“Art is fundamental to spiritual wellness and liberation. It’s a human right.” This quote is from the mission statement of the An Indivisible Art Collective.
This is the heart of An Indivisible Art Collective (AIACDC), a D.C.-based social action and equity-focused nonprofit that harnesses art education and creativity as food for the soul.
What began as an impromptu conclave of artists, musicians, activists and creators valuing community building and racial equity blossomed into a beautiful space of resistance, where often silenced and overlooked voices are centered — and a variety of transformative programs and collaborations are incubated.
“We were craving a space for marginalized artists, queer folks and Black folks, by us and for us, to put on art and [have] a safe space,” Meurkens says.
The integrated art space spotlights storytelling and provides a platform for marginalized voices. It is a direct response to what Alston describes as “the muting of voices.”
Today, the five-person collective spearheaded by Alston and Meurkens offers art education to kids — including through Art Hour, the Collective’s virtual art education program — curates community events and workshops, addresses food insecurity and more.
Divergent Paths Converge
Alston and Meurkens share a love of music, art and community, but their differing paths are a microcosm of the inequitable access to certain opportunities.
“As unique as we all are, we all have different learning styles,” Alston expresses. “It’s not fair to children to lump them all together, because we are so different.”
Before moving to D.C., Alston carved out her creative journey in Charleston, South Carolina, inspired by the Lowcountry’s rich legacy of Black musicians. In her youth, Alston, a trained classical singer, had access to many resources, including her high school choir, but not the resources needed to fully develop her gift.
Not until her undergraduate years did she receive her first private voice lesson, where she discovered a genre of music uniquely tailored to her vocal talents. In the past, she’d been introduced to Beethoven and Mozart, but only briefly. This unearthing was transformative and propelled her to later open an independent voice studio, showcase her talents at several local music festivals like Piccolo Spoleto, and ultimately pursue public funding available to artists.
Alston now recognizes the enduring benefits of beginning your exploration early in life, the very opportunity facilitated by the Collective.
“There’s a level of discipline, achievement and pride that comes with honing in on a craft at a young age,” Alston asserts. “Also, you learn the skill of transference; you’ll learn how to transfer the knowledge from your voice lessons to your math lesson.”
The Collective believes this same cultivation of artistic talent equipped youth to use their free time in isolation for personal growth and to process raw emotions during the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests.
Coming of age in New York, Meurkens had access to a plethora of opportunities. The daughter of an Afro-Brazilian mother and German father — a professional musician — she grew up on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan in a predominantly white neighborhood. It was there she was introduced to the piano at age 4 and the violin at age 5, receiving lessons until age 22.
Meurkens declares with pride her mother “busted her ass” to ensure she received exposure to an array of musical disciplines that gave her a variety of mediums through which to express herself and cope.
“Art is fundamental to spiritual wellness and liberation,” Meurkens shares. “When you’re going through something, or when you need to express yourself, sometimes you don’t have the words for it. Music for us, that’s something that really connects us as friends, as co-founders of this organization. We both saw music as that outlet; it’s really [about] giving kids the skills and the breadth of knowledge and art that exists.”
Meurkens describes herself as a multidisciplinary artist who is a writer with the heart of a musician. After studying literature and music and pursuing a creative writing certificate, all from the University Maryland, she’s now pouring her skills into An Indivisible Art Collective.
Art Reflecting The Times
“It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times,” iconic jazz singer-songwriter Nina Simone once said. Both founders evoke this notion through the Collective’s programs and the way they lead their lives.
Meurkens and Alston are entrenched in the D.C. community, juggling various creative pursuits: Meurkens is balancing a marketing career while serving as editor-in-chief of Mixed Mag and communications and events manager of An Indivisible Art Collective; and Alston is founder and owner of La Mezzo Voice Studio and director of operations for An Indivisible Art Collective.
The two are using the Collective as a vehicle to empower young people and lift up the community by providing arts education and critical services. Through Arts Hour, they are introducing D.C. youth grades K-12 to the arts ranging from instrumental/vocal music, creative writing, visual arts, photography, graphic design and more, which simultaneously supports local arts instructors.
The Collective is partnering with Serve Your City DC, which provides at-risk youth access to life-changing experiences; the Social Justice School, which encourages youth to be scholar-activists; and Empower DC, which promotes the self-advocacy of low and moderate income D.C. residents to sustainably improve their quality of life.
The Collective also addresses food insecurity through several initiatives and partnerships, including a collaboration with the D.C Fridge Collective to open a community fridge and pantry in the Trinidad/Ivy City neighborhood.
For the co-founders, merging art with a focus on addressing social issues remains necessary. Adressing gentrification, which is eroding the community’s cultural bastions, like jazz clubs and theaters, is one of their top priorities.
Meurkens and Alston recognize there’s much more work to be done, and are continuing to harness the collaborative energy that’s bringing forth change in the region.
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