JohnMark Ofrasio TEDx "Limitless"
Watch JohnMark Ofrasio deliver his TEDx Talk about how art can create social change and drive all passions, & check out the transcript of his speech below:
In 2016, Wells Fargo mailed out an ad for their Teen Day event. This ad said, “A ballerina yesterday. An engineer today. An actor yesterday. A botanist today. Let’s get them ready for tomorrow.” To this, many artists like Tony award winning Cynthia Erivo responded saying, “Apparently Wells Fargo doesn’t think that an actor or a ballerina require any work at all!” Crazy Ex-Girlfriend actress Donna Lynne Champlin says, “2016’s highest paid actor at $64 million vs highest paid botanist at $165,049. Wells Fargo, you sure you’re a bank?” Or my favorite, from the amazing Josh Groban: “BRB gonna take out a Wells Fargo loan to write Botany: the Musical!” You can tell it's already gonna be better than Hamilton. Like this ad, there have always been people who think that those pursuing the arts as a career are wasting their lives. For some parents it’s even a nightmare for their children to pursue the performing arts. So what's wrong with the arts? Why aren't they a safe viable option for a career? Why don’t we hold a ballerina or an actor to the same caliber as an engineer or a botanist. Well I think it's because we never think about the arts as a meaningful world changing force. We see the arts as entertainment. Music, movies, TV, dance, theatre. While we can obviously see the positive impact and immense change doctors, politicians, and lawyers make on the world, we never realize that artists are making just as large an impact. It's just not right in front of our faces. Art is about spreading ideas. It’s about truth. It’s an emotional, thought provoking experience hoping you come out of the experience changed. And that kind of change ranges from teaching a lesson about life to introducing a whole new idea and perspective about the world and our society. The change that art makes in our lives is in our thinking and emotions. Art doesn’t just entertain, it educates. It has this limitless creative power fueled by ideas and thoughts that are made to change the world. And more importantly this isn’t just limited by the entertainment realm. Art can reach into political spheres too and can be used for activism and political change.
But this isn’t the newest idea in town. With pieces like Pablo Picasso’s Guernica and songs like John Lennon’s "Imagine", we can see that people have been trying to change the world with art for years. If you go to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City right now you can see a whole exhibit of activist and political art from the 1940s to now that challenged social issues of the present. I mean go to just about any museum and you can find art that was inspired by social commentary. Similarly modern music artists like Beyonce, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, and Logic are bringing feminism, police brutality, and suicide into the limelight. I’m sure we’ve all seen Beyonce’s advocacy for equality and women's rights through her songs, or Kendrick Lamar’s really moving and powerful Grammys performance. And if you haven’t watched the "This is America" music video then you need to go do that before you go home to the rock you live under. Something I especially love about Logic is his performances, and the speeches he makes after he performs. At the VMA’s he said, “I am here to fight for your equality because i believe that we are all born equal but we are not treated equally and that is why we must fight. We must fight for the equality of every man, woman, and child regardless of race, religion, color, creed, and sexual orientation.” His song "1-800-273-8255", the number to the national suicide prevention lifeline, has increased calls for the NSPL by 33%, and some of his other songs spark conversation about things like mental health, racism, and domestic violence. Similarly, Hollywood can be a contributor in fighting social issues, like racial equality. With Oscar award winning movies like Coco, Get Out, and Moonlight, we’ve seen how Hollywood has to be careful, and consider their role in contributing to racial diversity and accurate cultural representation in their works. Aziz Ansari talks how important it is for people to see themselves represented in film and TV, and how growing up, he, “rarely saw any Indians on TV or film, except for brief appearances as a cab driver or a convenience store worker literally servicing white characters who were off to more interesting adventures.” Even when race is considered for casting, more often than not, it’s to play a stereotype. Aziz Ansari fights against this not just by being a racial minority actor himself, but also by using his TV show, Master of None, to present more racial diversity and even make episodes to address discrimination and whitewashing on TV. Other shows like Empire, Blackish, and Fresh Off the Boat, shoutout to all my asians out there, have also made episodes that talk about what it's like to be a minority in America.
