Artists, social justice organizations launch citywide art initiative promoting kindness, nonviolence


Courtesy: City of Evanston

Fleetwood Jourdain Community Center. The city has hosted various activities here throughout the pandemic, such as fall camps for students.

Jennifer Zhan, Assistant A&E Editor

To longtime community artist Indira Johnson, nonviolence is a creative way to get things done.

Born in Mumbai and raised in the teachings of Gandhi, Johnson has promoted peace and nonviolence through multiple art projects in the Evanston and Chicago area. Her latest brainchild is the 2020 Year of Kindness and Nonviolent Action, an initiative that aims to foster a more inclusive, peaceful Evanston.

The project will launch with a two-hour kickoff event on January 26 at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center. Over the course of the year, the initiative is set to hold a variety of programs, including workshops, collaborative art making, and other forms of interactive public art.

“(Community art) automatically brings people together on a level that is very natural because you all have the same goal, the success of this art project,” Johnson said. “It’s a very subtle way of getting people to engage with and learn about each other, especially people who might not normally talk to each other.”

The project’s advisory council includes artists and residents from across Evanston, as well as leaders of local social justice organizations.

According to Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre artistic director and initiative coordinator Tim Rhoze, the initiative is designed not only to start conversations but also serve as a call to action in Evanston, which has “a history of division.”

“I just hope it’s going to be another step moving toward a more positive community on all levels, regardless of race, sexual orientation, educational level, socioeconomic level, all those things,” Rhoze said. “At the end of the day we are all human. If we humanize our existence, then we have the hopefulness that we can live a better life.”

Rhoze will emcee the kickoff event, which will also serve as the debut of the Kindness in Action City-Wide Art Project, a yearlong series of free workshops facilitated by artists and initiative coordinators Melissa Molitor and Angela Lyonsmith.

In an effort to be as accessible as possible, the workshops will take place in over a dozen spaces throughout all nine of Evanston’s wards. Molitor said the focus will be on making art around what kindness means to each individual.

“There are a lot of people who feel that kindness is sort of a Band-Aid,” Molitor said. “If you say, ‘Oh, it’s just really important to be kind,’ a lot of people feel like that’s erasing the experiences and the voices of people for whom that is not enough.”

To Molitor, kindness without awareness of difference, acknowledgement of privilege, and commitment to justice is not truly kind. But she said she loves that the initiative provides the opportunity to explore rather than ignore different perspectives.

In September, Evanston artists will curate an art show called “Visible and Invisible,” referencing both the “visible” components of violences like guns and actions and the “invisible” causes that Johnson said were discussed from the council’s first meetings.

“When we talked about what aspects of violence were most impactful for Evanston, poverty and mental health came up as having the most votes,” Johnson said. “Those two will be recurring topics throughout (the year’s programming), in trying to address those concerns.”

She said the 2020 Year of Kindness and Nonviolent Action also plans to engage the public through other performances and interactive art opportunities such as street painting.

Rhoze said although specifics regarding certain programming may not be completely set, Evanstonians can expect one thing.

“Everyone involved is involved for all the right reasons,” Rhoze said, “the reasons of uniting, igniting and firing up the community to be aware that we can be kinder to one another. We can be the frontline of stemming the violence that happens within our community.”

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