Art and Activism

Learn about cutting-edge contemporary artists who are at the forefront of social change. Explore how artists confront social and political issues, shaping their work as a form of activism, criticism, or inspiration to transform the world in which we live.


What role do artists play as activists? This course is ideal for students who have an interest in social justice issues. In this course, students will explore how the arts can be strategically deployed as powerful tools to effect change in the world, and how artists can use their creativity to challenge established thought in order to create a more equitable culture. Students will examine the history of art and activism by looking at work inspired by key events such as the Vietnam War, the AIDS Crisis, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Students will also learn about cutting-edge contemporary artists who are at the forefront of social change, such as Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei; interdisciplinary social activist Theaster Gates; and legendary feminist critics The Guerrilla Girls. By looking at diverse example of activist art, students will see how artists respond directly to the needs of local communities through a variety of media. At the heart of this course lies the belief that artists can play a profound role in transforming our time and shaping the future.


Site visits may include:

  • The Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York
  • The Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York
  • The Center for Artistic Activism in New York
  • The New Museum School operated by Culture& in London
  • Online viewing rooms of top international galleries, such as Jack Shainman Gallery and Pace
  • Artists’ studios
  • Art collectives


Guest speakers may include:

  • Artists
  • Gallery owners
  • Museum curators
  • Representatives from social justice organizations


Projects may include:

  • Composing a vibrant collage from found materials to present to the class during a virtual activist march on the last day of the course
  • Telling the story of a social issue by creating a short video in the style an activist group such as The Guerilla Girls
  • Analyzing the role of museums in promoting civic discourse and democracy by looking at current exhibitions
  • Curating an exhibition of personal identity by exploring aspects of gender, race, and ethnicity


Tech Fee: $75


Please note: This information is subject to change at any time at the discretion of Sotheby’s Institute of Art.


Term Dates

Term dates and course availability depend heavily on instructors’ schedules.

  • Term 4 July 19 to July 30 Term Closed

All courses are open to rising 10th – 12th graders and graduating seniors. Explore the full online summer schedule.

View Summer Schedule

What is an Intensive?

Intensives immerse students in a single subject area for the entire two-week Institute term, with the goal of cultivating comprehensive knowledge of that discipline. This thorough approach to learning enables students to develop deeper insights about the field by closely investigating its inner workings.

Course Highlights

Summer Institute enables students to dive deep into a course of study, sharpening skills for their academic and professional careers. Each course is carefully designed to suit student interests and encourage intellectual curiosity.

  • 1

    Students will experience an online tour of an artist’s studio, led by the artist, who will describe their creative process and speak candidly about their involvement in social justice work. Students will have the opportunity to learn about works of art in progress, and to interact and ask questions to better understand how artists engage with social justice issues in their daily lives.

  • 2

    Students will hear from a museum curator whose research is situated at the intersection of art and racial justice and learn about staged events in major metropolitan areas that are intended to promote awareness.

  • 3

    Students will explore their interest in social justice issues under the guidance of experts in the fields and will emerge with newfound knowledge and appreciation of how contemporary artists shape the world in which we live.

Summer Institute Faculty

Our instructors are award-winning Sotheby's Institute faculty, recognized thought leaders and professional experts in the art world. Each faculty member structures their course around real-time conversations defining their professions and helps students master the unique forces at play in the art world.

Summer Institute Faculty

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