How Art and Music Can Change the World


In 2002, Jean Smith and David Lester developed How Art and Music Can Change the World to inspire audiences towards considering political content in their creative self-expression. The lecture, art exhibit and performance event is presented on tour in North America in university classrooms and art galleries.

In 2011, How Art and Music featured an adaptation of David Lester’s graphic novel The Listener.

Word on the Street, Vancouver, 2011


“The Politics Are Not Obvious” by David Lester

No Coal 11 by Jean Smith  (16 x 16)

“No Coal” (16 x 16″ acrylic on canvas) a series by Jean Smith from the novel The Black Dot Museum of Political Art, 2013.

A segment of “How Art and Music Can Change The World” at Loyola Marymount University, October, 2012. Jean Smith speaks about a series of paintings.

San Francisco Public Library, October 10, 2012. “Odele’s Bath” is a section from Jean Smith’s recently-completed novel “The Black Dot Museum of Political Art”.

David Lester and Jean Smith are best known as Mecca Normal, the legendary guitar and voice duo regarded as an inspiration to the founders of the Riot Grrrl movement. In a four-star CD review in Rolling Stone Magazine (1995), rock music critic Evelyn McDonnell (now a professor of journalism at Loyola Marymount University) said: ” …vocalist Jean Smith and guitarist David Lester have presented a consistent, evolving and luminous challenge to the reigning social order – what Smith calls a false machine in motion passing through the clouds.”

Ron Sakolsky, a scholar covering the intersection of music, revolution and radio, described the original version of “How Art and Music Can Change The World” as ” …a seasoned performance-based pedagogy with a raw emotional and lyrical intensity – a culmination (so far) of the rock solid artistic integrity that has made Mecca Normal into an underground legend in its own time.” Read the entire review.

“Who cares if there’s underground culture or not? Gap-Coke-Sony-Time-Warner satisfies our needs… don’t they?”

University and College Classrooms • Youth Centres • Art Galleries • Literary Events • Book Stores • Libraries • Community Centres

David Lester is a well-respected visual artist with 35 years experience. Jean Smith, the author of two published novels, was named one of Vancouver’s top 50 writers.

Mecca Normal’s music is paradoxically intuitive and highly stylized. Smith is an extraordinary rock poet delivering compact short stories from her next book. Lester’s adventurous guitar playing creates a sonic equivalent to Smith’s voice — a language all his own.

“Arguably the greatest rock band without a rhythm section ever, the duo of acid-voiced singer Jean Smith and guitar hero David Lester must be seen to be believed.” — Douglas Wolk

Jean Smith says, “Mecca Normal has done thousands of interviews over the years to raise issues of cultural, political and social interest and concern. Our presentation is structured to bring that content forward — without the interviewer. We’ve broken out of performance-only mode to introduce our thoughts on motivation, inspiration and longevity. Touring artists who promote systemic change are valuable to the basis of society. We refuse to be buried in the entertainment glut.”

Mecca Normal has a long history of co-ordinating and promoting events for artists determined to create social change. Their original touring enterprise was the late 80s Black Wedge — a group of poets and minimalist musicians who toured in Canada, the US and England.

How Art & Music Can Change the World: 60 minute outline

Jean and David introduce themselves, and their work, by briefly explaining their motivation to form a band that was different from the four-guys-on-stage bands that dominated the Vancouver scene in the 1980s.

“In our early years I spoke from the stage,” says Jean. “Between fairly literal songs about feminism, poverty, and housing issues, to encourage women to start bands with other women, as opposed to being audience members. The social movement known as Riot Grrrl began and its founding members cited Mecca Normal as an inspiration to its inception. We connected with audiences who were encouraged to, in this case, focus on feminist concerns using music and culture. This direct linearity of events inspired us to address the idea that it is not possible to change the world. We did change the world.”

PowerPoint: David talks about his ongoing poster series called Inspired Agitators which highlights the accomplishments of artists and activists engaged in social and aesthetic change.

Jean, the daughter of two abstract painters — her father was also an art director at an ad agency in the 1960s — talks about the self-portrait series she began at age thirteen and has continued adding to for over thirty-five years.

During the PowerPoint art exhibit Jean and David talk about the aims of both literal and abstract political art in terms of its ability to inspire progressive social change.

Art Exhibit:

Jean Smith Paintings

Jean Smith’s “Self-Portrait” series in watercolour (1973 at age 13 onward) documents the self-image of an adolescent girl through to the present, over thirty-five years later. Smith continues to examine the roles of female subject/model and artist in this ongoing series.

David Lester Drawings and Design

Small Press Publishing: Jean and David discuss their collaboration in the publishing of handmade art books, political graphics, poetry and fiction, including the award-winning poetry of Bud Osborn, a community activist from Canada’s poorest neighbourhood — Vancouver’s downtown eastside. Handmade books published by Smarten UP! & Get To The Point will be on display for discussion.