Art and Activism: A Conversation with Keith Christensen and Mike Alewitz

Since our founding in 2014, the East Side Freedom Library has centered art as a means of story-telling, education, and building solidarity. We have long been inspired by the work of Mike Alewitz and Keith Christensen, two visual artists who have used murals, installations, games, and more, to create art with the people they seek to represent. This particular conversation is occasioned by the opening of Keith’s new exhibit, SEE & SAY TIME, which will be on display at MCAD’s MFA Gallery, 2201 1st Avenue South, Minneapolis, from June 6 – June 24, 2022.

Keith Christensen has devoted decades to designing and creating public art which engages the issues of our times. He long taught at St. Cloud State University and is now an Emeritus Professor in their Art Department. Keith has been a dedicated collaborator with the East Side Freedom Library, creating our beautiful logo, our iconic sign, and the unique board game, “Game Turn,” which uses the unfolding of the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters’ strike as a means to promote strategic thinking. Keith and Mike have collaborated on a number of projects, including the Pathfinder Mural Project in New York City in 1989 and the design of Mike’s book, Insurgent Images: The Agitprop Murals of Mike Alewitz co-written by Paul Buhle, published by Monthly Review Press.

Keith writes in the Preface to his book which accompanies the exhibit: “The question for everyone is, What to do about what we see? If it is bad and hurtful, then we will need to stop it or at least prevent it from recurring. If it is good and beneficial, we will want to enjoy and repeat it. In any case, we become more human when we do that something that makes living more meaningful and better. We all need to act on our perceptions or we become only observers to our own lives, not the agents.”

Mike Alewitz is an educator, agitprop artist, mural painter, and political activist, working both in the United States and internationally. Minnesota activists first met him in 1985 when he came to Austin to work with striking members of Local P-9 and their families. More than 100 people took part in the design and painting of a mural on the outdoor wall of the Austin Labor Center, a mural that was later sandblasted by the union trustees. While his passionate support for working people has led to the destruction and censoring of his works all over the globe, Mike, his process, and his work have been embraced by the people who matter, the people whose stories we want to honor at the East Side Freedom Library.

We should always seek to understand the relationships between art and the capitalist society in which we live. The artist bears the responsibility of innovation and holds key pieces of our liberation. Reckoning with the world as it is and the world as it ought to be – they must create new meaning.

Thank you, Keith, for all you do and everything you create.