Abstract art

In 2020, Carolina Cambronero Varela ‘09 and adjunct faculty member and artist Argie Agelarakis, MA ‘00, began working on a special project—to harness the power of art in support of social activism. Together, with the critical support of Stephanie Lake, PhD, director of Adelphi’s criminal justice program, they inaugurated Artivism in the spring of 2021.

Two years later, a fifth semester of events and projects is more active and reaches farther than ever.

Artivism gets down to this: How can I make change in my community, be inspired and urge others into action—not just by attending and listening, but what can I do in my community?” said Agelarakis, professor and Artivism co-founder.

Varela, who has since completed her master’s in arts administration at Columbia University, said the program is about “not just conferences or presentations, but mindsets and ways of living that create positive change. By ‘art,’ we mean your passion—that thing that makes you tick. It can be used as a change agent for a larger purpose.” She said the concept grew out of a book Varela co-edited, Illuminations of Social Imagination: Learning From Maxine Greene (Dio Press, 2019).

An independent entity, Artivism has found strong support, including Adelphi’s Department of Sociology and criminal justice program in the College of Arts and Sciences. Artivism is also a collaborative effort with Columbia’s Teachers College Gottesman Libraries and Sing for Hope, a New York City nonprofit founded as a resource for artists to give back to the community.

With strong endorsement for Artivism, Dr. Lake said, “The initiative has brought together students, campus departments and units, organizations in and around New York City and around the globe, world-renowned musicians, artists, dancers, poets, writers and others whose creative work does not neatly fall into existing categorization, but whose impact is significant.”

To date, outcomes have included student internship placements, academic conference presentations and collaborations with the Greek and French embassies in New York City and the Center for the Women of New York, among many others.

Through Fall 2021, more than 65 well-attended in-person and virtual presentations were hosted. Agelarakis, Varela and their partners have posted more than 60 videos on YouTube over the past four semesters. They also have established a social media presence on Instagram and Facebook.

Students Spread the Word

The program also has strong student support and involvement. A Student Ambassador group currently has more than 35 members and the Adelphi Artivism Club was co-founded in Fall 2022 by Rowan McKiernan, a senior psychology and criminal justice major.

“[Artivism] has opened doors that have been used to transform mindsets not only at Adelphi, but outside of Adelphi,” said McKeirnan. “To students, it has provided insight and opportunity. It allowed me to network and learn things that not even my studies could have taught me.”

McKiernan said that being an Artivism student ambassador was “the beginning of me re-finding my voice and confidence.” Another ambassador explained that the program helps make connections between academic disciplines and beyond.

“The Artivism program cultivates a unique atmosphere of social academics by presenting creative, scholarly ideas to a diverse, interested community,” said Vincent Calvagno, a first-year history student in the Honors College. “The beauty of Artivism comes from its embrace of interdisciplinary concepts—from the unification of music and history, creativity and intellectuality.”

An Eventful Spring

The Spring 2022 schedule will include about 15 components, starting on February 20 with “Conscious Coffee: Adam San Miguel,” a presentation about a café in Union City, New Jersey, that supports Cuban American college students with scholarships and leadership development programs.

Artivism events reach a global audience, with sessions by or about artist-activists in the United States, Costa Rica, Greece, Spain, Canada, India and Cyprus.

One major project in Spring 2023 will conclude in late April with a fashion show and exhibitions focused on wearable art “with a purpose.” Including items and images, the exhibitions will be in the Adelphi Performing Arts Center, the Offit Gallery of Gottesman Library at Columbia, at the Center for the Women of New York and in an online gallery. Artivists from around the world, from diverse disciplines, are invited to participate. For more information, email

Agelarakis notes that planning for future Artivism programs is already underway, and will welcome even more partners from near and far. “We’re always being approached by artist-activists who want to be involved in some way,” she said. “While Carolina (Cambronero Varela) is really the driving force, we have benefited from the input and help of so many people.”

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