Patrisse Cullors creates an online MFA program to develop new artist-activists


Black Lives Matter co-founder and performance artist Patrisse Cullors is leading a new online MFA program combining art, social justice and community organizing at Prescott College in Arizona.

Cullors designed the program, Social and Environmental Arts Practice, in collaboration with the college. The artist, who recently received her master’s from USC’s Roski School of Art and Design exploring the intersection of performance and activism, has worked to reform the criminal justice system during the last 20 years.

Her relationship with the college began about a year and a half ago when she was asked to teach a course in the school’s online social justice program. She said yes with one caveat: that she would teach a class on art and activism.


“In our social justice work, we’re not doing the best job of training young organizers around the tool of art and why it could be a part of the lexicon of making change,” she said.

About six months into teaching, Cullors asked to create her own program. “There was no hesitance from them,” she said. And for the past year, she’s been working with the college to create a program specific to social practice art, aimed at creating social and political change.

The two-year, online program is open to students in the U.S. and abroad and costs $28,704. Cullors, who serves as faculty director, expects the first class will accept 10 to 20 students. Students will have an option to complete a residency in L.A.

Many of the program’s core classes will be taught by four L.A.-based artists who graduated with Cullors at USC.

Photographer Star Montana will teach a course on identity-based photography. Research-based artist Alexandre Dorriz will lead another on “the ways in which the donor world, the art patron world has impacted the integrity of the art world,” Cullors said. Painter Jake Freilich will teach art history and “the ways in which the earliest understandings of art was by European artists pillaging African, and Latin American communities.” Printmaker, sculptor and performance artist Noé Olivas will teach a class on art as a healing tool.

Cullors will also teach a series of courses including “The Rise of Performance Art in the Fine Arts World,” which explores performance’s place in the traditional art market and how queer and trans artists, women and people of color use performance art to challenge the art canon.

Patrisse Cullors performs at her thesis solo show in April.
Patrisse Cullors performs at her thesis solo show in April.
(Vivien Killilea / Getty Images for Patrisse Cullors)

Teaching together at Prescott continues the work the artists did at USC. After graduating, the five opened Crenshaw Dairy Mart, an art gallery in Inglewood.

“We were deeply convinced that the work we are doing is intervention in the art world that is very, very white, often very male and lacking a political rigor that we thought needed to happen,” Cullors said.

She wants the program to introduce students to “a new way of thinking about their own art practice, and also organizers can see art as a tool for their organizing work.”

Directing and teaching is also an evolution of Cullors’ activism and a way to make more space for her own art.

“Teaching puts me in a position to prioritize my practice but also prioritize my scholarship and provide … an epicenter for an intergenerational audience who is deeply invested in wanting to use their work to help advance social change.”