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October 12th, 2020

Credit: Shan Wallace

Art and human rights: To Marissa Gutiérrez-Vicario, they have always been intertwined.

Once a director with Public Allies New York, Marissa went on to start Art and Resistance Through Education (ARTE), which empowers young people to find their

voices and advocate for crucial human rights issues—all through the accessible mediums of visual art and design. With programming in New York schools, jails, and other community settings, ARTE has engaged thousands of emerging leaders and has innovative plans to reach many more.

Although she could not have predicted being the founder and director of her own nonprofit—not to mention holding two Master’s degrees (one in Arts in Education from Harvard and one in Nonprofit Management from New York University)—Marissa seemed destined to make an impact from an early age. Growing up near a major prison in her California hometown, she wanted to be a force for positive change in her community. Marissa spent her teenage years volunteering at food pantries and senior centers, and even recalls writing a college application essay about her dream of starting a social justice organization—so maybe she was a bit clairvoyant after all.

During her time with Public Allies, Marissa’s idea for ARTE was just a kernel. Yet, after weaving arts education into the training curriculum and getting such positive feedback from community leaders, she found the courage to venture out on her own. Marissa notes that several of ARTE’s board members, volunteers, and partners are Public Allies alumni: “It’s a huge network that never stops giving.”

The genesis of ARTE was in Marissa’s belief in the power of public art. In her mind, one of the biggest contributors to human rights challenges is that those experiencing the trauma may not have the space to articulate it. This cycle often leads to anger—a powerful force when given the appropriate outlet. ARTE strives to be that outlet, providing young people a space to express their lived experiences in an interactive and creative way.

ARTE fills is also proud to fill an arts gap in communities of color, something that Marissa elaborated on in a recent interview with Authority Magazine: “For many of the schools, jails, and communities we work in, ARTE is the only access to the visual arts that our students have. While our organization addresses a deficit of the arts in primarily people of color communities, I think the larger problem we are trying to address is Institutional racism, which, in large part, precipitates this lack of access to quality educational resources and creates an imbalance of power for low ­income communities of color.”

Looking to the future, ARTE is placing an extra emphasis on digital arts, partly out of necessity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other plans will resume as normal, though, including increased advocacy around community issues and the development of a youth board (“They should have power, even if it means adults need to take a step back sometimes,” Marissa says). The Public Allies motto of “Everyone Leads” was made with people like Marissa in mind.