From Voice to Impact: Tactical Use of Art and Design for Today’s Fight


There is no doubt that we are at war. As we fight against oppression and scarcity, we need to be relentless in striving for efficacy and discipline. We cannot afford to dwell on comfortable defaults and self-imposed limitations. Whether it’s an ad hoc street protest, or a multi-faceted state level campaign, we need to utilize all available resources toward creating transformative change

Process Over Content

From Left to Right: LOVE HOPE RISE (mobile installation) January 14, 2016 march to the Governor’s Mansion in Saint Paul. (Photo: Zack Swanson, Art: Leon Wang/LoveHopeRise) STOP THE PRISON PIPELINE The September 9, 2016 rally marked the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising. (Art: Leon Wang/ LoveHopeRise) SEE US, HEAR US, FEEL US Five days of actions at the state capitol during the week of May 14, 2018. (Art: Leon Wang/ LoveHopeRise) SOLIDARITY WITH STANDING ROCK Solidar- ity rally on October 29, 2016 in front of the Minneapolis City Hall. (Photo: Thaiphy Phan- Quang, Art: Leon Wang/LoveHopeRise)

Many artists and designers base their work on critiquing the status quo and seeking transformative outcomes. They are constantly engaging in a process of deriving extraordinary results with ordinary resources. I believe that such a process is the most powerful aspect of artists and designers. Unfortunately they are often reduced to the role of fulfilling predetermined content. The ability to distill and elevate ideas beyond the cacophony of content is invaluable. This type of process is exactly what the movement needs. Given the current era of aesthetic-driven culture, it is critical to fully embrace such skills and outlook at the organizing table.

PROTECT THE DREAM In collaboration with Asamblea De Derechos Civiles, this series of posters and t-shirts were produced in the aftermath of the DACA repeal. The posters were used in several actions across the state, including this rally on September 17, 2017 at Congressman Tom Emmer’s office in Otsego. (Photo: Caroline Yang, Art: Leon Wang/ LoveHopeRise)

A Case Study on VOICE + PROCESS + IMPACT During the course of my work, the typical approach I use is based on the following:

A) What is my voice? I believe that everything starts with our individual voice — our grounding, our aspirations, our ethics, and our journey. If we don’t know what we stand for, we cannot help others, and we will certainly be lost in the heat of the struggle. Knowing our voice also means understanding how our common humanity connects us, as well as learning about our own blindspots and limitations.

B) What is the impact I wish to make? This involves envisioning specific outcomes on multiple levels, including the objectives, context, and the various audience spheres (e.g.the impacted family and community, advocates, allies, onlookers, news media and its viewers, etc. It is about ensuring our message is received in the way it was intended. We are essentially taking control of our narrative by “branding” our every action. I am also constantly mindful about the overall energy and personal example I wish to contribute to our world — choosing the higher path and maintaining authenticity.

LONG LIVE KING PHILANDO (Art: Leon Wang/LoveHopeRise)

C) How do I connect A to B (impact to voice)? I use a holistic and rigorous process of problem solving and purposeful creativity. The steps include framing the problem, understanding the parameters, acquiring knowledge/skills, and creating/testing ideas. We are constantly vigilant for available opportunities for intervention, and seeking maximum impact via minimal means. The process always demands diligence and perseverance, plus a bit of serendipity. The unique challenges posed by each project also engender personal growth and self-agency. In the end, as with any piece of art/design, it is about finding ways to advance ideas and “make it sing”.


In today’s fight, every move counts. I encourage all of us to continue cultivating our own process for achieving tactical impact with precision and replicability — along with a spirit of discovery and growth. I hope that we can fully appreciate and utilize the value of such a process, and push beyond doing what we already know. We need to keep challenging ourselves and strive towards creating a truly transformative movement.

This story was originally published in The Quilt: Policy, Art, and Healing, published by The UpTake and our partners at Voices for Racial Justice. For a copy of the print magazine, please email us at

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