Advancing Social Justice through Documentation and Archiving

Posted by Jamie Haft On May - 19 - 2014
Jamie Haft

Jamie Haft

A call to action is what has emerged for me from Animating Democracy’s vigorous blog salon, Back to the Future: Forward-Thinking Documentation & Archiving. Imagine an organizing effort to achieve Reverend James Lawson’s founding statement of principle for the civil rights movement’s Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee: “a social order of justice permeated by love.” Do documentation and archiving come to mind as essential to building a movement? Reading the insights from all the thoughtful writers in this blog salon, I am happy to say, yes!

The work of documenting, archiving, and communicating about the field of community cultural development is a political act. This context encompasses and gives meaning to the five debunked misconceptions about archiving and documentation in my opening post. Read the rest of this entry »

A Call for a Shared Digital Town Square

Posted by Jan Cohen Cruz On May - 19 - 2014
Jan Cohen-Cruz Caracas

Jan Cohen-Cruz Caracas

Jamie Haft names in her blog initiating this series on Documentation, Archiving, and Communication the misconception that the Community Cultural Development (CCD) field needs “a central digital town square.” While I, too, recognize the value of multiple platforms publicizing stories, news items, essays, manifestoes, et al, for diverse CCD constituencies, we risk bifurcating the field if all communication reflects separate siloes. I propose the additional creation of a CCD Reader — shaped along the lines of the Utne Reader, a publication that “combs the alternative, independent, and digital press for thoughtful journalism, artful storytelling, and emerging ideas.” A CCD Reader could serve as a commons for the regular exchange of ideas across our habitual groupings. To generate such a “digital town square,” we could, say once a year, cull from the multiple publications representing different CCD threads to produce one set of pieces valuable to us all. Read the rest of this entry »

Documenting Community-Based Arts and Funding Inequities

Posted by Sonia Manjon On May - 14 - 2014
Sonia BasSheva Manjon

Sonia BasSheva Manjon

The discourse, documentation, research, archiving, and communication about community cultural development are indeed vast and deep. Within this multilayered, diverse, and complex field of community-based art are artists and organizations that represent the diversity and complexity of communities and neighborhoods in the United States. The urgency for documentation, archiving, and communication are, at times, limited to those organizations that represent a more mainstream paradigm. The creation and introduction of multifaceted arts institutions is important to the building of community based arts organizations with social justice and cultural equity foci. Art institutions that address a holistic aesthetic perspective that embrace the complexities of their cultural communities are rooted across the country. Read the rest of this entry »

Teaching Artists as Equity Warriors

Posted by Tina LaPadula On March - 11 - 2014
Tina LaPadula

Tina LaPadula

I facilitate arts education workshops and conversations nationally. Teaching artists often ask me why it’s important to discuss arts education and social justice. I’m still honing my response, but here’s my current thinking:

We live in a country with undeniable barriers in education and the arts. I’m not even going to get into the differences between private and public schools, or the historic divide between formal arts training and cultural and community arts in this post. (Although, you should take a moment to read this great piece from the The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and Helicon which makes the case that more foundation funding in the arts should directly benefit lower-income communities and people of color). If we accept the idea that social justice is a vision for a society in which all people, of all identities, are treated equitably then we also have to admit the landscape is currently inequitable.   Read the rest of this entry »

Dirtbag Comedians Shall Inherit the Earth

Posted by Negin Farsad On December - 2 - 2013
Negin Farsad

Negin Farsad

It’s the future, bitches. And the future needs figuring out. It needs parsing and unpacking because it’s…ugh… so complicated and booooring. Where there used to be two dudes at a table having a conversation, there are now algorithms spitting out preferences. Where once upon a time we could count on social responsibility and public good, we now count on public shaming and seemingly irrefutable made-up factiness.

