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September 2, 2019

Summer and Beyond | Sarah Alvarez | BFA Illustration ’20

by selalvarez


I’m proud to report back to you all that IntegrateNYC’s first Summer Institute was a huge success. Besides the usual struggles with delayed catering, tardy students and listener fatigue, everything went real smooth.

To give a summary of the Institute and everything it incapsulated might be a bit tedious to write and read, but I think it’s worth it to at least give a little attention everything we accomplished in the course of 3 days.

The first day was attended only by half of our student leaders, whom were either returning executive directors or newly promoted executive directors. Everyone was pretty familiar with each other, and it showed in the ease with which everyone stepped into our opening circle. We set up a centerpiece in which every one placed an object of significance, which was set up the two following days as well. I thought it was an interesting ritual to engage in, and a neat way to literally center the space in our personal experiences and individual stories. It was also just a good thing to stare at for people who tend to be a bit visually hungry during a group session (me).

That first day we had a master’s student speak to us about freedom and how it has been conceptualized throughout the history of social justice, and how desegregated, equitable education begets true freedom. The second day, from which point onwards we had a full cast of 24 student leaders attending, we had an accredited professor of American history give an in-depth history lesson revolving around the civil rights movements led by Black Americans. The third day, my supervisor led a “visioning” session, in which large goals and loose plans were laid out for the upcoming academic year (you can see everyone in action in the photo below).


There were lots of team builders, breakfasts and lunches sprinkled in there, but that’s not to downplay their importance: it was in those brief moments that you could see this group of 24 student leaders becoming a unified team.


As I had mentioned I would in an earlier post, I presented a short workshop on artivism, or artistic activism, during the second day of the Institute.

I created the lesson plan and did all the research myself, and in the process of preparing and sharing my research, learned a lot about teaching and communication. An hour-long workshop is not one that I thought would be supremely helpful, given the huge constraint on time, but I think what made a big difference was approaching it like a conversation. I don’t know about you, reader, but I remember the conversations I have far better than the classes I sit through; so I made a handout and had a fun back and forth with five students, and by the end of it I still wasn’t even sure if I was just self-sabotaging by not taking the whole thing more seriously and putting my professor cap on. Thankfully, as is typical for progressive organizations such as INYC, we held a brief reflection on the workshops right after they ended. I was really surprised by the positive response from my students, and humbled by their reassurance that they would take the information with them as they began their work in September.

Through the feedback I got from those student leaders, I have formulated a new understanding of the impact of labor. It’s kind of game changing to think that with even the smallest bit of work I do, it is consumed by people who then carry it with them and let it seep out into what they do, what they say, and how they see. It’s almost funny to think about how naive I was in not holding that as a self-evident truth – I am changed daily by the less than 281 characters I see in a random tweet on Twitter, let alone an illustration or a lesson plan someone pours hour into. It’s simultaneously heartening and sobering. I am now forced to consider what I might not be considering: the possible blindspots in my work, in my life. Then again, art is really just about being painfully considerate, so if I had lost that, I’m glad I found it again.

Here are the two pages of my “Artivism” handout. Compared to my notes, it’s super condense, so please go look up some of the names I dropped and pour some time into researching. Do a deep dive. It’s really worth the effort, and is incredibly interesting and inspiring.

artivism handout-01.pngartivism handout-02.png


All in all, this Institute was a spectacular way to wrap up this fellowship. Throughout these three months with IntegrateNYC, I was able to explore and expand my capacity to apply creative problem solving to tasks that are not traditionally considered “artistic;” and yet, I feel like more of an artist than ever before. My perspective on what art is has shifted.

For me, art is becoming more about moving throughout the world with intention, and bringing the same ethos to everything you do – then, everything you do is art. You can’t be an artist if you are not engaged in the art of driving safely, the art of caring for others, the art of cleaning the bathroom floor, etc. I was able to engage in the art of everything I did this summer, from grant writing, to ordering food, to running a twitter, to attending rallies. I feel assured that no matter where I land in terms of a career, I’m doing so as an artist. That takes a lot of the pressure off in terms of being a “real artist,” and transfers it to being a real artistic person. That’s less egotistical and far more useful to this world that I love.

A question I’ve been getting a lot now is: “How does it feel to leave a organization after dedicating a whole summer to them?” Well, I wouldn’t entirely know how to answer that. 🙂

Keep up to date with INYC on Instagram and Twitter (@integratenyc) and sign up for their newsletter on their website They’ve already accomplished so much – watch them accomplish even more.

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