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Kelly Yu / Gavel Media

Screen Printing for Social Change at the 24th Annual Arts Festival

If you found breathing room in your finals prep last week, you may have encountered a campus bustling with activity, faces known and unknown, art, music, and applause echoing from within that large white tent outside of O’Neill. If you paid attention to the preliminary commotion, you would have attributed this excitement to the 24th Annual Boston College Arts Festival—perhaps attending (or participating in) one of the weekend’s events yourself. From presentations of music, theater, dance, poetry, painting, sculpture, and more, the 2022 Arts Festival displayed the expansive talents of Boston College students, faculty, and alumni in the spirit of “New Nostalgia,” the selected theme. In organizing this annual gift to the community, the Boston College Arts Council recognizes that artistic pursuits are essential in an increasingly digitized world. 

The expansive 3-day schedule of activities included an opportunity to participate in a screen printing experience with a social justice orientation. In collaboration with The Hatchery, a Makerspace inside the newly welcomed 245 Beacon St., the large-scale customizable activity was the first of its kind since the festival’s 1999 inception. 

Designed by The Hatchery and in collaboration with the Boston College Arts Council and three progressive clubs on campus (GLC, FACES, and I Am That Girl), the program ran from 12 to 4pm on Friday. It was open to the public, free of charge, and an uplifting way to break up the study-day monotony with a craft that sparked conversation.

Each design was informed by the ethos of its corresponding organization. The GLBTQ+ Leadership Council (GLC), a division of UGBC, chose to honor Bayard Rustin through their art. Rustin, a pivotal figure in the American Civil Rights Movement whose advocacy was informed by his identity as a gay Black man, codesigned the March on Washington and organized Freedom Rides while teaching nonviolent protest. Of Rustin, Henry Louis Gates Jr. writes, “if you teach your children one new name from the heroes of Black history, please let it be Bayard Rustin.” GLC’s design featured an illustration of Rustin surrounded by a halo of text, his own words that read, “We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.”

FACES, a student-run anti-racist organization committed to educating the BC community on issues of race, identity, and systems of power and privilege, designed a graphic of a face that was clipped below the eyeline by the words “Not a Trend” in bold print. This message correlates to FACES’ aim as a club: to stimulate dialogue, educate the community, and facilitate the elimination of racial polarization within and beyond Boston College. “Not a Trend” also speaks to a greater attitude toward the #BlackLivesMatter movement as a whole, particularly in relation to capitalist appropriation of Black trauma by businesses, media sites, and awareness-raising groups that are “woke” not in practice, but in presentation alone.     

I Am That Girl: The Feminist Society of Boston College, a group that meets weekly to discuss feminist topics through an intersectional lens, elected for a simple design with a substantive impact: the words of Audre Lorde. A self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Lorde stands as a foundational figure for her literary talent and vast contributions to feminist theory, critical race studies, and queer theory. Of Lorde’s countless quotable lines, the feminist group chose what they felt encapsulated their intersectional mission: “There is no such thing as single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Additionally, both The Hatchery and the Arts Council created their own art for the event. 

During the program, a participant had the option to not only select from the five featured designs, but to screen print it themselves onto a canvas tote bag or colorful T-shirt of their choosing. In simple terms, the prep for the screen printing process (all completed prior to the festival debut) required the transferring of a given design onto a silk screen secured tightly within a wooden frame. At the event, anyone curious was encouraged to screen print—no expertise required. To transfer the design, one must delicately lift the design screen (already wet with colorful ink), lay a shirt or bag on the surface below, return the screen to its original positioning, and run the ink across the surface with a squeegee instrument. 

The multi-step process is as intricate as it is challenging to master, and a team of leaders from each club spent the weeks preceding the festival planning, learning, messing up, and restarting. Every final screen stood as the product of hours of work and forethought, a testament to the challenges and rewards of creating art. 

After being hung to dry on clotheslines that billowed in the afternoon wind across the quad, the designs were sealed with a heat-press and ready for everyday use. Some students went the route of printing a second design after the first had been set, either on an alternate side or overlaid across the original. Overall, attendees had a unique artistic license behind their pieces. One could press down firmly while screen printing for a bolder design, or apply less pressure for a faded look. Several brought their own bags or shirts to use as empty canvases—a technique that proved particularly useful when supplies dwindled with the event’s increasing popularity.  

In the hours and days that followed Screen Printing for Social Change, the designs were ubiquitous. Soaking up the sun on a study break, a student sat with Audre Lorde’s words written across her chest. Scanning droves of early risers on Sunday morning, one could catch glimpses of Bayard Rustin’s face on a tote bag, bold in bright blue ink. In a study session between the Bapst stacks, a hand retrieves a pen from another bag reading “Not a Trend.” Writing about the event might illustrate its origins and preparatory process, but to understand its impact, look no further than all around. When walking across campus during these final days, pause and observe life imitating art.

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