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Arts & Democracy offers cultural organizing workshops and learning exchanges ranging from a one-hour conversation in the midst of a conference, to a weekend long workshop. Workshops are designed with local cosponsors to support ongoing local organizing.

Something Else is Possible

Some of the most powerful change happens in the intersections of generations, cultures, sectors, and geographies. Collected here are stories about these intersections and the people who make them. They are strategic artists and creative organizers, activist anthropologists, poetic politicians, and loving family members. All are engaged in the deeply creative act of believing that something else is possible.

SEIU Collaboration

Arts & Democracy's ongoing collaboration with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) including artists residencies resulting in presentations at SEIU's 2012 convention in Denver, Colorado and culural organizing that supported the minimum wage campaign in Minnesota with SEIU Local 26 and young member leadership development in Detroit, Michigan with Healthcare Michigan.

Muslim Women Write the Body

Muslim Women Write the Body was a series of workshops organized with writer Roohi Choudhry (Nov-May, 2022), focused on Muslim identity and the gray areas of faith, particularly for women. Participants explored their identities in relation to past, present, and future, considering gender, culture and more. Choudhry and guest artists Nsenga Knight, Demo Ibrahim, Hala Shah, Aizzah Fatima led workshops on Zoom with follow up debrief and coaching sessions. The creative work was presented live at our annual Community Iftar on the Avenue C Plaza. 

Community Iftar

After two years of virtual Iftars we were thrilled to hold our Community Iftar in person at the Avenue C Plaza. Neighbors broke fast together and learned about and celebrated Ramadan. The delicious food came from Jalsa Grill and Gravy, Rahuni, and Taj Kebab, representing Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan. Muslim women artists and activists presented their work, with some of it growing out of our Muslim Women Write the Body Workshop. The Community Iftar was hosted by Arts & Democracy, and co-sponsored by ArtBuilt, NOCD-NY, and City Councilmember Shahna Hanif.

Getting Out the Vote with the Arts!

Arts & Democracy engaged the arts to get out the vote in the 10th year of Participatory Budgeting with City Councilmember Shahana Hanif and the District 39 District Committee. An artmaking workshop helped PB Delegates create posterboards of their projects, which were then displayed at a Community Expo at the Park Slope Armory. A concert at Kensington Plaza with The Singing Winds and a salsa class with Dancewave at the Old Stone House made it fun to vote for community projects.

Cultural Organizing for Community Change 2022

Arts & Democracy and Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts NY (NOCD-NY) presented Cultural Organizing for Community Change, a virtual event on January 8th.  Workshop presenters included Jose Richard Aviles, Sage Crump, amalia deloney, Dustin Gibson, Kayhan Irani, Maxine Rebeles, James Rojas, Juan Ruiz, Carlton Turner, The United States Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC), Ayako Maruyama, Urban Bush Women, and Rosten Woo. 

Storytelling in Crisis

The virtual dialogue, Storytelling in Crisis, presented by Storyline, Arts & Democracy, The Laundromat Project, Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts NY (NOCD-NY) and US Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC) explored strategies for crafting storytelling responses that center care and connection, amplify resistance, and support resiliency. We heard from storytellers who have learned from their experience of making work grappling with pandemics; epidemics; and natural, social, political and economic disasters. Michael Premo (Storyline) facilitated a discussion with Steven Thrasher (Northwestern University), Nick Slie (Mondo Bizarro, Cry You One, I -10 Witness Project), and Regina Campbell (Rikers Public memory Project).  

Prokash / Reveal

Led by artist Monica Jahan Bose, the bilingual workshop series Prokash/Reveal took place from July - Oct 2021 providing an opportunity for immigrants and first generation youth to bridge multigenerational points of views related to identity, immigration, and biculturalism. The culminating performance on October 9 at the Ave C Plaza in Kensington, Brooklyn featured a community scroll that connected the tapestries created by participants and an open mic.

Kensington Cares

Kensington Cares honored community members who led mutual aid efforts in Kensington, Brooklyn. We created this public art exhibition at the Ave C Plaza with photographers Anna and Jordan Rathkopf, Photoville, and ArtBuilt. Programming around the exhibit included a community celebration honoring the groups featured in the photographs and a neighborhood food tour. The exhibit was included in Photoville's fall festival and featured at our October concert on the plaza. 

A Quest for Home Upside Down Edition

A Quest for Home Upside Down Edition was a series of workshops with Roohi Choudhry over the summer of 2020 that contributed to a Zine that was launched on Dec 12, 2020. Fifteen participants from the South Asian Diaspora from across the globe participated, with a desire and passion for storytelling. We wrote about the places and people we longed for, and talked about maps and counter-maps and imagination as a kind of knowledge. Though it was broken up into little squares, we made a kind of home.

Cultural Organizing for Community Change 2020

Arts & Democracy joined with Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts NY to present Cultural Organizing for Community Change, December 5, 2020 on Zoom. The daylong workshop included a cultural organizing framework; connecting in small groups; and two rounds of participatory arts and popular education workshops. While we missed connecting face to face, our Zoom version of our annual workshop allowed us to extend the workshop to national and international participation.

