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Spiral Q Combines Art and Activism

Spiral Q uses their unique ability to use art to spark dialogues in service of Philadelphia communities.

In 1996, Spiral Q was formed as a street theater advocacy movement by and for individuals living with HIV/AIDS.  Their unique ability to successfully use art to spark dialogues quickly caught the attention of other communities, and now Spiral Q annually organizes and engages nearly 5,000 individuals in hands-on art making in support of a variety of issues and goals, with the work reaching estimated audiences of nearly 30,000 people throughout Philadelphia and beyond.

The process of creating a Spiral Q project is just as important as the end result. Whether it’s a community festival, demonstration, rally, or monumental piece of art to promote a cause or get an idea across, the product depends on bringing individuals together in a collaborative effort. “The art and the making of the art both advance messages by connecting individuals more deeply to the causes that they promote, either through shared experience of creating the work, or through the enhanced capacity of that work to effectively communicate that which does not translate in statistics and pamphlets and jargon,” says Executive Director Tracy Broyles. “From the political to the personal, when individuals create work collectively, they develop and advance essential skills in cultivating strong, inclusive and equitable communities.”

Schools, neighborhoods and community organizers are all served by Spiral Q. Typically, groups reach out to the Q looking for ways to augment an existing project or effort.  For example, if a school wants to connect more to the community it’s based in, they might call Spiral Q to develop and facilitate a student-driven, socially conscious art work concerning an issue important to the students, culminating in a parade or festival for the students to present their work. Through this award-winning artistic and presentational process, youth become engaged citizens with a passion for their community which hopefully sets a precedent for lifelong civic engagement.

Spiral Q also works with nearly 100 groups each year looking for support in advancing their advocacy agendas; the colorful, vibrant projects created in partnership with Spiral Q literally make a cause more visible. Recently, RAGE (Riders Against Gender Exclusion) requested Spiral Q collaboration on banners and signs to be carried by marchers calling for SEPTA to remove gender identifiers on transit passes.  RAGE organizer Ovid Amorson described the experience: "Spiral Q has been an amazing resource, community partner, and safe space for me in my work as a transgender/gender non-conforming activist. Prior to showing up at Spiral Q for the first time, I had not been in a studio for years. I immediately felt really empowered and welcome to use my rusty creative skills… It feels good to be in the Spiral Q community of artists, figure-outers, speak-uppers, justice-seekers, ruckus-makers, attention-getters, cardboard-manipulators, and identity-expressers where who we are and what we are experiencing become magnified and vibrantly visible."

For the people they’ve touched, Spiral Q is more than just an organization, as evidenced by the “What My Spiral Q Stands for” campaign.  “The campaign came from a fundraising idea at first, just trying to come up with a meme that folks would get into, but it quickly evolved into a community scrapbook where all these myriad folks that intersect with Spiral Q can speak to what their own Spiral Q means.  Spiral Q means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For one family it may represent a space where they come together to paint and play and celebrate life in simple ways. For an activist group it can be a place where they can drop by for a hot second and borrow puppets so that they can move swiftly in response to a pressing legislative or policy issue. For another person it is a safe space to express rage and resilience. For a lot of people, Spiral Q is just a place where we are humans and are accepted just as we are,” Broyles explains.

If you’re interested in getting involved with Spiral Q, the organization is always looking for volunteers and hands-on supporters. “Whether it is gathering recycled materials for a project, serving on a board committee, helping to load puppets in a truck, or assist in a classroom, there is a spot for everyone in our parade of life,” says Broyles. The Q’s next major event is Q-LICIOUS on May 18th, an annual Arts & Activism Academy Award Show honoring artists, individuals and community groups working to make a difference in people’s lives, which ends with a late-night dance party.  Volunteers interested in helping build the show ahead of time and/or work the event are welcome. For more information, visit