But what about a more personal example? Something more local or relatable. Well let me tell you about someone very close to my heart. My sister, Ruthie Ofrasio, is an EBHS alum and a recent graduate from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and by recent I mean her commencement was literally two days ago and her Tisch salute was this morning. Yeah, how fitting. Anyway in January 2017, Ruthie was the NYU representative in the Miss Philippines Pageant run by Rutgers Newark Filipino Student Association that about 23 other universities participated in. She used this opportunity as a platform to send a message to a nearly full Newark Symphony Hall about the recent Trump election a few months prior. With spoken word and multiple forms of dance, she inspired others to embrace their cultural roots and always be proud of their race even when faced with oppression. She said that as the second most prominent Asian American group in this country, as their caretakers, entertainers, chefs and nurses, we filipinos cannot be silenced. So, guess who won Ms. PI 2017? My sister was a trailblazer for future Ms. PI contestants for the coming years and witnessed this influence while judging Ms. PI 2018 and watching their own spoken word pieces and passion driven performances. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Within the last few months, my sister has formed a whole business dedicated to the visibility and representation of Asian Americans and People of Color in the arts. This is A KIN (eng. pronunciation). Or if you’re filipino AKIN (tagalog pronunciation) which means mine in tagalog. With a community of artists she found in NYU Tisch, my sister was able to conceptualize and launch this creative platform dedicated to providing a space where underrepresented artists of color can collaborate, discuss, and showcase their work. AKIN showcases writing, podcasts, music, short films, and such to give a voice to those who are drowned out by a white narrative, sharing stories and experiences that belong to people of color of how it is to be a colored person living in America. AKIN uses art for political change.
So what does this idea mean for us? How does this change the game? Well consider this. What are you passionate about? My sister really cares about race and culture as a filipina woman. Maybe you really care about the environment. Maybe you’re a feminist and really care about women’s rights or abortion laws. All the speakers here tonight we're passionate about something and it's amazing that they decided to do something with that passion and speak about it tonight and so what I’m getting at is that regardless of what you’re passionate about, you can do something about that passion through art. And that’s the beauty of all of this. This means that you can be the change you want to see in the world through art. My sister was in a coffee shop thinking about the impact that Black Panther had on the black community and wondering why there wasn’t an Asian equivalent of that when she realized, “well, why don’t I do that?” Boom. AKIN was born. As we’ve seen in the last few months we as a generation have something to say. We have opinions and we want to make them heard. We want to make change. We want to be activists. And this is our way into that. It’s art. It’s creating something that makes a statement. Can’t sing? Then write! Can’t paint? Then speak! Be creative, use your own resources and talents that only you have. No one else can do the same things as you in the same exact way and so each and every one of you has your own way you can make a change in this world. Social media can be a perfect place to start just speaking your mind about gun control, pay equality, gay rights, or racism. Make your voice heard through art. Art is just another way to make a change in the world just as voting is. Obviously, the arts are something I’m really passionate about, and I take pride in choosing to make it my career. Personally, theatre and especially music, have just been huge components in making me who I am today. I’ve been singing in choir, playing viola in orchestra, and acting in drama club for just about 8 years now. Raise your hand if you have a really meaningful memory from either being onstage performing or watching a performance onstage. It could be a theatre production, a concert, a dance recital, anything that took place on a stage. Well, this is the very stage that I watched my sister grow in her love for theatre through 6 East Brunswick High School Drama Club productions when she was at the high school. It’s where I’ve been a Lost Boy in Peter Pan and Prince Charming in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. It’s where bonds with some of my best friends from Drama club have become unbreakable. This is where art does its work. Where ideas are created, encouraged, and shared. Where human experience gets shaped. And hopefully today it’s where I can help change your human experience. I’m so glad that I’m making another new memory on this stage here today. I really encourage you follow your artistic dreams and, more importantly, to continue supporting the arts, because whenever you come to watch theatre or see a concert, you’re actually helping support the change it hopes to accomplish.
Art has this ability to make its way into every part of our lives, and that’s no coincidence. Today, more than ever, people are trying to spread their ideas and call on others to actively improve our society, which is something we really need right now, and art is one of the most effective ways to do that because that is the nature of art. In fact, doing this talk, participating in this TEDx event, I am using the art of speech to spread my ideas about the world and either change your perspective or consider this new idea. Ideas worth sharing is what TED is all about, it’s literally their mission statement so in a way TED is truly what artistry is about. Wells Fargo says, “A ballerina yesterday, an engineer today. And an actor yesterday, a botanist today”. I say “A ballerina yesterday, a lifesaver today. An actor yesterday, an inspiration always.” Thank you so much.