The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) and the global online youth-led social network TakingITGlobal (TIG) have joined forces to create EVOKE—a national online art contest that calls on Canadian youth to share their perspectives on human rights issues through visual art. From April 14 to May 25, any Canadian youth aged 13-25 may submit (for free) an uploaded digital photo or video of their art piece (see Artwork Submission Guidelines) via the EVOKE online site. The selected winner will travel to Winnipeg Canada this summer and his or her art will be displayed on multimedia screens to thousands of people during the opening ceremony at CMHR (slated to officially open in 2012). Read more about the museum’s history here.
Although EVOKE is only open to youth residing in Canada, both CMHR and TIG encourage individuals to share their ideas, stories, and art through TIG’s Global Gallery site and CMHR’s Share Your Story web page. To stimulate conversation and raise awareness about human rights in general, EVOKE has also provided a helpful (and free) downloadable PDF guide (preview in HTML here) on their homepage.
Canada has a long history of supporting human rights, and TIG (its founders are Canadian) and CMHR (soon to be the 5th national museum, established by Parliament in 2008), while small, strongly reflects the country’s roots in the international human rights movement. In 1948, Canada signed the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and has since attempted to sign universal human rights into law for its citizens. In the second half of the 20th century, Canadians vigorously participated in various civil liberties movements. Between 1962 and 1980, more than 40 rights associations formed. In 1982, the creation of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms had a profound impact on the Canadian communities. In 2005, Canada became the fourth country to make same-sex marriages legal nationwide.
Despite these highlights, many have criticized Canada in its policies (some Canadian provinces religiously segregate their schools) and have accused the government of discriminating against its people—especially its aboriginal and disabled citizens. For more information on Canada’s human rights history, the Canada’s Rights Movement website provides a comprehensive background.
It would be great if organizations in the United States emulated a program such as EVOKE, or even partnered directly with it. Why use a youth art competition as a method to raise human rights awareness? For one thing, our culture’s fast-paced, time-driven environments lack enough opportunities for American youth to stop and think more deeply about the issues in human rights they care about. For most, the topic isn’t even on their radar.
So, how can we engage youth to stop and evaluate what human rights means to them and have them express that meaning to the public? A visual art competition is a great start. Because traditional writing (stories, poems, etc.) are not allowed in the EVOKE competition, it challenges individuals to instead “show” their perspectives—an exercise that usually remains outside of common, daily youth activities. It inspires creativity, deep thinking, analysis, and working with a tangible idea.
The more we engage youth today to think about human rights and stimulate them to explore the multifarious issues relating to it throughout history, the more likely we may inspire future generations to take action and deploy preventive measures that deter human rights violations in the future. One perspective may not seem like much, but it may take just one individual to inspire many and ultimately save lives—a prospect too important to ignore.