and “culture-shift work”. Bass defined “culture-shift work” as the work of expanding interconnectedness over time between different individuals and defined activism as a public-oriented and highly visible activity.

“(When) you think about protests and marches, (activism) brings awareness of an issue to a larger public and galvanizes support,” Bass said. “It draws the media and public attention.” 

After learning about each word, Bass asked attendees to draw their own versions of each phrase or word on a piece of paper and share what they came up with. Bass then divided the audience members into small groups to create poems describing the phrases through the five senses. The words and phrases discussed included “joy”, “justice”, “culture shift” and “a better world”. One group wrote about joy, describing it as feeling like warm sunshine on skin.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily after the event, Rackham student Kayla Guillory, who currently studies integrative design and public policy, said she enjoyed how the event was structured as a workshop and involved artistic approaches to the subject. 

“Getting to attend some more workshop-feeling events is nice,” Guillory said. “I like to absorb information and think about trying to translate things in my own practice of policy and design.”

Guillory also expressed appreciation for Bass’s perspective as an artist and how joy can be integrated into policy and activism work. 

“We don’t often associate (policy work and activism) with maybe the idea of joy, or at least I don’t,” Guillory said. “So thinking about how that can be integrated is both a new and exciting notion … and something that hopefully changes the way that the work is sometimes framed.”

Daily Staff Reporter Ji Hoon Choi can be reached at jicho@umich.edu