Where do we develop a sense of social justice in a climate like this? How can we see things for the bags of dog pooh that they might actually be? The journalists, they have a heckuva job because they’re supposed to understand everything and type it out in palatable but non-partisan high-traffic news posts. The commentators have to churn out really narrow talking points, so they’re booked. The prose writers have to save novels from vanishing. The philosophers are trying to get paid more than their adjunct teaching jobs so they can focus on philosophizing. The poets never made any sense. So who’s left?? Who’s going to help us FIGURE IT OUT? Read the rest of this entry »

Partnering with Eileen Fisher (from The pARTnership Movement)

Posted by Katy Rubin On October - 17 - 2013
Katy Rubin

Katy Rubin

Today I’m writing from my desk in Brooklyn, as the founder and artistic director of Theatre of the Oppressed NYC (TONYC). TONYC, 2+ years old and growing, partners with local communities including homeless adults, immigrants and LGBTQ homeless youth to create and tour original plays inspired by real‐life struggles. Our interactive performances engage audiences in creative problem‐solving and transformative action.

Back in the summer of 2010, I was working as a freelance teaching artist. One of my employers, a girls leadership initiative, was funded in part by Eileen Fisher, the women’s clothing company. All I knew then about EF was that zen-looking women wore flowy clothes in the NY Times ads that my mother and I had always admired. Then I got a call asking if I’d come up to Westchester, where EF’s headquarters are located. The EF Community Foundation had heard that the Theatre of the Oppressed course was very popular down in the city, and invited me to teach in their pilot Leadership Institute, modeled after the same program they funded in NYC. I immediately noticed a special vibe; the first day I walked into the EF headquarters, the janitor whispered to me: “I love working here: shhh, don’t tell anyone.”

I was excited about the work Eileen was doing around girls’ and women’s leadership (being an emerging leader myself, as well as a young woman). The company was similarly excited by the Theatre of the Oppressed methodology I brought, and how it connected the young women to each other and to their communities, through identifying and transforming collective challenges. At the performance I facilitated that summer, Eileen spoke about the importance of investing in the confidence and creativity of young women, sparked by the challenges she faced when starting the company 30 years before. I didn’t know yet that I’d soon be running a growing arts-and-social-justice nonprofit, and that I would sometimes struggle to find my own confidence as a young, female leader. Read the rest of this entry »

Singing & Moving into Kindergarten with ArtsBridge & Reading in Motion

Posted by Kerri Hopkins On March - 22 - 2013
Kerri Hopkins

Kerri Hopkins

ArtsBridge America is one of many national programs working to bring the arts back into public school classrooms through arts-integrated projects. Visual arts, music, dance, theatre, and media arts are all crucial art forms that children should be able to explore “for arts sake.”

But in the age of teaching for the test, sometimes the only way we can bring programming to the schools is to look at the arts as a means of enhancing learning in other core subjects. It is not always ideal, but some exposure to quality arts programming is better than none. ArtsBridge aims to provide this type of consistent high-quality programming, while having a lasting impact on everyone involved.

The number one priority of ArtsBridge is to provide much-needed, hands-on arts experiences for K–12 students who may not be getting it on a regular basis. The number two priority of the program is to facilitate a unique opportunity for university students, with a specialty in the arts, to work with classroom teachers who are seeking professional support in those areas. This partnership can be incredibly valuable for everyone involved.

University students, or scholars as we like to call them, receive a scholarship for their efforts while they gain valuable teaching experience in the controlled environment of the classroom. They help to build the capacity of the classroom teacher by training them in their art form as they work side by side with the class on a weekly basis over the course of a semester or sometimes an entire school year.  Read the rest of this entry »

Questions to Ask Before Addressing Scale

Posted by Judi Jennings On December - 5 - 2012

Judi Jennings

Does size matter? Of course it does. But is this the right question to ask first?

How about approaching the question of size by first asking how arts, culture, and philanthropy advance positive social change? And how does size relate to equity?

Size matters locally and globally, but arts and culture drive change regardless of the size. Maria Rosario Jackson’s recent report on Developing Artist-Driven Spaces in Marginalized Communities convincingly argues that arts and culture create community identity, stimulate civic engagement, and affect neighborhood economies directly and indirectly.

Writer and cultural organizer Jeff Chang argues that “where culture leads, politics will follow” on national and international issues.

As a place-based grantmaker, my theory of change is that local people make the most appropriate and lasting advancements when they have the necessary tools and resources.

Allied Media Projects (AMP) in Detroit is a great example of place-based social change. AMP argues that “place is important” and “Detroit is a source of innovative, collaborative, low-resource solutions.”