Activating the Cultural Power of a Movement

On Oct 9, 2020, Arts & Democracy, The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, and NOCD-NY convened Activating the Cultural Power of a Movement, an event that showcased inspiring, movement based organizations across the country. The webinar featured presentations by leaders from racial justice, environmental justice, immigrant rights, and economic justice groups including Michelle Ramos (Executive Director, Alternate ROOTS), Angeles Solis (Director of Worker Organizing, Make the Road Action), Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson (a member of Movement for Black Lives’ policy table leadership team), Charon Hribar (Revivals Coordinator, Poor People's Campaign), and Nina Eichner (Creative Projects Manager, Sunrise Movement).

Artwork by Melanie Cervantes, Dignidad Rebelde

We Decide: Arts, Culture, and Voting Power

Arts & Democracy joined with The US Department of Arts and Culture to convene We Decide: Arts, Culture, and Voting Power to learn how arts, culture, and creative media can reimagine our democracy and revitalize civic participation, with a focus on historically disenfranchised communities. We heard from artists and cultural organizers working in Louisiana, Florida, Texas, and Wisconsin as well as those working nationally. Presenters included Andrea Assaf, Dr. Rob “Biko” Baker, Trupania “Trap” Bonner, amalia deloney, and Savannah Romero and call participants shared their work as well.

Artwork by Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya


Staying In It With You

An intergenerational conversation about grantmaking, artmaking, and meaning making with Ron Ragin and Judi Jennings. 

A 2020 Bridge Conversation by Ron Ragin and Judi Jennings


Arts & Democracy was the co-organizer of the roundtable which stimulated the creation of NOCD-NY, a citywide alliance. NOCD-NY came together in response to the vision, sustained needs, and creative resilience of our communities. It recognizes the power of neighborhood-based arts and culture as an integral part of an equitable and culturally vital city. NOCD-NY is a frequent partner when Arts & Democracy works in NYC.


New York City is experiencing a new kind of democracy. Through Participatory Budgeting, residents are directly deciding how to spend public money. Community members are exchanging ideas, working together to turn ideas into project proposals, and voting to decide what proposals get funded. Arts & Democracy is involved throughout the process as a cultural resource.

We Count!

Every 10 years the constitution of the United States of America requires that every single person living in this country be counted, everyone. It is not merely a head count, it is the basis of our democracy and it informs and influences our lives. As a cultural community we can play a special role to make sure that the communities that we care about are counted in the 2020 census. This Op Ed by The Laundromat Project, Arts & Democracy, and Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts NY is a call to action to the cultural community to make sure that everyone gets counted.

Cultural Organizing for Community Change 2019

This annual Brooklyn-based learning exchange, cosponsored with Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts NY (NOCD-NY) brought together organizers, artists, media makers, and policy makers to learn effective ways to deepen our work and engage our creativity in organizing for community change. The day included a cultural organizing framework, hands on skill building workshops, case studies, networking, and resources. It began at Groundswell with afternoon breakouts at Reel Works, Brooklyn Children's Theatre, and Gowanus Community Center.

A Quest For Home

Every Saturday morning for six weeks, 10 strangers with different paths came together to write away their thoughts. At first, they all believed they had nothing in common. But they all yearned for love and acceptance. They were all on a quest for home. Read here about this journey and download the Zine that grew out of this workshop with Roohi Choudhry. 

Walking the Talk: Putting Racial and Cultural Equity Values into Practice

It's an important step to state our beliefs in racial and cultural equity in these fraught times. It's a bigger one to change what we do to make those beliefs a reality. The webinar, cosponsored with NOCD-NY and PolicyLink illustrates community-based and public sector approaches to putting equity values into practice. It features Libertad O. Guerra, Loisaida Center; Kathy Hsieh, Seattle Office of Arts and Culture; and Keryl McCord, Equity Quotient.

Cultural Organizing for Community Change 2018

This annual Brooklyn-based learning exchange, cosponsored with Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts NY (NOCD-NY), brought together organizers, artists, media makers, and policy makers to learn effective ways to deepen our work and engage our creativity in organizing for community change. The day included a cultural organizing framework, hands on skill building workshops, case studies, networking, and resources. It began at Littlefield, and afternoon breakouts took place at nearby Gowanus community organizations including Fifth Avenue Committee, Gowanus Neighborhood Convervancy, Interference Archive, and Theater Mitu.

Creative Placemaking from the Community Up

Creative Placemaking from the Community Up brought together a national cohort of groups–Arts Foundation for Tucson and Southern Arizona, Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts NY, Arts & Democracy, LA Commons, Kentucky Cultural Organizing Alliance, and the Oakland Cultural Affairs Office– whose creative placemaking is grounded in communities. Project activities over the 22-month project included experiential learning through cross sector collaborations, peer exchanges and skill building workshops, participatory planning and cultural mapping, thematic convenings, and presentations at local and national conferences. The project also developed and disseminated toolkits, webinars, reflective essays, case studies, cultural plans, and other resources.

