Michelle Woo: Expanding the Civic Engagement Conversation
For Michelle Woo, Director of For Freedoms, art has always been about stretching people’s imaginations and creating spaces for expansive thinking. For Freedoms is an art-led civic organization that creates art and sparks conversations around what expanded civic participation looks like.
Michelle Woo is the Director of For Freedoms and is also a creative producer and artist based in L.A. Her diverse range of work includes cultural strategy, creation, project management, and management of national campaigns.
“To look at a billboard and see a work of art on that canvas is such a unique experience and it just brings art to audiences that might not go to museums or galleries or more conventional art-viewing spaces. And it creates a much more public conversation about the role of art and how it shapes our social, geographic landscapes.” — Michelle Woo [0:51:36.0]
In today’s episode, Michelle sheds light on her artistic journey and how she got to where she is in her career. We talk about the skills that artists need, beyond their talents, to succeed creatively. Michelle then shares the impetus for founding For Freedoms and how it has grown from its humble origins.
“We’re really creating art to inspire greater civic participation and also to think more expansively around what civic participation looks like.” — Michelle Woo [0:20:29.0]
In an increasingly divisive and polarized political landscape, artists must give nuance to conversations to broaden perspectives and allow spaces for bridges to be built rather than burnt. We hear about some of the incredible projects For Freedoms has run, and Erin and Michelle also discuss the AAPI campaign they are working on as we wrap up the show. Tune in to hear it all!
“As artists, we’re supposed to come in and disrupt and inject the environment and the space with creativity and radical ideas.” — Michelle Woo [0:11:24.0]
“Artists are small business owners. We really are entrepreneurs but we aren’t really trained to have agency in those areas. We're taught to hone our craft and it’s almost this very antiquated approach to what it means to be an artist. And I think it really does allow you such flexibility and room to move and speak multiple languages as you traverse different creative spaces and environments.” — Michelle Woo [0:13:15.0]
Key Points From This Michelle Woo Episode:
- Hear about some of Michelle’s earliest art-making memories.
- How Michelle got into the art world and her decision to go to Pratt after high school.
- Michelle’s parent’s feelings around her pursuing art as a career and how these have shifted over time.
- Details about Michelle’s first job in the art world and what it taught her.
- Insights into some of the first events Michelle ran and the spirit of these gatherings.
- You have to know the rules first in order to know how to break them.
- Artists are small business owners, but art schools do not equip students with those skills.
- For Freedoms’ founding story, the impetus for starting the organization, and how Michelle met her team.
- The diverse range of projects that For Freedoms currently runs.
- Why it works for For Freedoms to have such a broad range of work.
- How Erin knows when a piece that she has created is finished.
- Where For Freedoms’ innovative programming strategy comes from.
- The impetus for the For Freedoms conference and why it happened when it did.
- Tips from Michelle on how to build connections and strengthen partnerships.
- An example of a project For Freedoms ran with a clear call to action.
- Some of the important facets of fundraising that are often overlooked.
- There is a balance between staying true to your creative process and securing resources.
- Details about the AAPI Solidarity Billboard Campaign that Erin and Michelle are working on.
- Why billboards are such a unique, inclusive medium to display art on.
- Where you can follow For Freedoms and Michelle online.
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
- Michelle Woo — https://forfreedomscongress2020.sched.com/artist/michelle_woo.20kfgm27
- For Freedoms — https://forfreedoms.org/
- For Freedoms on YouTube — https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0SBfCiA0drnRyY7GbQfZJg
- Pratt Institute — https://www.pratt.edu/
- Hank Willis Thomas — https://www.hankwillisthomas.com/
- AI for People — https://www.aiforpeople.org/
- Eric Gottesman — https://ericgottesman.net/
- AAPI — https://stopaapihate.org/
- Erin Yoshi — https://www.erinyoshi.com/
- Man One — http://www.manone.com/
- Man One on Twitter — https://twitter.com/ManOneArt
- Scott “Sourdough” Power — https://www.instagram.com/sourdoughpower/
- Not Real Art — https://notrealart.com/
- Not Real Art School — https://school.notrealart.com/
- Not Real Art on Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/notrealartworld/
“Don’t be afraid to ask for what you think you need.” — Michelle Woo [0:43:24.0]