January 26, 2021 News Release from PEN America

(New York, NY) — Today PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection is releasing its Safety Guide for Artists, a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind guide available in English, French, and Spanish to help artists navigate, counter, and overcome threats and persecution from those seeking to silence their voices. In 2019, ARC—a project that connects imperiled artists worldwide with resources— had its highest number of caseload referrals since its founding in 2017 and has already broken that record in 2020, indicating the dire situation globally for artists and advocates.

The recommendations in the guide were informed by ARC’s experience connecting artists at risk to assistance as well as the vast knowledge of its global network of partners working to defend artistic freedom, whose research, campaigns, and collaborations provided instrumental information.

“This year, we’ve seen an explosion of protest movements worldwide, but also the desperate attempts by governments to unjustly and at times violently muzzle artistic freedom and dissent,” said Julie Trebault, director of ARC and one of the guide’s lead authors. “Artists have been leaders in the global movement for rights and justice, and are often targeted for arrest, detention, kidnapping and even murder. The potency of creative expression in kindling passions and changing minds is what makes regimes view artists as threatening. We hope that our guide will be a go-to resource for those facing danger and for the organizations worldwide doing their utmost to protect artistic freedom expression.”

“Facing risk can be an incredibly isolating and confusing experience,” says Mai Khoi, a dissident Vietnamese musician who had to flee her country after experiencing persecution related to her pro-democracy activism in 2018. “A resource like this guide, which can help artists understand their vulnerabilities, learn how to overcome them, and hear from artists who have been in similar situations, will surely help future artists at risk feel less alone and better-equipped to withstand pressures.”

In the past year, artists have helped lead protest movements in the U.S. following George Floyd’s murder, as well as in Chile, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Belarus, and elsewhere around the world. The rise in global activism has led to a simultaneous rise in the risks of speaking out. Freemuse’s State of Artistic Freedom report earlier this year counted over 700 incidents in which artists’ rights were violated in some 93 countries, including censorship, assault and harassment, arrest and imprisonment, kidnapping, torture, and even murder.

These realities have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as many governments have exploited the health crisis to crack down on dissent through national security and disinformation laws, while other governments fail to take proper steps to protect the health and livelihood of cultural workers. As part of the manual, ARC interviewed 13 leading artists to help inform the guide, surfacing the strategies they’ve used to counter repression, what resources exist, and what guidance or help others might need.

The guide offers robust recommendations to help protect artists and creative professionals who are being silenced for their work. Topics covered include:

  • Tactics governments and non-state agents use to attack artists
  • Methods of identifying and assessing risks
  • Digital security threats and best preventative practices
  • Strategies for developing a personal safety plan
  • Actions artists can take to gather evidence and ensure accountability
  • Overview of the field of support available to artists at risk, as well as a list of resources

“Over the past four years, we’ve seen that artists are at the forefront of the growing global movement to speak out: singing songs, penning slogans, painting murals, staging exhibitions and performances,” said PEN America’s Trebault. “The costs of such artistic freedom have risen dramatically. And while there are thousands of courageous artists who speak out despite the dangers, there are untold creative minds who live in fear, self-censored into silence.”

The guide breaks down how to manage threats from governments, but also from political groups, the police, and military, as well as the threats posed by extremist groups, fundamentalist communities, and even one’s neighbors or family. It comes as ARC itself has seen a skyrocketing caseload, with the vast majority of those accessing ARC’s network of supporters seeking help with relocation and emergency grants. 

The full guide is available here and a downloadable PDF is available here.