Arts + Participatory Budgeting

Adding arts throughout the participatory budgeting process can make it more fun, meaningful, and powerful. This brochure shares examples for incorporating arts as you brainstorm ideas, develop proposals, get out the vote, and fund winning projects.

See What the People Can Do: The Accomplishments of the People's Budget

Our Jane's Walk highlighted the accomplishments of Participatory Budgeting in District 39 
on May 6, from 1-2:30 PM

On this free walk, we learned more about PB, visited projects that our community chose to invest in, & spoke with City Councilmember Brad Lander, who helped bring PB to NY.

Above and Beyond Borders

The webinar, cosponsored with No Longer Empty and NOCD-NY featured artists and cultural organizers from Chicago, IL, Douglas, AZ and New York, NY who are actively working to envision a life of dignity for immigrants, detainees and prisoners, and individuals who have been violated and rendered invisible. Featured programs and presenters included: Maria Gaspar's 96 Acres Project and Radioactive: Stories from Beyond the Wall, M Jenea Sanchez's Border Arts Corridor, 
and members of the New Sanctuary Coalition's art wing. It was facilitated by Raquel de Anda, No Longer Empty.

Cultural Organizing for Community Change, Brooklyn 2017

This annual Brooklyn-based workshop, cosponsored with Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts NY (NOCD-NY), brought together organizers, artists, media makers, and policy makers to learn effective ways to deepen our work and engage our creativity in organizing for community change. The day included a cultural organizing framework, hands on skill building workshops, case studies, networking, and resources. The workshop took place at 540 President Street in Gowanus, Brooklyn, at Groundswell, Reel Works, and Spaceworks.

Cultural Organizing for Community Change, Brooklyn 2016

Cultural Organizing for Community Change took place in Gowanus, Brooklyn on Saturday, November 12, 2016 from 9:30am - 6:00pm. The day-long learning exchange included a cultural organizing framework, skill building workshops, a neighborhood tour, a visual arts installation, discussion of the NYC cultural plan, networking, and resource sharing.

Creative Housing Activism and Engagement

Creative Housing Activism and Engagement focused on how artists and other creative activists are addressing the need for truly affordable housing and the impacts of displacement in our communities through creative alliances, cross sector partnerships, artmaking, and oral history. The call was coponsored with Naturally Occurrng Cultural Districts NY.

Adda Art

AddaArt project (Adda + Art) engaged Bangladeshi women and girls in oral history and artmaking in Kensington, Brooklyn. Led by Monica Jahan Bose, AddaArt included the sharing of stories, painting on saris, the creation and exhibition of kathas (quilts), a public performance, and a video.

Social Media Workshop

The Social Media Workshop took place March 6. The first half, led by Carlos Pareja, was about shooting a video with your camera phone. In the second half, led by Daniel LaTorre, participants developed a social media strategy.

Story Circle on the Right to Belong

Following up on the powerful Building Connections gathering in West CLT with a story circle about the right to belong as part of the Peoples State of the Union. Hosted by Arts & Democracy, QC Family Tree, The Tribe, and Power Up NC with US Department of Arts and Culture.

Internet and Social Change: Building Culturally, Politically, and Technologically Connected Communities

January 9, 2016, Behailu Academy, Charlotte, NC

Internet + Social Change, Building Culturally, Polically, and Technologically Connected Communities interactive workshop. National sponsors were Arts & Democracy and Media Democracy Fund. Local partners included Behailu Academy, PowerUp NC, QC Family Tree, and The Tribe. Special guests included Center for Media Justice, Color of Change,, and Media Mobilizing Project.

Cultural Organizing for Community Change, Brooklyn 2015

Cultural Organizing for Community Change took place Sunday, November 22 from 9:30-6pm in Gowanus Brooklyn. Organizers, artists, media makers, and policy makers came together to learn effective ways to deepen their work and engage their creativity in organizing.

Creative Transformation: Arts, Culture, and Public Housing Communities

Recognizing an opportunity to further integrate arts and culture into the transformation of public housing communities, NOCD-NY brought together a diverse range of tenant leaders, residents, elected officials and staff, city agencies, artists, cultural institutions, advocates, funders and community organizations in an Arts, Culturem and Public Housing Roundtable on July 27, 2015. Drawing on interviews carried out in the field, the roundtable was designed to:

• Showcase exemplary partnerships that illustrated equitable, long-term approaches

• Identify barriers and challenges

• Develop recommendations and discuss how to move them into action

• Identify pilot project(s) that could be supported

• Build and strengthened relationships amongst participants. 

2015 KY Cultural Organizing Learning Exchange

With a focus on racial inclusion the KY Cultural Organizing Learning Exchange brought together artists, activists, advocates, & educators from across Kentucky at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bowling Green on June 19, 2015. The Learning Exchange was presented by Arts & Democracy, Kentucky Foundation for Women and Alternate ROOTS.

Toolkits for Creative Change

May 19, 2015, 1-2pm EST, 10-11am Pacific

This call featured: Envisioning Development by the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP); Making Waves by The Culture Group; and the People's Creative Toolkit/Herramientas Populares, Arts & Democracy's soon-to-launch collaboration with SEIU Local 26, Rogue Citizen, and Line Break Media.  

