Sarah Harper, Director VoiceTool Productions Talks Art and Street Harassment

BY CATHERINE FAVORITE

How did you develop the idea to have an art event on the subject of street harassment?

I took on street harassment because of my own personal disgust with the harassment I experience daily on the street. My business organizes events for a cause, so it made perfect sense to coordinate a series of events to prompt action in San Francisco.

The art event selection came about organically.  Early on in the planning process, I talked to numerous people and organizations to get an idea of my resources and allies, and many interested parties happened to be involved in the arts.  Once I secured event space and began spreading the word, interest spread like wildfire.  Art is an amazing vehicle for self expression and outreach; it touches people on so many different levels.  I’m also hoping using the arts will allow us to cast our net beyond “feminist” circles (ie. those already interested in equality issues) to reach a wider audience.

San Francisco seems like it has long been at the forefront of advancing a more socially-just culture. Do you think street harassment happens less often there compared to other cities or would you say it’s just as much of a problem?

San Francisco is undoubtedly at the forefront of advancing a more socially just culture.  Still, street harassment happens here every day – I’d say at least as much as other cities, although it’s hard to pin numbers down.  I’ll put it like this:  every woman I talk with hates street harassment (and has a story), yet half of the men I’ve spoken with believe some women “like” the attention.  Many men and women believe harassment is so entrenched it’s a losing battle to fight.  I don’t share this mindset, of course; if we’d taken that view in the women’s suffrage or civil rights movements, women wouldn’t have been able to vote in our country’s first African American President.

 

How did you first get started as an activist for social causes?

I’ve always been put off, if not straight up engraged, by the objectificaiton of women in our culture – in the media, on the streets, in our places of employement, in our homes.  What was worse was the social myth:  ”Relax, it’s a compliment.  That’s how men are.”  Too fed up to remain silent, I engaged in online activism for a while, ranting on social media sites, posting on HollaBack and other women’s rights sites, and the like.  Although I got validation for my own feelings of “WTF”, and the comfort of knowing I wasn’t alone in my experiences, ranting online wasn’t enough.  I wanted to turn my experiences into positive social changes in my local community.  Finally, I took the cause on formally to rally others and present harassment as a legitimate social issue.  There’s nothing quite as empowering as working from the gut.

 

Can you talk a little bit about the art installations you’ve received for this event?

We’re still in the call-for-art process.  I’m seeking artists from a wide range of disciplines, backgrounds, political persuasions, etc…  I’m looking forward to the outcome.

 

Do you have plans for future event related to fighting street harassment, similar to the Meet Us On the Streets in San Francisco event you helped organize?

The Meet Us on the Street San Francisco event was the first of many anti-street harassment events VoiceTool Productions will be coordinating.  I’m always brewing ideas and scheming.  For example, this summer, I will begin actions to petition Bay Area public transport authorities for tools against harassment on BART and Muni.  The August art event, which will involve determining next steps per district represented through the arts, will spawn several future events.  Events also spring up organically, so keep an eye on my blog, VoiceTool Productions, for information on how to participate.

 

More Information:

VoiceTool Productions is coordinating an event (set for August) to examine street harassment through the arts. 

The long-term goal is to use VOICE as a tool to create a culture of respect, versus one of harassment. The short-term goal is to twofold:

One, we will start a dialogue about street harassment, through the work of artists representing different districts/cultural communities of San Francisco.

Two, we will pinpoint concrete next steps participants (artists and viewers) will take toward creating culturally appropriate, lasting solutions for street harassment in San Francisco.

VoiceTool is currently seeking art for the event, on the topic of how street harassment affects you (the artist), and how you can use VOICE to create a culture of respect.

Art is due August 1.

The gallery space is at SomArts Cultural Center in SOMA. Founded in 1979, SOMArts embraces the entire spectrum of arts practice and cultural identity, and it is beloved in San Francisco as a truly multicultural, community-built space where cutting-edge events and counterculture commingle with traditional art forms. See http://www.somarts.org/.

Since this is an all-ages event space, adult content may be rejected.

The display space consists of two secure wall-mounted cases ready to display all flat work. The dimensions of the cases are 24.75″ x 37″ and 137″ x 37″.

You’ll get proceeds from your art’s sales, minus the gallery cut and the Voice’s production costs.

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