Art Takes Action is a New D.C. Collective Promoting Social Activism Through Music
Instead of feeling defeated after the presidential election, D.C. musician Asher Meerovich and his friends decided to take action. Utilizing their resources and deep knowledge of the D.C. music scene they formed Art Takes Action, a collective and initiative focused on social activism through the arts.
Their first show at Black Cat’s Mainstage, the Freedom Fair, will serve as a massive benefit for the ACLU. Performances by Downtown Boys, D.C. post-punk trio Two Inch Astronaut, avant-garde group Loi Loi and spoken word artist Kosi will take place alongside expositions that touch on various social justice topics. It’s an event that’s meant to educate as much as entertain, and all of the proceeds made from the show will go to the ACLU.
In the coming months, as the current political administration settles in, Art Takes Action hopes to engage D.C. residents with more events like its upcoming Black Cat show. Before their first event, I had the chance to speak with Meerovich more about Art Takes Action and his plans for the future.
D.C. Music Download: How did Art Takes Action get started?
Asher Meerovich: In the days following the presidential election, my household and friends held an open meeting for our community. It was mostly comprised of people who attend the shows at our space, but also included musicians, artists, and activists from around the DMV. We met because we all felt a strong desire to do something, but didn’t know what to do. We felt powerless in the face of the election. We felt disconnected from our country.
Slowly, but with purpose, we began to put a plan together to use our strengths to help people who need it. We’ve kept meeting since then, working out the details of what we want to do.
Where did the name Art Takes Action come from?
We started tossing out words and phrases that we felt encapsulated what we were doing, and we came to Art Takes Action. It’s simple and gets across our goal–to encourage people in local music and arts communities to create tangible social change.
How did the idea for the Freedom Fair come about?
We formed the group with the intention of taking the skills and resources that we already use regularly, and focusing them in a combined effort. Since many of us are already involved in putting on live music and arts events, curating a show was a natural starting point.
Why did you choose the ACLU as your first beneficiary?
As we were discussing ways to make an impact, we quickly realized that there were many different groups working to create change on just as many important fronts. Instead of trying to spread our efforts thin and contribute to as many groups as possible at once, we decided to focus each event on one topic, each with a single relevant beneficiary.
For the first event, we settled on the freedom of expression as a crucial foundation to all forms of activism. The rights to free speech, to represent yourself as you like, to simply exist without being attacked for who you are–these are principles we hope will appeal to the basic human empathy of all people.
We chose the ACLU because they fight for these and other personal liberties; we chose the D.C. Chapter because we want to start our efforts at home.
How did you go about choosing and booking acts for the Freedom Fair?
At the time of our organizing, I’d already been in talks with Downtown Boys about having them play the DIY venue I run. We felt immediately that they were a perfect fit for Art Takes Action’s opening event; their music is highly socially aware, demanding of accountability, and exhilarating. They’re also a noteworthy enough band that we think they’ll bring people in beyond the scope of our own promoting efforts. We’re thrilled to have them headline the Freedom Fair.
I’ve admired Two Inch Astronaut for a long time, and I think their music represents a lot of the best things about D.C.’s role in the development of punk–the atmosphere, the lyricism, and perhaps, most importantly, the unwavering prioritization of the message over the speaker. They have a good track record of using their position to give a platform to other artists whose voices should be heard, and that both mirrors the goals of Art Takes Action and personally resonates with me.
I got to hear Loi Loi at the Velvet Lounge a while back and was fascinated by their music. It spans three languages and melds genres together in a sort of stupefying way. Their project is a great example of progressive, experimental music that represents D.C.’s tradition of pushing forward.
I first saw Kosi perform spoken word several years ago, and he’s only gotten better. He’s a talented wordsmith and has a lot to say about the challenges facing our society. Kosi is also a creative member of Words Beats & Life. He bridges the gap between performer and activist. He was a natural fit.
Since this is your first event, what hurdles have you faced in the planning process? Is there anything that came up that you didn’t think about initially?
It’s definitely been more work than we may have initially expected. Fundraising has been a challenge, as has assembling some of the logistics for the day of the event itself. These are all passing hurdles, clouds. We have a strong, passionate team who have been able to do amazing work so far, and I have tremendous faith in our ability to make things happen.
What do you hope to achieve with the Freedom Fair?
It’s our hope that people will leave with more ways to get involved in their community. People will come for the music and for the speakers, and then be able to learn about and sign up for organizations doing activist work on local and national levels. It’s a one-two-three punch of entertainment, education, and participation.
At the same time, we’ll be raising money for the ACLU, and giving a platform to terrific artists. At the risk of sounding overly optimistic, it’s something of a win-win-win.
How do you feel Art Takes Action will impact the D.C. community? What are your future plans for the collective?
Art Takes Action is one of many socially active groups hoping to improve their city. I’d like to work more closely with other specific organizations, and get involved at events that other groups coordinate. What’s important to us is being able to provide resources and help to get people active. It matters less whether we’re doing that work under our group’s name or someone else’s.
The Freedom Fair will take place at Black Cat’s Mainstage on Friday, Feb. 3.