2014 Cultural Organizing for Community Change, Brooklyn NY

November 15, 2014, 9:30am - 6:00pm
At Groundswell, Reel Works and Spaceworks, 540 President Street, Brooklyn

Organizers, artists, media makers, educators, and policymakers came together to learn effective ways to deepen our work and engage our creativity in organizing for community change. The day included a cultural organizing framework, hands-on skill building workshops, case studies, resources, and networking opportunities.

Co-sponsored with Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts NY (NOCD-NY)

Art Meets Activism: A Cultural Organizing Workshop in Charlotte, North Carolina

October 18, 2014, Behailu Academy, Charlotte, NC 

Over thirty artists, activists, neighborhood leaders & youth from Charlotte gathered for a Cultural Organizing workshop, produced by Arts & Democracy in collaboration with the UNCC’s College of Art + Architecture and the Charlotte Action Research Project (CHARP).

Animating PB with Arts & Culture

The Animating PB with Arts & Culture workshop took place at the 2014 Participatory Budgeting Conference in Oakland, CA. It included a mini workshop with artist/planner James Rojas, presentations by Caron Atlas and Valter Ferreira, and group brainstorming about how arts, culture, and grassroots media can animate PB and other participatory proccesses.

Climate Justice: Arts, Culture, and Creative Action

September 12, 2014

This call featured presentations on creative projects leading up to the People's Climate March and beyond. It was cosponsored by the People's Climate March Arts Team.

Just Economies: Part 2

Just Economies: Creative approaches to building & strengthening
just and democratic economies Part 2, July 22, 2014

In the face of growing economic inequity, people around the country are coming together to reimagine and rebuild their economies and communities based on the values of equity, democracy, cooperation, self-determination and sustainability. This New York City focused call featured the POINT, Solidarity NYC, Trade School, Our Goods, and The Rockefeller Foundation's support of the area of work. The call was cosponored by NOCD-NY.

Cultural Organizing for Social Change in New Orleans

July 19, 2014, Blue Plate Artist Lofts, New Orleans, LA

Two dozen artists and activists from the New Orleans area gathered for the 4th annual Cultural Organizing workshop, produced by Arts & Democracy in collaboration with Junebug Productions

Just Economies: Part 1

Just Economies: Creative approaches to building & strengthening
just and democratic economies Part 1, July 10, 2014

In the face of growing economic inequity, people around the country are coming together to reimagine and rebuild their economies and communities based on the values of equity, democracy, cooperation, self-determination and sustainability. This nationally focused call highlighted examples from Jackson Mississippi, Eastern Kentucky, and from Native communities across the country.

Strategies for Cultural Planning

May 13, 2014

Municipalities, arts councils, and community-based organizations around the country engage in cultural planning in order to better engage their communities, identify and build on resources, and integrate the arts and culture into larger community development strategies. This call featured presentations from two veterans of cultural planning: Barbara Schaffer Bacon, Co-Director, Animating Democracy, and Tom Borrup, Principal, Creative Community Builders.

Cultural Organizing for Social Change, Frankfort, KY

Saturday, May 10, 2014, KY Domestic Violence Association, Frankfort, KY

Over 40 artists, organizers, activists and policy advocates from across Kentucky and beyond came together to participate in this day long workshop focused on Cultural Organizing for Social Change in Kentucky.  While the group was quite diverse, they shared a belief in the power of art & culture to advance social justice for all Kentuckians. The purpose of the workshop was to connect individuals, organizations and resources to create and sustain cultural organizing as a statewide strategy.

Culture, Planning, and Community Engagement

This experiential mini-course investigated arts and culture, broadly defined, as a critical part of envisioning and building an equitable and sustainable Atlanta. Through site visits, tours, cultural events, and conversations with practitioners and policymakers representing multiple perspectives, we explored the intersection between arts and culture and participatory planning.

Rural Engagement

March 21, 2014

This call featured of panel of people with deep experience in rural engagement:  Ben Strand, University of Wisconsin Foundation, former development director for Young Auditorium in Whitewater, WI; Maria De Leon; Executive Director of National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, and NEA Council member;  Bob Gates, folklorist, formerly of KY and LA Arts Councils, and winner of a lifetime achievement prize from the American Folklife Society; and Frumie Selchen, Executive Director, Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire, and 2013 Governor's Award honoree for Arts Leadership. NOTE: the beginning of this call was dropped due to technical difficulties.  The first speaker is Maria De Leon.

Education for Liberation Through Arts and Culture

February 6, 2014

This call brought together Khmer Girls in Action (KGA), Save Ethnic Studies / Xican@ Institute for Teaching & Organizing, and Project HIP-HOP (Highways Into the Past, History, Organizing, and Power), all supporting liberatory educational practices through engagement with culture and the arts. They explored the possibilities and challenges of practicing — and fighting for — culturally relevant, creative, liberating education.

Rural Art and Culture Yields Big Impact

Judi Jennings, Kentucky Foundation for Women and Savannah Barrett, Art of the Rural discuss Feminist Art: Advancing Social Change in Rural Kentucky, an innovative digital mapping project documenting the powerful and transformative work taking place across rural Kentucky.

