Courtney Spence on How to Use Art Education to Create Social Change

In Chapter 8 of 16 in her 2011 Capture Your Flag interview, non-profit founder and executive Courtney Spence answers "What Do You Enjoy Most About Working at the Intersection of Social Change, Art and Education?" Spence finds the continuing change present at this intersection provides a powerful storytelling platform for individuals looking to do good in the world. She finds telling stories of progress through the lens of the good happening in the world, it is more actionable. Spence is founder and executive director of Students of the World, a non-profit that partners with passionate college students to create new media to highlight global issues and the organizations working to address them. Spence graduated with a BA in History from Duke University.


Erik Michielsen:  What do you enjoy most about working at the intersection of social change, art, and education?

Courtney Spence:  What I enjoy most about working in that intersection of art, education, and social change is the fact that it is constantly changing and it’s full of individuals that really have a burning desire to contribute to society through the talents that they have been given and through the talents they wanna develop.  You know, when you’re in the education world it’s all about curiosity, it’s all about learning from others, listening to other stories, and understanding how that is your story also and what do you take from that.  So that’s when we started Students of the World, the concept of let’s go out and be ‘students of the world’ just as we are students at Duke, or at UT, or at UNC, and, you know, listen to other stories and translating that into something that can cause social activism, social change.  It’s really the power of storytelling at its best.  That’s what social media is.  We’re all telling stories.  Y’all are telling stories here. 

Students, you know, are telling stories as they write essays.  Our students are going out and retelling the stories that they have been told, and, you know, social media has really – we all know it has just exploded over the course of the last, you know, seven to ten years, but what’s really exciting is we’re starting to see so much more often that people are using that for good, for, you know, the Do-gooder Awards that YouTube does.  You know, the Ford Foundation just announced a really, you know, 50 million-dollar grant for cause-related social documentaries.  There is really this understanding that the power of storytelling can be best used when it’s a force for good, and it’s telling the stories of those who are doing great work across the world.

I think that there is really so much momentum to use social media for, you know, in a more creative way for the education of others, to really inspire people to take action, and there is this concept that we have always believed in at Students of the World is the importance of telling stories of progress.  Problems paralyze people and they make them feel that, you know, they can’t contribute because it’s war, it’s poverty, it’s famine, it’s all of this.  But when you tell stories of progress when you show problems through the lens of the good that is happening in the world it’s not only inspiring to others but it’s hopefully inspiring to a point of taking action.  And so being in that space you find that you have, you know, people that are able to educate through media, through art, to create change, and that’s – it’s just a really exciting place to be in.