Honoring local culture does not mean working in isolation. MicroFest USA, for example, led by the Network of Ensemble Theatres, is looking at how art and culture can create healthy communities in Detroit, Appalachia, New Orleans, and Hawaii. The idea is that performance-based learning exchanges like this can connect artists, activists, cultural workers, and thinkers working locally and nationally. Read the rest of this entry »

The Public Kitchen & the Dilemma of Evaluating a Gesture

Posted by Kenneth Bailey On May - 4 - 2012

Public Kitchen participants.

The next intervention the Design Studio is working on is called the Public Kitchen. It’s part of larger project we are developing called “The Public: A Work in Progress.”

As public infrastructures—hospitals, water, schools, transportation, etc.—are privatized, the Public Kitchen takes a stab at going in the reverse direction. It is a “productive fiction”; it’s our experimentation with a new, more vibrant social infrastructure that can:

  • Challenge the public’s own feelings that “public” means poor, broken down, poorly run, and “less than” private
  • Engage communities in claiming public space, the social and food justice
  • Make a new case for public infrastructures through creating ones that don’t exist

The first step of the Public Kitchen occured last fall when we worked with artist and graphic designer Jill Peterson to create what we called a “mobile ideation kit.” This enabled us to have interesting conversations with passers-by in a variety of communities, with an easy, attractive way to ask about what would be important to them in this made-up new form.

Next, we created an indoor Public Kitchen exhibit for Roxbury Open Studios. Over 100 residents, activists and artists came for a bite, took home fresh veggies, imagined new food policies, checked out architectural sketches, and added their ideas for what’s possible for a Public Kitchen.


Read the rest of this entry »

Mark Stern

Mark Stern

Susan Seifert and I began the Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) in 1994 in response to the attention that economic impact studies were gaining at the time.

We felt—in addition to their methodological flaws—that these studies captured only a fraction of the importance that the arts held for society. We committed ourselves to think through the theoretical and methodological issues involved in documenting the contribution that arts and cultural engagement have for community life.

Over the years, we’ve discovered many connections between the arts and social well-being, some of them quite surprising.

It turned out that the arts were associated with preserving ethnic and racial diversity in urban neighborhoods, lower rates of social distress, and reduced rates of ethnic and racial harassment. Perhaps most surprisingly, we found that the presence of cultural assets in urban neighborhoods was associated with economic improvements, including declines in poverty.

We used the concept of “natural” cultural districts to study neighborhoods where we found unplanned concentrations of arts organizations, cultural enterprises, artists, and cultural participants and documented that it was the social and civic engagement associated with the arts that seemed to drive these economic benefits and revitalization.

Over the past several years, we’ve been trying to re-conceptualize our findings and their meaning for the cultural community, urban public policy, and scholarship. Read the rest of this entry »

Cultural Historians: Paying Homage to the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921

Posted by Molly O'Connor On April - 6 - 2012

Molly O'Connor

Working part time at a bookstore to pay for college, it was in 2001 when I first learned about the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. I was shelving books when I came across a copy of Up from the Ashes by Hannibal B. Johnson.

I recall flipping through the pages, stunned that such massive atrocity that had taken place in my home state. And how was I just learning about this? The riot was certainly not included in Oklahoma History class.

Since that day, I’ve discovered I’m not the only Oklahoman who has been oblivious to the Tulsa Race Riot, the most horrifying act of racial violence in American history.

While this incident made national news, local history books and classes were devoid of information about this violent attack on the community of Greenwood. Even today, researching the event often leads to more questions.

There are discrepancies in the numbers of fatalities, and, as always, history has been written and controlled by those who have committed genocide. The mysteries of what really happened on May 31, 1921 are perhaps lost in the ashes.

For Oklahomans, how do we collectively reconcile this deep scar in our history and take steps to heal the wounds that still hurt and divide us? How do we ensure that we learn from the Tulsa Race Riot so that history does not repeat itself? Read the rest of this entry »

‘You Can’t Evict an Idea Whose Time Has Come’

Posted by Caron Atlas On November - 23 - 2011

Caron Atlas

At the recent Policy Link Equity Summit 2011 in Detroit at a session called “Holding Ground,” progressive presenters—including Wisconsin State Senator Lena Taylor, who participated in the “driving filibuster” to prevent the dismantling of collective bargaining, spoke about maintaining equity in a time a cutbacks.