Arts and Culture for a Just and Equitable City

Dear Mayor-Elect de Blasio, City Council Members (new and continuing), and Transition Team Members,

Congratulations! We, leaders from across sectors, write to share how arts and culture can and should play a vital role in achieving the inspirational One City Rising platform.

Arts and Culture for a Just and Equitable City

This policy brief by Arts & Democracy, Groundswell, and Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts New York (NOCD-NY) recommends maximizing the role of arts and culture to advance a transition agenda for a just and equitable New York City. Art and culture can provide the inspiration, tools, and capacity needed to unify New York City into one city for all.

Cultural Organizing for Community Change - Brooklyn

November, 2013, Groundswell, Brooklyn, NY

Cultural Organizing for Community Change provided a space where artists, media makers, organizers and policy makers could learn effective ways to deepen their work and strengthen their capacity to connect creativity, culture, and organizing for community change.

Cultural Organizing for Social Justice SEIU Healthcare PA Leadership Assembly Lancaster, PA

On September 19 and 20, 2013 Arts & Democracy Project offered a two-part Cultural Organizing for Social Justice workshop for member / leaders at the SEIU Healthcare PA Leadership Assembly in Lancaster, PA.  The first part of the workshop introduced participants to "cultural organizing" and various examples of how people use art and culture for social change.  The second part of the workshop was a hands-on art making workshop led Eli Weaver, a Lancaster-based visual artist, musician, farmer and organizer.  During the workshop participants designed and made posters, puppets and a large banner to use in future actions for healthcare justice. 

Valuing the Intersection Between Arts, Culture, & Community

"Valuing the intersection between arts, culture, and community: An exchange of research and practice" brought together Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts NY (NOCD-NY) members and allies with leading researchers to demonstrate the value of arts and culture in communities and for the city. Arts & Democracy joined with NOCD-NY to organize this convening.

Arts and Activism 101: Arts as a Catalyst for Social Change, Los Angeles, CA

Arts & Democracy Project was proud to partner with the AFL-CIO to integrate arts and culture into their 2013 International Convention. We hosted a two hour "Action Session" workshop for delegates to learn the basics of cultural organizing then apply them to creating art for a march later in the day. Nationally recognized Los Angeles artist Ramiro Gomez led the workshop. Gomez creates representative cut-outs primarily of domestic workers and places them in the affluent environments that employee such workers in real life. He led participants through a process of creating their own cut-outs, which were later placed throughout downtown Los Angeles in a convention-wide action.

What Would it Look Like if NYC invested $50 Million in its Communities?

New York City’s recent capital investment of $50 million dollars in the Culture Shed mega project begs the question – how would a $50 million dollar capital investment in the culture and wellbeing of New York City’s diverse neighborhoods look?

Artful Relief

This article by Jon Spayde in Public Art Review 48 (Spring/Summer 2013) "The Art of Healing" describes how artists have been helping communities heal after recent disasters. It features features the Park Slope Armory Evacuation Center Wellness Center, Sandy Storyline, and other examples that were part of Arts & Democracy Projects "Relief and Recovery, the Transformative Power of Arts and Culture" briefing call post Hurricane Sandy. 

How Arts and Culture Can Advance a Neighborhood-Centered Progressive Agenda

What's a progressive agenda for arts and culture in New York City? Caron Atlas offers her answer to this question in her contribution to Toward A 21st Century City for All, which offers an inclusive vision for city policy to help achieve a more just, equal and prosperous New York City.

From Media to Action: Creative Engagement and Organizing Strategies

July 22, 2013

As Working Films says, "we know that stories lead to action." From Media to Action: Creative Engagement and Organizing Strategies featured: Fruitvale StationHerman's HouseLand of Opportunity, and 13 in the Hole. The newsletter includes additional strategies for creative community engagement and campaigns for social change that move people to action.

Creative Recovery and Cultural Resiliency

Creative Recovery and Cultural Resiliency is an article by Caron Atlas in the Summer 2013 Grantmakers in the Arts Reader about the ways arts and culture played an integral role in relief and recovery after Hurricane Sandy in New York City. The article features the Wellness Center at the Park Slope Armory Evacuation Shelter, the work of Dance Theatre Etcetera in Red Hook, Brooklyn, the Sandy Storyline, and a summary of a conversation between New York and New Orleans cultural leaders about cultural work following disaster.

Forced to Flee: Exiled Voices & Visions for Justice

June 11, 2013

Emotions conveyed and evoked by art and culture can open hearts and minds, heal and transform, build community across difference, and promote peace, equality and justice, advancing positive social change. In Forced to Flee, we heard from refugee artists, artists forced into exile, cultural organizers and their allies, as they spoke about how they are using the power of art and culture to amplify the voices and visions of those forced to flee their countries of origin. 



From the Neighborhood Up: A Citywide Forum on Culture and Community

Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts New York's From the Nieghborhood Up Citywide Forum on Culture and Community convened people from across New York City on May 30, 2013 to create a vision for the City grounded in the cultural vitality and social networks that make its communities strong.

