Support for the visual arts has been a hallmark of corporate social responsibility in America for more than a century, long before the advent of today’s full blown CSR movement. First came the stately classical art museums, and then artwork broke through the walls into public spaces. New aspects of enrichment are constantly appearing on the horizon, and a new traveling exhibit called “Darkness & Light” is a case in point.
Enlisted in the cause of raising public awareness about ongoing famine, drought and violence in the Horn of Africa, Darkness & Light adds a new dimension of hope, empowerment and spirit to the somber images of need that relief campaigns have long relied upon. In doing so, the exhibit offers up some important lessons for companies that aim to add art to their CSR profile.
“We Can Be Heroes” for global neighbors in need
Darkness & Light (the full title is Darkness & Light: Art Inspired by Heroes & Villains, Hope & Heroism) is a new phase in a broader campaign for Horn of Africa relief called We Can Be Heroes. Launched last winter, the campaign supports Save the Children, International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps.
We Can Be Heroes is a partnership between Time Warner’s DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Entertainment, featuring the entire membership of DC Comics’ Justice League. With a super-heroic cast of characters including Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, the idea was to harness the unique power of storytelling and the cross-generational appeal of comic book heroes to cut through the media clutter and focus attention on the dire straits of 13 million people in the Horn of Africa who are facing drought, famine and the threat of violence.
Gary Shaye, Senior Director of Humanitarian Operations for Save the Children, spoke with Triple Pundit at the exhibit and explained that the iconic pop culture heroes are helping to “bring attention to issues that most people don’t know about.” While horrific events such as earthquakes and floods often compel donors to come forward with short-term assistance, regions like the Horn of Africa face ongoing challenges that require a long-term commitment.
A key thrust of the campaign is to replace the one-way street of donor-to-recipient aid with a more holistic vision in which relief donors recognize that they can act like their fictional heroes by assisting fellow human beings in need, and they can receive inspiration from the real-life heroism of ordinary people who face extraordinary threats.
Darkness & Light
Triple Pundit had a chance to view Darkness & Light earlier this week when it came to a second-floor lobby in the upscale shopping mall, the Time Warner Center, in midtown Manhattan.
The first thing to note is that art does not have to be large to pack a powerful punch. This relatively small exhibit dominated the space and easily attracted the attention of passers-by, though it was ringed by numerous distractions including a wall of giant-sized H&M photographs and the loud, bubbly displays in the windows of a C-Wonder store.
The exhibit also demonstrates the ability of art to add new layers of experience to a familiar product. In the case of Darkness & Light, the “product” is itself artwork in the form of comic book art. By including the unique insights of other artists, the mixed-media exhibit enabled viewers to enjoy the discovery of new elements of courage, strength, compassion and wisdom in their favorite heroes.
Engaging casual passers-by is a unique challenge for art in public spaces, and it is one that Darkness & Light meets partly by including elements of humor. Despite the daunting situation in the Horn of Africa, some of the images are unexpectedly whimsical. One example is a tiny painting of a tiny Batman standing by himself on a vast stretch of empty beach, alone with his thoughts, flying a kite. This subtle use of humor is one of the most compelling features of the exhibit and it is a reminder that art is often at its most powerful when it touches human nature at the core.
In the context of humanitarian relief, the ability of Darkness & Light to elicit a smile engages people immediately. It helps to spark their curiosity, pulling them deeper into the exhibit, giving them the courage to accept the more somber images, and the compassion to recognize a part of themselves in the struggles of people who stare down danger every day.
Image: Courtesy of We Can Be Heroes (Time Warner/DC Entertainment/Warner Bros. Entertainment).
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