Influencing Impactful, Social Change Through the Arts

Art has the power to change the world.

The arts impact us all in a variety of direct and indirect ways, by illuminating our lives and enriching our emotional world. The arts can also be deeply moving and be a tremendous unifier. One Kent State University faculty member is attempting to tap into that power to impact social injustice and violence in our communities.

In November 2017, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced 17 winning projects chosen from 300 submitted ideas for the 2017 Akron Knight Arts Challenge. Among the recipients of a matching grant was Kent State Hugh A. Glauser School of Music faculty member, Christopher Coles. Kent State Foundation Relations worked with Coles to submit his winning idea to the competition. His entry, titled “Nine Lives,” is a multidisciplinary reflection on social injustice.

Inspired by the Charleston church shooting in 2015, “Nine Lives” is an artistic suite intended to heighten awareness of ongoing racial injustice in America.


“During the aftermath of the shooting, I was moved to sit down at the piano to write ‘Nine Lives,’” Coles said. “The original twelve-minute tone poem is a narrative of the tragedy as it unfolded. In addition to commemorating the nine who were killed and serving as a reminder of the horrific event, the piece brings further attention to the racial injustice still plaguing this country.”


Coles’ goal is now to expand this work into a four-movement suite for jazz ensemble; a multidisciplinary piece that will use dance, spoken word and animation to reflect on some important social issues, such as racial inequality, injustice and gun violence.


Coles hopes this piece will inspire engagement, thinking and action.


“As a jazz saxophonist, I grapple with social issues by sorting my emotions through performance and music composition,” Coles said. “By bringing people together to experience this powerful work, I hope to invite listeners and performers alike into a shared space of reflection.”

The Kent State community – comprised of students, faculty, staff and friends – is a community of change agents, whose collective commitment to learning sparks epic thinking, meaningful voice and invaluable outcomes to advance our society. This effort is a tremendous example of the influence one voice can have on the world around us. As the award from the Knight Foundation is a matching grant, this project will only be possible if enough funds are raised. To support this enlightening work, please make a gift to this project today.

POSTED: Tuesday, August 21, 2018 - 11:17am
UPDATED: Wednesday, August 22, 2018 - 12:18pm