Cultural Organizing for Community Change, Frankfort, KY

Cultural Organizing for Community Change (Frankfort, KY) provided a space where artists, activists, cultural workers, organizers and educators from across Kentucky came together to strengthen their relationships, and deepen their capacity to use the tools of creativity, imagination, and culture for social justice organizing. This participatory workshop featured case studies, tools, strategies, networking and relationship building.

Culture, Planning, and Community Engagement Course

This experiential mini-course for Pratt Institute's Programs for Sustainable Planning and Development investigated arts and culture, broadly defined, as a critical part of envisioning and building an equitable and sustainable Chicago. Through site visits, tours, and conversations with practitioners and policymakers we explored the intersection between arts, culture, media and participatory planning. 

Creative Engagement and a Moral Economy for All

This blog is the introduction to a longer essay inspired by the Network of Ensemble Theater's Appalachian MicroFest. I learned in Appalachia what it looks like when culture, place, identity, and community come together in the struggle for social justice. I witnessed how mountaintop removal causes great pain, and experienced music as an integral part of organizing. I became aware of the long record of misrepresentation of Appalachian people and their history by the media and how this misrepresentation has been used to justify the exploitation of the region’s resources. 

Stories & Places

March 5, 2013

Cultural practice and artistic expression breathe life into communities.They create opportunities for individuals and institutions to transform their sense of self and relationships with one another, and share their local traditions and ways of being.   

This conference call looks at the power of place-based culture to create community narratives, advance racial and economic equity, promote participatory democracy, and foster self-determination and inclusion in rural communities.  We will hear from five presenters about culturally-based work in a diverse range of contexts addressing themes that include traditional practice, opportunities for young people as emerging leaders, cultural economies, ecological and cultural stewardship and cross-sector partnerships.

Cultural Organizing Weekend in New Orleans, Louisiana

This workshop provided a space where artists, activists and organizers learned effective ways to deepen their work and increase their impact by activating the tools of creativity and imagination.  By using a combination of local and national resources, the workshops also promoted networking and collaboration.
Artist and architect Bill Mackey’s project maps transit routes based on people’s actual uses and place names

Placemaking and Belonging

February 13, 2013

We hear a lot about creative placemaking these days. Some like the term and others don't. On this conference call, presenters discussed what sorts of creative placemaking practices strengthen self-determination and belonging within a community. The call illustrated the power of place-based arts and culture as an integral part of equitable, democratic, and culturally vital communities and explored placemaking in the digital sphere.

Making Change in Chinatown

Asian Americans United Executive Director, Ellen Somekawa, writes about cultural organizing in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. She effectively communicates the life of a Chinatown resident, stressing the importance of valuing local cultures with a unified message and a sense of humor via the arts.


Relief & Recovery: The Transformative Power of Arts & Culture Conference Call

November 28, 2012

We know the power of arts and culture to heal and transform, connect people and build community. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, artists and cultural organizers stepped up to use their creativity to rebuild the city and rebuild community. They are helping people tell their stories and sing together, offering cultural and wellness activities in evacuation shelters, organizing benefits, and providing leadership to recovery efforts. They've helped to restore dignity, build community, make connections, and heal.

Humanity After the Storm

Arts & Democray Project director Caron Atlas describes how people came together to create a Wellness Center at the Park Slope Armory evacuation center following Hurricane Sandy and experienced the power of arts and culture to restore respect and dignity in a disaster.

Election Call: This is What Democracy Looks Like

September 20th, 2012

This call highlighted the great work that is happening in civic participation, arts and culture. It addressed elections as well as the ongoing work to strengthen our democracy. The call featured presenters from across the country who are working to protect voting rights and make sure that those who have been historically disconnected from decisionmaking have opportunities to participate.

Ice sculpture by Ligorno/Reese melted at the two political conventions

What Democracy Looks Like

Caron Atlas reflects on democracy in the thick of the election season and the anniversaries of 9/11 and Occupy Wall Street.


Creative Placemaking and the Politics of Belonging and Dis-belongong

This essay by Roberto Bedoya raises thoughtful questions about the increasingly popular practice of Creative Placmaking and we have reposted it here with the hopes of stimulating dialogue. Writes Bedoya, "I embrace Creative Placemaking and its aspiration as is manifests in a variety of methods —from city planning to art practices with a goal of advancing humanity. But I am bothered by what I consider a significant blind spot – a blind love of sorts – in the Creative Placemaking discourse and practices. I am referring to a lack of awareness about the politics of belonging and dis-belonging that operate in civil society.The essay was originally posted on Arts in a Changing America

Cultural Organizing for Community Change, Brooklyn, NY

Cultural Organizing for Community Change provided a space where artists, media makers, organizers and policy makers could learn effective ways to deepen their work and strengthen their capacity to use the tools of creativity, imagination and organizing for community change. The workshop included cultural organizing framework, skill building workshops, networking opportunities, and an intergenerational conversation with cultural organizers. 

