Cultural Organizing Working Definition and Framework
WORKING DEFINITION OF CULTURAL ORGANIZING
Cultural organizing exists at the intersection of arts, culture and activism. It is a fluid and dynamic practice that is understood and expressed in a variety of ways, reflecting the unique cultural, artistic, organizational and community context of its practitioners. Cultural organizing is about integrating arts and culture into organizing strategies. It is also about organizing from a particular tradition, cultural identity, and community of place or worldview to advance social and economic justice.
OUR PURPOSE AND VALUES
Arts & Democracy Project seeks to impact changes in systems and institutions, in addition to individual lives, including those artists, organizers and cultural workers. Our intention is based on two beliefs:
1) Art without activism is expression/creativity without long-lasting impact on the quality of peoples’ lives.
2) Activism without art does not touch people’s emotional core, a necessary precursor to sustainable personal and social change.
We seek to integrate the work of artistic self-expression with the work of community organizing, to make a significant, lasting impact on the health and wellbeing of communities.
Social change is defined as “The structural transformation of politics, social and economic systems and institutions to create a more equitable and just society.”
(definition courtesy of Fund for Southern Communities)
Arts & Democracy Project achieves its purpose by convening workshops, discussions, roundtables, and networking events--often in collaboration with our colleagues, and by participating in strategic partnerships. We seek to connect the dots, add value and strengthen the links among the organizations and individuals who are doing this work, working from the belief that relationships and ties that transcend geography, discipline, sector and medium are critical to sustaining vibrant and healthy communities.
One of the primary properties of cultural organizing is that of awareness and healing--the ability to help us interrogate and deconstruct the hidden values and worldviews that are implicit in various organizing models--in order to return to a healthy balance. The Arts & Democracy Project is particularly interested in looking at the ways that “Western ways of knowing” have displaced other multiple ways of knowing and being that are valuable indicators of sustainable community health and well-being.
Drawing on a ‘cultural rights’ framework, we ground our work in the belief that all people and communities have a right to their creativity and traditions, and that to most effectively address challenges such as immigration reform, accountable development, under-regulated extractive industries, and the loss of job and educational opportunities, those most impacted by the issues must be engaged as leaders in solving them. This involves not only increasing participation, but also effecting decision-making by connecting grassroots practice with policymaking through specific cultural channels and designated community knowledge holders.
- Communities must determine for themselves how arts and culture can best strengthen their neighborhoods, how change will be shaped, and how benefits will be shared.
- All cultures have inherent value and all people have the right to participate in art and culture.
A decolonizing organizing methodology encourages us to see the power of “recovery, strengthening, and new production of knowledge grounded in [our] own traditions and histories [as] a central part” of the process of transformation.
Based on the work of Linda Tuhiwai Smith
Approaching our work from a social justice perspective, we seek community and systemic transformation as well as the individual transformation often associated with the arts. We recognize this requires shifting power, dismantling structural racism, and recognizing and engaging class and economic justice issues. We believe that to make this change we need to build sustained collaborations that embed arts and culture practices in activist groups and that root organizing strategies in arts and culture organizations. Much of our work involves cultural organizing, which puts culture at the center of organizing, and enables people to bring their whole selves to their activism.
Our work is strongest when we
- Examine the unequal power and power relationships, especially those implicit in defining, essentializing and labeling ‘culture’
- Address the issues that people face in their own specific communities, rooting our work in the imagination and resiliency of our communities and the dynamic and nuanced contexts of community practice.
- Move people toward a place of action which involves the broader community
- Develop new leadership
- Deepen our analysis and explore theories of social change and collective liberation
- Encourage participants to bring their full selves into the work
- Confront and examine oppression and privilege
- Value process and product equally
- Build trust over time with our partners
- Value equity and strive to address the root causes of inequities and not just their manifestations
Arts & Democracy Core Methods of Cultural Organizing
- Community/cultural asset mapping
- Story circles
- Strategic power analysis
- Popular education
- Tool/skill sharing
- Cross sector collaboration
In addition to our core methods, Arts & Democracy Project can also provide resources and connections to many other tools and practices used by the field, including
- Quilting or other community sewing projects
- Community-built gardens or playgrounds
- Participatory action research
- Participatory planning and budgeting
- Community digital story telling
- Community interview and story collection
- Video and audio projects
- Oral history collections
- Participatory public art projects including mural making
- Community-based theater, including Theatre of the Oppressed
- Dance-based community engagement