Activist in the Making

Activist in the Making

After graduation Lucy Crelli 17 AP hopes to design apparel that conveys feminist messages to a wide audience.

It was during a high school anthropology class that rising senior Lucy Crelli 17 AP first began thinking about how to use design and the design process to advance social justice. The Pittsburgh native credits this intro to global cultures with expanding her sense of the world—both in terms of scale and need—and inspiring her to develop a creative practice that advances the greater good.

“Studying other cultures suddenly made my own issues and immediate surroundings seem much less important,” Crelli explains. “Through that experience, I began to change how I view myself in relation to the world.”

At RISD Crelli is majoring in Apparel Design, a medium that allows her to address gender issues through making. She’s also pursuing an HPSS concentration in Gender, Sexuality and Race, investigating how apparel design can be used in a positive way to counter sexual violence and stereotypes.

Beyond the studio, Crelli’s work with RISD’s Title IX office inspired her to found Sexual Health and Relationship Educators (SHARE), a student group that organizes sexual education and awareness programming. This includes bystander intervention training and such events as last fall’s Walk of No Shame. In addition, as a Leadership and Community Engagement (LACE) fellow during the 2015/16 academic year, she volunteered at Sojourner House, a local domestic violence shelter.

Crelli’s determination to “burst the studio bubble” that often envelops students who are singularly focused on their work also inspires her leadership of Global Initiative (GI), a group that engages the campus community in dialogue about national and international events. Programming includes the annual Edible Issues series, which uses food as a vehicle to spread global awareness. And this year GI partnered with the campus dining facility Portfolio Café to focus on Nigeria, its culture and its internal struggle with the terrorist organization Boko Haram.

“I came in expecting to learn traditional techniques... but now I realize that RISD has been teaching me a way of solving problems and thinking critically.”

Her work through GI led Crelli to connect with Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island, a local nonprofit dedicated to helping adults overcome cultural, economic, language and educational barriers and become self-sufficient members of a larger community. Now that she has won a Maharam STEAM Fellowship in Applied Art and Design, she’s working at Dorcas this summer to develop an art empowerment curriculum for refugees and think about new ideas for helping people through apparel design. “I want my senior thesis to work as a kind of direct [community] service,” she says.

Though Crelli initially declared Illustration as her major, she quickly realized that working with clothing aligns better with her goals and personal values. “Apparel [is worn on] the human body, which is central to a lot of feminist issues,” she explains. “And it’s part of mainstream media, which allows me to get feminist messages out to a larger audience that doesn’t necessarily follow the art world.”

In both familiar forms like her Venus Collection jacket and more conceptual pieces like The Trophy Collectiona formal ensemble (below) that includes an opera coat made of stuffed spandex “sausages”—Crelli explores ways to empower women and support feminism. On her website, she describes The Trophy Collection as “a comment on female bodily empowerment, a reclaiming of power via emasculated phalluses and glorified vaginas, and a critique of the backlash directed towards so-called ‘radical’ feminists.”

Crelli sees herself as a much different person today than she was as a first-year student at RISD. “I came in expecting to learn traditional techniques and present myself as an artist who makes visual products,” she says. “But now I realize that RISD has been teaching me a way of solving problems and thinking critically.” These skills will serve her well in her career—a future she’s still figuring out but one that will likely find her fighting for social justice.

As she works towards that goal, Crelli hopes the RISD community’s commitment to progressive causes will continue to grow. “RISD needs to [encourage] responsible image making. If we aren’t equipped to talk about current issues, then we aren’t taking on our full responsibility as media makers.”

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