Saving the World One Life at a Time

by Sadd Ghosn

Art has to be a social commentary,” says Lauri Aultman. “To me art and activism have always been connected. Throughout history, artists have used literature, music, visual arts… to open dialogue about areas where
society needed change. I myself am a concerned citizen, and my art reflects my frustrations with the political system, my desire to make our community a safe, peaceful and better place.”

Whether through her personal art or through her art teaching Aultman has always wanted the creative process and its product to touch people, trigger thinking, encourage social change.

“I accept that it might be just one child or person at a time,” she says. “But YES, I want through art to save the world; I also want others to help me do the same!”

Aultman, a local visual artist, grew up in a liberal family, in progressive Yellow Springs and Xenia, OH. Early on, her mother exposed her to visual arts and crafts, her father to literature and writing, her grandmothers to music; she loved to draw, sing, dance and act.

When selecting a career, however, she opted initially for psychology, a practical field as she says, but soon added to it art history. This led her to work in museums, to travel to Glasgow, Scotland, to help with an international exhibit on Glasgow women artists, and finally to join the John F. Kennedy University in San Francisco, CA, where she earned a Master’s degree in Museum Administration.

She wanted museums to be less elitist and more inclusive, welcoming all.

After few years in San Francisco, Aultman moved to Columbus to be near her family. Employed at the Columbus Museum of Art, she started a preschool multicultural program titled WOW Art? It became very popular and put her in touch with a large number of kids and their family. They often confided in her, sharing their various problems; they indirectly prompted her enrollment in art therapy classes.

“I felt a calling for at-risk youth,” she says. “So I left museum field, worked for few years at the Homeless Families Foundation Educational Center, then moved to Cincinnati to teach art and yoga at various Cincinnati Recreation Commission (CRC) Centers.”

Aultman loves to work with kids as they look at the future with hope and uncensored perspectives. She involves them in various art activities using art as a vehicle for their self expression, confronting their own issues and those of society, also reflecting on diversity, peace, justice, on how to better the world.

Her students and those of other CRC centers, as a result, regularly added their voice to the yearly SOS Art community art show for peace and justice in Cincinnati, thus contributing to its open dialogue.

For several years, however, Aultman just focused on teaching art to children at the expense of her own art.

“I had become so busy teaching art that I stopped creating my own,” she says, “It caused me a breakdown and I realized it was important I do art every day.”

Responding then to her sister’s request to create an art piece for a fundraiser for an abuse shelter, Aultman started delving into art for social issues; she has not stopped since.

She has created works for various causes, international, national and personal. Through her church, Ginghamsburg United Methodist, in Tipp City, she got active in the Sudan Project, helping raise money for its various programs in Darfur (implementing sustainable agriculture, building schools, training teachers and constructing water yards for safe water).

Aultman contributes to the Project by making art for the yearly fundraising art exhibit “HeArt of the Sudan”. Do They Know It’s Xmas, a mixed media sculpture, was based on the song from the 80s about famine in Ethiopia; it incorporated the lyrics with pictures of toys made out of tin cans and photos of malnourished Sudanese kids, thus reminding of the dire reality.

Her series of Crosses, one each for Sudan, China and Ireland, are meant to call attention to the different conflict areas and to their need for prayers. The crosses, made of painted water bottles, have added and somewhat hidden, words, statistics, pictures and objects all related to the conflict.

Each sits on a Bible referencing the importance of prayer and spirituality. Water Cross: Darfur Sudan, painted white alluding to the importance of water, included material related to water, agriculture and education. Water Cross: China, painted red, related to human rights and censorship and used Chinese stamps for decoration. Water Cross: Ireland, painted green, included a handkerchief that belonged to Aultman’s great-grandmother originally from Ireland, also crucifixes and elements related to the religious and ethnic fighting.

Recently Aultman did works pertaining to the Congo conflict minerals. Through an activist meeting she learned that portable electronics contained the 3 Ts (tin, titanium and tungsten) usually mined in Congo, in areas where people are murdered and women raped every day. Her mixed media Cell Out/Healing Mandala consists of a wooden circle representing the world on which was added information and images addressing the minerals issue, juxtaposed to a globe mandala as a peaceful solution.

“We have no idea how our daily use of cell phones in America effects women in Congo,” says Aultman. “I can’t help feeling like a sellout each time I use my phone. We all need to know about it.”

Her ongoing American Girls series consists of dolls with no head, themed after important American issues: religion (Hope Nkonde), environment (Terra Hart) and patriotism. She picked girls due to her interest in women issues, also because young American girls nowadays are obsessed with dolls, often used in our society as means of escape.

Aultman resorted to their symbolism instead as a way back to the reality of the country.

“Their themes represent me, my current concerns, issues I and Americans struggle with, ” she says.

Aultman has always had at heart issues of violence and abuse directed at women; she makes it part of her life to tell people about them.

“Yes” and “Proceed With Caution” are body prints in acrylic that
address sexual abuse and rape; they are meant to give hope to abuse survivors.

Peace, another omnipresent topic in her works, owed her the title of “peacenik” by her students. In Wishful Sign of the Times she arranged buttons in a sign peace, each button representing a prayer for one of her students and his/her family.

Peace Dove and Peace Dreams, 2 mixed media pieces, reflect her inner path to reach and communicate true peace.

“Art is not just ‘in my blood’,” Says Aultman. “I actually need it to survive. I am an artist for peace and social justice and use my art to educate others on causes they may not be aware of. I want to raise consciousness and make a difference. I am proud to be an artist activist.”

Artists as Activists is a regular column highlighting Greater Cincinnati artists who use art as a vehicle for change. Saad Ghosn is the founder of SOS Art. Ghosn can be reached at