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McCain Institute’s R.E.A.L. Friends Don’t Campaign Unveils Public Art Installation in Mesa

The two works of art by local artists intend to spark conversation about online exploitation

ABC 15 Phoenix: New art aims to start conversation about online teen exploitation

MESA, Ariz. (May 4, 2023)— The McCain Institute at Arizona State University (ASU) unveiled two public art installations at the ASU Media and Immersive Experience (MIX) Center. These works of art are part of the McCain Institute’s R.E.A.L. Friends Don’t campaign, aimed at raising awareness, educating caregivers and teens about online safety, and protecting children from harmful content, grooming, or online exploitation.

The installations were designed by local artists at I AM Undefined Art and Xico, Inc. and guided by young people at the Boys & Girls Club – Grant Woods Mesa Branch and one•n•ten. The artwork intends to provoke thought and foster dialogue among community members about safety in the digital world.

“The McCain Institute is proud to be part of the ASU community and deeply values our Arizona-based partners who have worked with us on this meaningful endeavor,” said McCain Institute Executive Director Dr. Evelyn Farkas. “Public art serves as a critical stimulus for the challenging, but necessary, conversations we need to have about the online safety of our children.”

“By involving the Arizona community in every step of the process, from design to production, we create space to have difficult conversations and take the first step towards changing the way we look at and respond to online exploitation,” said Combatting Human Trafficking Program Manager Kelsey Syms at the McCain Institute.

“At Boys & Girls Clubs of Valley, we prioritize promoting the lifelong significance of making informed choices related to health and social concerns,” said Vice President of External Affairs & Business Partnerships for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley (BGCAZ) Josh Stine. “The mission of R.E.A.L Friends Don’t, which seeks to raise awareness among teenagers about online exploitation, aligns with this focus and delivers a crucial message to our young members, particularly considering the growing prevalence of media and online exposure.”

“When Kelsey asked me to be a part of this project, I got chills. It was important to me to include youth voices in this piece by drawing and painting,” said I AM Undefined Artist Tiesha Harrison. “A piece of art from every youth who participated is included, representing everything from safety first to raising the topic to voices of youth. It was the most rewarding experience.”

Recognizing that the demand for accurate, actionable information about online safety is high, the McCain Institute created R.E.A.L. Friends Don’t and employs an integrated suite of activities to reach those most at risk of exploitation, ranging from an online resource hub to billboards to influencer-driven social media campaigns, and most recently public art.

About the McCain Institute at Arizona State University
The McCain Institute is a nonpartisan organization inspired by Senator John McCain and his family’s dedication to public service. We are part of Arizona State University and based in Washington, D.C. Our programs advance democracy and human rights, empower character-driven leaders, combat human trafficking, and prevent targeted violence. Our unique power to convene leaders across the global political spectrum enables us to make a real impact on the world’s most pressing challenges. Our goal is action, not talk, and like Senator McCain, we are fighting to create a free, safe, and just world for all.

About Arizona State University
Arizona State University has developed a new model for the American research university, creating an institution that is committed to access, excellence and impact. ASU measures itself by those it includes, not by those it excludes. As the prototype for a New American University, ASU pursues research that contributes to the public good, and ASU assumes major responsibility for the economic, social and cultural vitality of the communities that surround it.

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Publish Date
May 4, 2023