If you’ve ever wondered whether your art can be a tool for change, then I’m here to tell you YES. I’ve traveled to five continents in the past eight months researching how art can help change the world, and here are five main ways that art makes a difference.

But before I get started, let’s define “art” as any creative process including but not limited to visual arts, performance, dance, or music. Each creative style reaches different audiences, so no one form is better than another. It just depends on the message you want to send and who you are trying to reach.


Arguably the biggest way that art can change the world is by first changing our minds. Through art, we can learn about different issues such as the impact of climate change and habitat degradation on Arctic foxes (watercolor by Jill Pelto)

or the contemporary issues of the Ganges river and the people who depend on it documented by Circle of Youth Member Pubarun Basu. Other groups, such as Sensitization and Education through Kunda Arts (SEKA), use theater performance to educate the local community about climate change, HIV/AIDS, deforestation, COVID-19 and biodiversity, among others. 

Creates Connections 

Have you ever been drawing or playing an instrument and had someone come up to you? Did it spark a conversation? When people are curious, they are open to learning - about your art, your style or the message you’re trying to convey. I’ve hosted several community mural events where anyone can come paint on a shared canvas. Some events were geared around climate change, but others were just spaces for people to come and create. Many people thought that the workshop would be about creating art, but they ended up creating meaningful connections with likeminded people too! 


Activism can be quite challenging and it’s important to make space for recharging. If you’ve ever felt better after watching a film, painting or singing with friends, then you’ve experienced the healing benefits of art. It can provide space for us to process our emotions or unwind and it can also provide comedic relief. Just think about the way that you feel after listening to your favorite song. When we are relaxed and recharged, we are much more effective changemakers.


Art can also inspire us to think in new ways. Seeing how others have turned trash into sculptures or costumes challenges us to imagine ways to re-use traditionally “single use” items.  Frederick Phiri, a 22 year-old recycled metal sculptor in Mfuwe, Zambia has found that people “don’t see the beauty of waste materials.” Phiri says, “This art that I am doing is not just art. It also creates a sustainable environment for plants to regerminate….Where there is metal on the ground, there is zero chance for a seed to germinate. When I take [the metal], I create art and clean the environment so that plants can grow.” Now, whenever the safari lodges have scrap metal, they know to bring it to Frederick. 

Hopefully this gives you a broad overview of the many ways that art can make a difference. All of these ways might seem small, but as artist Vincent Van Gough once said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” 

Now get out there and start creating! 

Amy Spencer Harff is a current Youthtopia intern and Thomas J. Watson Fellow traveling the world to research the intersection of art and the environment. In the past eight months, Amy has spoken with over 100 artists, activists, scientists, academics and politicians across four continents to better understand how art can change our minds about climate change and inspire environmental action. To find out more about her research follow @amyspencerart and visit www.amyspencerharff.com