Meaningful Transformation

The following essay by Jules Rochielle Sievert is part of “Beyond Survival: Public Support for the Arts and Humanities,” a call for reflections on and provocation about the precarious state of arts funding after decades of neoliberal economics and the long culture wars.

My response to the question of arts funding and survival is an intensely personal reflection on my own creative pathway toward creating and sustaining original work geared toward equity and meaningfully transformation in society. My trajectory as an artist and a member of the LGBTQIA+ community began in the 1990s in the United States. I am trained as a socially engaged artist with a background in interdisciplinary performance and the creation of organizations and platforms that creatively activate and engage others in the creative process and in the co-creation of multidisciplinary performance. I define what I do as cultural work and cultural organizing.

Five years ago, I decided to apply my creative skills to the field of law and legal advocacy. As a socially engaged artist, I decided if I wanted to create meaningful change in society that I needed to work more closely with legal advocates and policymakers. As an artist, I helped design a program called Nulawlab, where I was one of the first full-time hires made to envision and implement an interdisciplinary program seeking to use design to create new approaches to teaching lawyers how to respond to the needs of clients and communities creatively. Our project work and research allow us to build cross-disciplinary teams and community-based partnerships; our work draws upon the talents of artists and designers to identify and cultivate new approaches to transform legal education, the legal profession, and the delivery of legal services. Our goal is to use this type of pedagogy to co-create meaningful solutions that have the possibility of transforming the lives of the communities we partner with and work within.

Nulawlab has been supported by sources ranging from arts and cultural funding to that of the Legal Services Corporation. The lab has been able to receive these types of grants because we work in collaboration with partners from the nonprofit sector, the cultural sector, the social service sector, and other legal service organizations. We also receive funding from our own academic institution through a stream that supports interdisciplinary research and project development. An example of this type of project can be found in Stable Ground.

Stable Ground addresses the complicated relationship between chronic housing insecurity, its psychologically traumatic impact, and municipal housing policy through a participatory community-based art and cultural program structured to inform the work of the City of Boston’s Office of Housing Stability. This project allowed us to create a residency program that embeds artists, legal designers, and trauma experts into community settings that contribute to local visual/performing arts exhibits and art-making events. These events have included facilitated conversations among artists, residents, activists, organizers, experts, and municipal leaders, all structured to inform existing OHS services and those in development. The cross-sector team formed by the Stable Ground initiative was funded by the Kresge Foundation and it represents a collaboration between four service aligned organizations: NuLawLab, the Office of Housing StabilityViolence Transformed, and the Domestic Violence Institute.

Jules Rochielle Sievert is an artist, a legal educator, a community arts educator and a social justice advocate. Currently, Sievert is the Creative Director at Nulawlab at Northeastern University School of Law, transforming law and the way people interact with the law through creative and cultural approaches.

The next response in the Models and Case Studies chapter is “A Call for Public Funding and Imagining Beyond the Nonprofit Industrial Complex” by Patricia Nguyen.