Artivism: A New Initiative for Art and Activism at Dartmouth

News subtitle

The pilot project showcases artists engaged with social justice.


There’s a new space for arts and activism at Dartmouth.

Billed as a “student-centric artistic platform,” Artivism—a pilot project based in the Department of Music and spearheaded by Walt Cunningham, director of popular music ensembles at the Hopkins Center for the Arts—is designed to create virtual and in-person opportunities for students and other members of the Dartmouth community to engage with issues of social justice through a variety of artistic media.

The initiative will help artists develop creative projects promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion; engage in community outreach; and, through Artivism Television, build a platform where artists—students, faculty, and staff—can share work with each other and the rest of the world.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion has been my lens for years,” says Cunningham, who directs the Dartmouth Gospel Choir and is producer/creator of the annual Dartmouth Idol singing competition. “If we can do our work with the underlying purpose of enhancing issues of social justice, why not? Art can make that more accessible. I want to provide students with an experience that allows them to become more capable citizens, capable of bringing about change, regardless of whether they end up pursuing a musical career.”

Crucially, students engaged in Artivism will be able to earn academic credit for their work through “Music 45: Music and Social Justice,” which asks students “what we can do for music and what music can do for the world,” according to the course description, and to engage with music “as an agent of change.”

The course was initially developed by Associate Professor of Music William Cheng, who chairs the music department, as a way to bring academic rigor to the ways in which students approach social justice work.

“Student activism and social engagement are often viewed as extracurriculars, but the separation of social engagement and academics is artificial and perhaps outdated, when in fact it can be very intellectually rigorous and involved,” Cheng says.

“Music courses intimidate a lot of students who think they are unmusical”—including, for instance, students who may not have prior experience with Western conventions of musical notation, Cheng says. “Artivism is going to be really instrumental in changing the message and changing the conversation.”

Students don’t have to take the course in order to showcase their work with Artivism. Cunningham has recruited a team of students and recent alumni to help develop projects, produce video content, and engage the community with the initiative. The Artivism platform will be a lasting repository of work that until now hasn’t had a dedicated home—from individual projects to ensemble performances like this fall’s virtual A Capella Showcase.

Cecelia Lopez ’20 and Esther Oluokun ’20 are student liaisons for the initiative.

“I’m super-excited about working with students to bring their projects to life,” says Lopez, who majored in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies modified with English and was a member of the gospel choir and the a cappella group the Rockapellas. “Bringing music and performance together with activism makes both stronger. Entertainment keeps people coming back—it’s what gets people’s attention.”

Oluokun, an environmental science major who was a member of the Rockapellas, said the project “is something that I don’t think any school has—a place where students can show their art and make that into something accessible to everybody, and bridge it with activism.

”The pandemic has been tough, but this is a time for innovation, and I think Artivism shows that,“ Oluokun says. ”Whatever you’re thinking about, this is a time to start. Dartmouth itself is really open to ideas, and if you don’t know where to start, you can come to us at Artivism to make that into a reality.“

Cunningham encourages anyone interested in Artivism to email him or Associate Director Bryan Robinson ’16 at

Hannah Silverstein can be reached at

Hannah Silverstein