At the end of the session one of the younger audience members, Michael Collins, asked where in all this talk of holding ground were the progressive ideas, the vision for the future. His question significantly shifted the room.

The conference had begun with Grace Lee Boggs inspiring us to seize this moment to “create something new.” Artists Invincible and Rha Goddess later spoke about shifting the culture and did just that as they performed, bringing economic injustice home. Occupy Wall Street (OWS) organizer Nelini Stamp noted that Occidental professor Peter Dreir has researched a three-fold increase in the word “inequality” in the media since OWS began. She then asked us to “think big”.

This post is supposed to be about placemaking. But right now I’m thinking about holding ground and thinking big. OWS’s place at Zuccotti Park has just been bulldozed. At Policy Link and other conferences I have been to this fall I have found many organizers embracing the energy around the 99%. Read the rest of this entry »

Embracing the Velocity of Change (Part 2)

Posted by Pam Korza On October - 25 - 2011

Pam Korza

“Sing the song so you can stick here with gravity.” ~ L. Frank Manriquez

The marriage of two now staple Grantmakers in the Arts preconferences—Individual Artists and Art & Social Justice—was a perfect energizing union of kindred artist-activists, field movers, and supporters as well as a highlight of the Bay Area as a perpetual vanguard of arts and social change.

Starting with the grey bay morning right, we shared breakfast in the funky garden alleyway alongside SOMArts—comforting, hot, fruity oatmeal and other treats from Nick’s Wheely Good Breakfast truck!

Rhodessa Jones, our creative through line for the day, embodied arts for change. With opening creative verse and video, Jones conjured the power of her enduring Medea Project which engages incarcerated women and women with HIV and AIDS.

Jones’ partner at the University of California, San Francisco HIV/AIDS clinic, Dr. Eddie Machtinger, underscored the unique role that her work plays in the evolution toward wellness of these women. Most striking was his deep and declared commitment to the project and to proving “with scientific evidence” the role of arts in their transformation. A model of sustained and effective cross-sector partnership! Read the rest of this entry »

Occupy Philanthropy

Posted by Mandee Ferrier Roberts On October - 21 - 2011
Mandee Ferrier Roberts

Mandee Ferrier Roberts

I admit I don’t know much about politics. Being the president of my high school drama club wasn’t exactly training for a career in political science. But after attending Arts Advocacy Day 2011, I realized I needed to be promoting and working for positive arts policies in our nation. That’s why I decided to intern at Americans for the Arts—and I was hoping to gain at least a little bit of political knowhow through osmosis!

Every day for the past couple of weeks as I walk to work, I pass by one of the camps for Occupy DC. It’s got me thinking a lot about what the people are protesting—social injustice and the uneven distribution of wealth. I know I’m worlds away from becoming the next great economy wonk, but I am an emerging leader in the nonprofit arts field. How can I connect the dots? I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Arts Management. In fundraising class, we’ve been learning about donor models, as shown in the graphic below:

Basically, the largest individual dollar amounts are donated by smallest number of people.

Sound familiar?

This model for nonprofit fundraising may already be out-of-date, in favor of the Fundraising Trapezoid/Dodecahedron/Polygon (it’s only a pyramid because ideally, donors should move up the ranks as their relationship with the organization progresses), but it still begs the question: Is there a “1%” that controls how nonprofits treat their constituencies? Read the rest of this entry »

The Arts & Social Justice

Posted by Maya Kumazawa On September - 2 - 2011

Maya Kumazawa

Having completed my internship at Americans for the Arts, I’m excited to take back what I’ve learned to my local community in Western Massachusetts.

Over 10 weeks, I worked on a wide range of projects that involved public art, local arts agencies, and emerging leaders. One topic, community engagement, is something I can be a direct advocate for even after the summer is over.

Through Net Impact’s Board Fellow program, I’ve served on Youth Action Coalition’s Board for the last year. The Arts for Change program at the Youth Action Coalition pairs intensive arts immersion with social justice education for youth. This program is free to any youth in the community interested in creating a change in the area through high quality arts programming.

How can the arts actually be used for social justice education and youth empowerment? YAC’s four primary programs engage different audiences through various media: Read the rest of this entry »

Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.