Participatory Budgeting NYC Creative Resources

Arts, culture, and media were integrated into Participatory Budgeting in New York City (PBNYC) in its 2011-2012 inaugural year. This list of creative resources, compiled by Arts & Democracy Project with the Arts and Culture Committee of the PBNYC Citywide Steering Committee, is intended as an inspiration for year 2.

South Oxford Space

Spacing Out: Innovative Urban Uses of Cultural Space

On August 15 Arts & Democracy Project joined Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts NY (NOCD-NY) and Urban Bush Women to cosponsor Spacing Out: Innovative Cultural Uses of Urban Space. The forum took place at the South Oxford Space, 138 S. Oxford, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

Cultural Organizing: Integrating Arts & Culture with Organizing

July 24, 2012

Cultural organizing is a core practice of the Arts & Democracy Project that exists at the intersection of arts, culture and activism. Cultural organizing integrates 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. This call will focus on four different approaches to to this practice.

Shifting Culture Making Change

Center for Media Justice Executive Director Malkia Cyril recently wrote a piece for Organizing Upgrade on communications strategies for building a national narrative for progressive social change. She argues for a comprehensive strategy for progressive social change that impacts both heart and mind. We've reposted the Blog here.

Civil Rights, Human Rights, and A Moral Economy for All

Arts & Democracy co-hosted a book party to celebrate the publication of "Helen Matthews Lewis, Living Social Justice in Appalachia." The Brooklyn event featured Helen in a rare New York City appearence along with book co-editor Judi Jennings and special guest Marie Cirillo. The presentation shared Helen's lifelong commitment to activism and included her writings on environmental justice, moral economy, global solidarity, and powerful women taking a stand.

Urban Bush Women at SEIU Convention

Guest Blog by Maria Bauman, Urban Bush Women 

The convention felt like a family reunion, with members addressing one another as “Sister” or “Brother,” and receiving warm greetings and rousing affirmations from SEIU president Mary Kay Henry. The Colorado Convention Center had become the largest organizing hub I have ever seen; think of a kitchen or a black church and then magnify times 10,000! 

SEIU artist residencies

Arts & Democracy Project and SEIU (Service Employees International Union) are partnering on artist residencies in six SEIU locals in Miami, Florida; Central CA; Las Vegas, NV; Minneapolis, MN; Toronto, ON; San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Each of the residencies will create an artwork to be presented at the SEIU convention in Denver in May 2012.

From the SEIU convention!

We are at the Service Employees International Union convention in Denver and are thrilled to see the results of the artists residencies that we cosponsored with the union. Here's a preview of the artwork and performances from locals in Florida; California; Minnesota; Ontario, Canada; and Puerto Rico.

Arts & Democracy Testifies at City Council Hearing

Arts & Democracy is a proud member of the NOCD-NY coalition whose members testified at a joint hearing of the NYC City Council's Arts and Small Business committees. As a result of NOCD-NY's organizing and presence at the May 11 hearing much of it focused on naturally occurring cultural districts. We presented a series of recommendations for how the city could support NOCDs and neighborhood based cultural economies and illustrated the recommendations though our member's testimony. 

(Photo: Dave Sanders) 

Home-buying With Artists in Mind

Arts & Democracy Project and ArtHome (Brooklyn, NY) recently hosted a FREE: Artist Homeownership Workshop, which created a working dialogue for participants who were looking to purchase a home.  The event took place at Groundswell Community Mural Project, where there were student paintings still drying on the walls and was further made possible by the co-sponsorship of City Council Members Brad Lander and Steve Levin and the Brooklyn Arts Council.


Culture, Planning, and Community Engagement

This experiential course, created for Pratt Institute's Programs for Sustainable Planning and Development investigated arts and culture, broadly defined, as a critical part of envisioning and building an equitable and sustainable Los Angeles. Through site visits, tours, cultural events, and conversations with practitioners and policymakers representing multiple perspectives, we explored the intersection between arts and culture and participatory planning.

Animating Democracy Has a New Web Site!

Animating Democracy's new web site is inspirational, informative, and promotes and connects arts and culture as potent contributors to community, civic, and social change. Animating Democracy co-director Pam Korza takes us on a tour of this great new resource.

Time to Vote!

What does your neighborhood need?  An improved park? Safer streets? A community cultural space? After six months of participatory budgeting in New York the polls are opening and its time to vote!

Creative Engagement: From Civic Dialogue to Direct Democracy

March 7, 2012

The conference call focused on creative engagement through civic dialogue, cultural asset mapping, and participatory budgeting.

Image: jcbonbon

Welcome to Our New Web Site!

We’re so happy to have this attractive new online home. We think this site is better able to explain our work, share resources, and highlight some of the exciting work our partners and allies are doing in the field.

Read on for an introduction to some of the features you’ll find here...



We've Been Busy!

Arts & Democracy has jumped into the new year with a workshop in New Orleans, a new collaboration with Service Workers Union International, collaborations in New York City, and a national briefing call about environmental justice.

The Line: An Unemployment Demonstration March 6

On March 6, Super Tuesday at 8:14 am an unemployment line with thousands of people holding pink slips over their heads will stretch through Manhattan from the Wall Street bull to Union Square. Join this powerful collaboration between artists and labor.   

