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2017
New York, NY

The International Human Rights Art Festival -- the first arts-advocacy festival in New York City's long and vibrant cultural history -- took place at Dixon Place (NY's Lower East Side), March 3-5, 2017.  The event included 40+ events and more than 150 artist participants, presenting art-advocacy events in dance, theatre, spoken word, workshops, panel discussions, human rights happy hours, live music, photography, visual art, films, hands-on art activities for kids and more.  

The International Human Rights Art Festival was founded on the belief that art can open hearts and minds, and heal the wounds that have recently become so evident in our society.  Our means include beauty, sincerity and passion to dissolve the boundaries between us that have recently emerged in our society.  Our method includes engagement with politicians, social leaders and others through open-hearted creativity and discourse.

The opening ceremonies included video welcomes from Television Producer and National Medal of the Arts winner Norman Lear, Senator and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and appearances by Carmelyn Malalis, NYC's Human Rights Commissioner, Chinese human rights activist Wei JingSheng, Nigerian journalist and human rights activist Sowore Omoyele and numerous artists and performers.  Honorary co-sponsors for the event inlcluded Television Producer & Presidential Medal of the Arts winner Norman Lear, Senator Charles E. Schumer (NY); Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY); Senator Bernie Sanders (VT); Honorary Co-Host Senator Ben Cardin (MD); Senator Chris Van Hollen (MD); Senator Susan Collins (ME); Congressman and Civil Rights Hero John Lewis (GA); Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (NY); Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD); NY State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick; New York City Councilman and Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer; Chinese Human Rights Defender and Democracy Activist Wei JingSheng.

The event received wide media coverage, including in Time Out NY, on AM1; a reportage on Voice of America's Mandarin news service; two interviews with Festival Producer Tom Block on WPAT 930 AM, a podcast interview on Theater in the Now's "Block Talk," and articles in Metro NY, AM-New York, The New York Observer, The Brooklyn Rail, Hollywood Soapbox, Artists and Climate Change, five pieces in Broadway World and highlighted calendar mentions in The Villager, NYC Arts, The Stage News International Roundup, Untapped Cities and Maxamoo podcast.

More than 500 people attended the event over the weekend, plus an additional 40+ volunteers.

After the Festival (on March 9, 2017), Norman Lear sent this email to me: 

I LOVE THIS —IT COULD NOT BE MORE RIGHT ON— AND YOU ARE AN ABSOLUTE HERO TO ME, TOM.

Other pull-quotes from the event include:

"I commend Tom Block and his team for putting together this event, particularly at this time. I also applaud him for creating a platform where artists can be brave with their choreography and present challenging issues."

Celebrating Advocacy through the Arts with the INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS ARTS FESTIVAL, Broadway World, March 13, 2017

The fight for human rights doesn’t end with the festival. Organizers hope people come out of the festivities inspired into activism of their own. Block says, “If everybody in that room tonight did one more thing, there would be a lot more things happening in terms of fighting or struggling or dreaming of a better, more gentle world.”

New York City Hosts its First Human Rights Art Festival, The New York Observer, March 7, 2017

“It’s all about enlightenment.”

Because We Need a Reminder, There's Now a Human Rights Art Festival, Metro New York, March 2, 2017

“I think these energies go back 3,000 years,” he said. “I look at Donald Trump as the representation of a human energy that goes back to the beginning of time. He’s not an individual. He’s a representation of fear. He’s a representation of human tribalism. These kind of ideas go back to the caveman, so I feel very strongly that … positive energy becomes part of the reverse movement.”

In the Age of Donald Trump, New York gets International Human Rights Art FestivaFebruary 28, 2017

“Activist artists are not the center of the American culture, but we’re at the center of the American soul,” Block says. The artists involved echo Block’s passionate belief in activist art as an essential core of both who we are as Americans and what we aspire to become as we continue to build towards an ideal society.

The International Human Rights Art Festival at Dixon Place, Brooklyn Rail, February 15, 2017

Though statement-making works will be seen at the festival, Block stressed that this event will represent the optimism rooted in each social theme. "I try to stay away from angry art," Block explained. "I really curated the whole festival to be positive, based on a strong aesthetic of beauty."

International Human Rights Art Festival Pairs Art and Advocacy, AM-New York, Feburary 15, 2017

“I am most definitely not participating in the ‘Art Strike,’” says New York-based artist Tom Block. “Now is not the time to take a stand by stopping what is most imperative: creating passionate, spiritually-centered art, hopeful, beautiful and sincere art. In fact, now is the time to redouble efforts in using what armaments we artists have -- beauty, sincerity and passion -- to create the most positive energy field we can.”                            

Art, Activism and Donald J. Trump, i24 News, January 20, 2017