Where Art Meets Activism

Nina EichnerPhotos by Adrianne Mathiowetz.

Somerville resident Nina Eichner participated in her first demonstration through the youth climate change movement Sunrise when she drove a 15-person van to Washington D.C. in December 2018. The group occupied the Capitol building and shared stories with lawmakers, urging them to back the select committee for the Green New Deal.

Eichner currently works for Sunrise Boston as an art lead and co-action lead, meaning that she is responsible for coordinating the visual strategy behind demonstrations. The Sunrise Movement, which started in 2017, advocates for political action on climate change. 

In particular, Sunrise is focused on lobbying for Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey’s Green New Deal—a bill that aims to have the nation reach carbon neutrality by 2050, while also creating jobs. However, according to Eichner, climate change intersects with other social justice issues like classism and racism, as well.

“It’s not just about renewable energy,” says Eichner. “It’s really about jobs, housing, and issues around equity. The idea is that we can’t actually make the transformation we need around climate change without addressing those issues as well, because frontline communities … are already being affected in really significant ways.”

She appreciates the positivity surrounding the group, she says, and is inspired by the spirit of the other activists involved. She is even preparing to take a role on the national level for the organization’s Philadelphia hub. 

“Sunrise is such a hopeful, amazing group of people to be part of,” she says. “You’re there with other younger people. People are singing together and keeping spirits high. The cool part about it is that by the end, you’re connected to all these people you’ve had this experience with. It was very powerful. That’s kind of how I got hooked.”

Before working with Sunrise, Eichner worked to uplift various underrepresented groups on a more local level. She served as the special events manager of the Somerville Arts Council, where she coordinated festivals for the city. While ideas were usually proposed by Somerville residents, Eichner envisioned projects like the Big Gay Dance Party and the Black, Brown, and Queer festival. Helping put together public art pieces, like murals, and producing festivals that brought people together was a form of activism for her. 

“There’s so much art that is not accessible to the public,” she says. “You have to pay to see it.  … I think murals and all the festivals are ways to make art accessible to all types of people.”

Eichner finds time for her own art in between all of her organizing. She works primarily with oil paints, which she gravitates towards because of their tactile qualities. In her space at Mad Oyster Studios, she is developing a series of paintings that are close-ups of people’s eyes. Eichner was inspired to try to “get people to look more closely at each other,” she says.

As Eichner has seen her work in art and activism overlap, she has come to recognize the power that art has to influence social change, she said.

“A lot of times, people think of art as this nice side thing,” said Eichner.  “Like, ‘art’s pretty.’ ‘It makes people happy.’ ‘It’s nice to make art, because it’s community building.’ Those are all true things, but actually, the art that we make, like these banners for action, that’s a way to help build power of the movement. … To me, that is art and activism working directly together. That’s something that I’ve always believed, that art is powerful, but I’ve learned through my work this past year in Sunrise, that there’s actual theory behind that.”

Mad Oyster Studios is an artist workspace located at 2 Bradley St. To learn more, visit www.madoysterstudios.org. To learn more about Sunrise, visit www.sunrisemovement.org.

This story appears in the March/April print issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Somerville (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.

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