Interview by Nancy Flowers
Marissa Gutiérrez-Vicario is the Founder and Executive Director of ARTE and newly elected HRE USA Steering Committee member.
Marissa grew up in a in a small city in southern California that was half Hispanic / Latino. Early on in this community, Marissa demonstrated an interest in politics, as from first grade onwards she was involved in student government. Later on as a college major in international relations and political science at the University of Southern California, she was active in campus organizing and spent a half-year internship in Mexico City documenting labor rights abuses through United Students Against Sweatshops. This life-changing experience moved human rights from academic abstractions to direct actions: “The stakes were not the same. I saw the workers were organizing for their lives and the lives of their families. When they went on strike, they didn’t eat. It was a choice for me but not for them.” As well as a changed perspective, this work resulted in a co-authored report and film documentary on labor rights. Later Marissa spent another half year in New Delhi working on minority rights in India at the South Asian Human Rights Documentation Center.
Her experiences in Mexico and India led Marissa to the realization that “the whole time this work was really about education.” She went on to study non-profit management and public policy at the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University and eventually the Harvard Graduate School of Education, focusing on Art in Education. She claims, “While I was at the Ed School, I took classes in almost every Harvard department, but somehow it all fit together.” Having participated in the Art in Education program prepared her for her work as an Adjunct Lecturer in the Art Education department at the City College of New York, where she currently teaches. This work also allowed her to better explore the intersection of art, human rights education, and youth development, which she was deeply interested in.
Although she had many career opportunities after graduate school, Marissa made a conscious choice to stay in the USA and try to realize a vision that has become ARTE, Art and Resistance through Education. Although never formally trained as an artist, Marissa wanted to bring art and human rights together to amply the voices of young people and enable them to organize for human rights change through the arts. As a mentor had advised: “There are others to work abroad, but no one will give ARTE a chance unless you do.” In 2013 Marissa moved to New York City and officially founded ARTE.
ARTE is thriving today. It develops innovative ways to engage young people using art, design, and technology and empowers them to develop creative solutions and bring awareness to local and global human rights challenges. In this work, ARTE remains at the intersection of community organizing, democratic participation, and global citizenship. ARTE currently works in schools, after-school programs, jails, and in partnership with several community-based organizations.
As Marissa remarks about the young people she works with, “They have the passion and capabilities, but not yet the tools they need and deserve.” ARTE is committed to providing those tools to which all young people are entitled, both quality human rights education in both a local and global context and the best possible art education. She emphasizes the collaborative aspect of her work: “So many hands are involved: artists, teachers, activists and especially youth. Young people want to have their voices heard and we want to create the platforms for them to creatively do so.”.”
For more about ARTE see: https://www.artejustice.org.
As a newly elected member of HRE USA’s Steering Committee, Marissa brings rich experience in organizing, an inspiring model for collaborative activism, an inspiring vision or the role of arts in HRE, and her own engaging blend of passion and humor.