"Where are the images in the reproductive health/rights/justice movement that symbolize hope and optimism? I didn't see any, so I created one myself with the intention that it would be usable and shareable as a way to bring more people into that conversation." -Megan Smith
Arts & Healing Network is delighted to present one of the 2015 AHN Awards to Megan Smith, an artist, activist, and social worker based in Massachusetts. In 2011, Megan founded the Repeal Hyde Art Project, which uses participatory art installations to raise awareness and create dialogue about the Hyde Amendment, which prevents people from using Medicaid to pay for abortions. She has also created over 100 shareable graphics and designed artwork for organizations like Advocates for Youth, Backline, Ibis Reproductive Health, the National Network of Abortion Funds, and more.
Arts & Healing Network is so impressed by how well conceived and clearly articulated her project is, how generous Megan is with her graphics & imagery, and how she inspires dialogue and collaboration around important social issues.
To learn more about Megan Smith and the Repeal Hyde Art Project please visit repealhydeartproject.org.
Below is an interview with Megan Smith by Arts & Healing Network Director Mary Daniel Hobson from June 2015:
Mary Daniel Hobson: Tell me a little bit about your background in the arts, and how you came to start the Repeal Hyde Art Project?
Megan Smith: I do not have any professional artistic training but have always been a creative person. I come from a family of artists: my grandmother is a painter. As a child I remember painting with her in her apartment and her teaching me about color and perspective. Art was always something that was valued and encouraged in my family, and I realized from an early age that it was something that I could do.
Art has played a large role in social movements past and present, and I am interested in its ability to transcend messaging and create dialogue about social issues. I have been involved in abortion access and reproductive health/justice work for seven years. I am passionate about pushing for a world where people can make the decision to parent or not to parent with safety, dignity, support, and respect. I created the Repeal Hyde Art Project in 2011 based on these principles, as a way to create dialogue and awareness about the Hyde Amendment, which blocks people from using Medicaid to pay for abortions. Hyde can have devastating consequences for people living in poverty who may have to put off paying rent, bills, or even risk putting themselves in dangerous situations to be able to afford an abortion. I wanted to create images that celebrated resilient narratives in the face of such burdensome obstacles.
I have worked with abortion funds in Philadelphia and in Boston over the past few years, and I have talked with people firsthand about their experiences trying to come up with the money to pay for their abortions. What I remember and hold about the people I have spoken with is not only the destructive policies and limited resources, but more importantly, the stories of resilience. Hyde has been in place for nearly 40 years, and every day we are confronted with more and more restrictions to reproductive health care. Yet for as long as politicians have been trying to make reproductive health care impossible, cutting social programs, and sanctioning state violence, there have been people overcoming those barriers. So I thought to myself in 2011, where are the images that represent those stories? Where are the images in the reproductive health/rights/justice movement that symbolize hope and optimism? I didn't see any, so I created one myself with the intention that it would be usable and shareable as a way to bring more people into that conversation.
Mary Daniel: Please explain a little here how the project works, and what you hope to accomplish?
Megan: The Repeal Hyde Art Project raises awareness and creates dialogue about the Hyde Amendment, which blocks people from using Medicaid to pay for abortions. The Project accomplishes its mission through collaborative, in-person displays and shareable graphic content. The purpose of both the interactive displays and the shareable images are to invite people into conversation about abortion access in physical and online spaces.
The interactive displays are easy: just print out the bird templates from my website along with posters with information about the Project and about the Hyde Amendment, instruct people to write a message on the birds about why they think that the Hyde Amendment should be repealed, and post the birds in a public space.
It's also easy to share my images from my website or Facebook page to create dialogue about reproductive health/justice issues. The online graphics have enabled me to think about expanding my messaging. I recognize that the Hyde Amendment has a disproportionate impact on women of color and exists within a multi-layered, oppressive environment. I strive to create intersectional dialogue that links abortion access to other related issues -- a dialogue which reflects the complex realities of people's lives.
Mary Daniel: I love that you created a symbolic image for the project. Tell me about what the bird means to you, and why you chose it for this project?
Megan: I created the bird symbol because I wanted to make something that represented the resistance and resilience of people who have overcome significant obstacles to be able to care for themselves and their families. I wanted something that reflected the dignity of people who face these difficult decisions every day, and I wanted to honor them. I also wanted a symbol that represents the hope for change. Hyde has been in place for nearly 40 years, and it is a stubborn piece of legislation that folks have been working diligently to repeal for a long time. I wanted to remind us that we have the power to challenge and change the "status quo." I also chose a bird specifically because I liked the idea that each person who participates has a bird that is unique to them, but that we are flying together over these barriers.
Mary Daniel: You have also made over 100 shareable graphics - tell me about the decision to give your images away free and what you hope these images will do in the world?
Megan: When I created the Repeal Hyde Art Project, I never intended for it to be something that I owned, but rather something to spark dialogue and make change that could be used by individuals and groups. Although the project has expanded, I have intentionally made the work free for non-commercial use because I wanted to maintain that spirit. It is more important to me that the images are shared and that people are using them to start conversation about reproductive justice issues than for me to make money from them.
Mary Daniel: Why do you believe art can be a catalyst for positive change?
Megan: I think that art has the power to connect and resonate with people in on an emotional level. Art can make people think about ideas and concepts that they would not necessarily think about in other settings or through other mediums. Art and symbols can also capture complex ideas and thoughts and synthesize them in a way that invites the viewer to consider multiple ideas at once. When you are looking at an image, you are looking at its physical presence, color, light, and texture, thinking about what it means, considering how it relates to you, or perhaps even thinking of a familiar memory, person, or place. Art gives us permission to hold multiple ideas and values at once, and I think that permission can bring people into conversation that they may not have entered otherwise.
Mary Daniel: What excites you most about your work right now?
Megan: Right now, I am most excited thinking about the possibilities for collaboration that will take this dialogue to new places and audiences. I have worked with a number of organizations on exciting campaigns, including most recently a billboard campaign with New Voices Cleveland. That campaign was conducted in response to racist, anti-abortion billboards in the Cleveland area, and I am thrilled that I was able to partner with New Voices to put up positive images and messages to reach people who had seen only negative images previously.
I'm also excited that I have recently collaborated with young people over the past academic year in the Repeal Hyde Art Project leadership program, funded by the Abortion Conversation Project. It's important to me to make space and foster the voices of young people in this movement, and I plan to use a portion of this award to continue the leadership program. Check back on my website later this summer for information to apply.
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