The International Human Rights Art Festival was founded by Tom Block in 2010, as the Amnesty International Human Rights Art Festival in Silver Spring, MD. Since then, the Festival has been produced in various iterations around the United States, and is now an ongoing, year-round series of events:
IHRAF had its New York debut at downtown performing arts venue Dixon Place, in March 2017. View the documentary of the weekend, produced by award-winning (C-Span Studentcam) high school videographers Dalya Block and Kalina Gibson, and click here to see more.
The 2010 Festival was Amnesty International's first-ever International Human Rights Art Festival.
Amnesty International's first-ever Human Rights Art Festival included 400+ artists presenting 200+ events in 40 restaurant, mall, open-air, art, theater, and other venues over a weekend in Silver Spring, Maryland. The opening event was televised live on local cable, and included talks by Congressman (now U.S. Senator) Chris Van Hollen, State Senator (now U.S. Representative) Jamie Raskin, Montgomery County (MD) Commissioner, and other politicians, artists, activists, and social leaders.
Television Producer Norman Lear served as the Executive Producer of the event. Executive Director of Amnesty International USA Larry Cox noted: "It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the first ever Amnesty International Human Rights Art Festival, a multi-media event that fuses the passion of artists with the values of Amnesty International. No human expression reaches into the soul, as does art. Since our founding art and artists have played a powerful and central role in Amnesty International’s fight for human rights as a means to further our goals."
The Iraq History Project Art Festival ran from Sept. 28 to Oct. 3, 2010 at DePaul University, produced by Tom Block and hosted by the law school. The six-day series of events included panel discussions, lunch lectures, and film screenings addressing human rights issues, culminating in a large exhibition of work by 19 artists. The event featured art commissioned by the DePaul International Human Rights Law Institute’s Iraq History Project, which was created in 2005 to document human rights abuse in Iraq, both under the regime of Saddam Hussein and later under the occupation of the U.S. military.
“It’s not necessarily the easiest thing to make the step to action,” said Julia Dougherty, the IHRLI director, who worked with Block to organize the festival. “Sometimes awareness is the best you can do, because discussion…can then move to igniting a charge in somebody else, and then from there it can move into a movement and then change. But it’s steps. You have to build the foundation to get to that ultimate change.
-- Luke Wilusz, “Artists, Activists Unite for Human Rights: Art festival aims to raise awareness, inspire social change.” Columbia Chronicle (Chicago, IL), September 27, 2010
Banner painting of Mahatma Gandhi by Tom Block