Cultural Organizing for Community Recovery

This weekend-long workshop in New Orleans provided a space where artists and organizers learned effective ways to deepen their work and strengthened their capacity to use creativity, imagination and organizing in community building.

Art is My Occupation (AMO) offers direct support to artists and cultural workers dedicated to advancing the stories, struggles and ideas of the 99%. Got an idea for a project? Apply for a grant! The artists’ support program is now online and ready to receive your applications.

Arts, Culture & Environmental Justice Organizing

January 24, 2012

This conference call focused on how people and organizations across the country are bringing the power of arts and culture to bear on the environmental devastation that is disproportionately affecting poor communities and communities of color. 

Cultural Organizing: Experiences at the Intersection of Art & Activism

This paper explores the power of cultural organizing with examples of groups and individuals placing art and culture at the center of organizing strategies: organizing from a particular cultural identity, community of place, or worldview. It highlights the work of Third World Majority, Raices, M.U.G.A.B.E.E. and Ricardo Levins Morales.

An Introduction to the Profiles

When the Arts & Democracy Project began in 2005, we spoke with artists and activists from across the country who are exemplars at connecting arts, culture, media, and civic participation. We wanted to know more about the work they did. What made it succeed? What challenges did they face? What did they need to increase the impact of their work? We commissioned a series of profiles to document these conversations; some were updated in 2011-2012. "Insights from Arts and Civic Engagement: 13 Profiles" an essay by Lena Richardson, identifies key themes and insights.

Occupy Movements: Art, Culture & Creative Action

December 2011

This conference call focused on how arts, culture and creative actions are being used as part of the 99% movement across the country.

Image from Housing is a Human Right

Artists in a Movement Moment

Occupy Wall Street and related actions across the country have captured attention for issues of inequality and injustice and have catalyzed momentum for broad social change. This idea Forum at the National Performance Network conference in Tampa organized by the Arts & Democracy Project took stock of the role of artists in this movement moment. (December 2011)

Anthropology as Social Activism

Alaka Wali and R. Lena Richardson on drumming circles, sustainable conservation, and valuing difference.

By R. Lena Richardson

Quilt at Hopscotch House

Kentucky Foundation for Women Workshop

Arts & Democracy Project held a day-long cultural organizing workshop for women activist artists at the Kentucky Foundation for Women's Hopscotch House retreat just outside of Louisville.

You Can’t Evict an Idea Whose Time Has Come

By Caron Atlas

At the recent Policy Link Conference in Detroit, at a session called “Holding Ground,” presenters spoke about maintaining equity in a time of cutbacks. At the end of the session, one of the younger audience members asked where in all this talk of holding ground were the progressive ideas, the vision for the future. His question significantly shifted the room.

Back to the Future (Part One)

By Erik Takeshita

We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. We have a responsibility to those who will come after us. 

These simple yet powerful concepts have been echoing in my head the past few days in New Mexico where I participated in a roundtable discussion held at the Institute of American Indian Arts sponsored by the Open Society Foundations, First People’s Fund, and Arts & Democracy Project. The people I met and the stories I heard reinforced the power of the arts – and more importantly culture – in transforming our communities.


Highlights from a Gathering on Cultural Organizing and Climate Solutions

Report from a day-long meeting in New York involving musicians, artists, filmmakers, photographers, theater groups, festival producers, chefs and others working to raise public awareness about the threat of climate change and the promise of clean energy. Sponsored by the Chorus Foundation, the gathering was organized and facilitated by Farhad Ebrahimi, Betsy Taylor, Cuong Hoang, and Lauren Nutter. Arts & Democracy presented on arts and social justice organizing.

Creating With a Sense of Strategic Practice

Maribel Alvarez and Jason Bulluck on paying attention to the ‘little stuff', engaging in critical discourse, and understanding how power can be shaken up.

By Jason Bulluck

BCC: Building Collaborative Capacity - NYC

Building Collaborative Capacity is a series of workshops, gatherings, and partnerships that help build the connective tissue necessary to deepen collaborative work so it can be truly effective.

Don't Hesitate, Communicate: Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change

This report by Holly Sidford for the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) describes how the distribution of arts grantmaking does not reflect the country's evolving cultural landscape and changing demographics, and considers how to address this inbalance.

Up From the Roots: Economic and Cultural Equity in Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts

The summary findings for a series of roundtable discussions convened in several cities across the United States between 2009 and 2011 to better understand the growth of “naturally occurring cultural districts”—grassroots, culturally based efforts that are bringing about significant changes within a variety of communities—and to learn from their successes and challenges. 

NOCD-NY (The Naturally Occurring Cultural District Working Group)

On August 18, 2010 NOCD-NY, the Naturally Occurring Cultural District Working Group joined with cultural and community leaders and elected officials to launch a citywide alliance to revitalize New York City from the neighborhood up. Arts & Democracy is proud to be part of this coalition. 

Walking the Talk and Talking the Walk

Arts & Democracy Project hosted a People's Potluck in Brooklyn. The potluck was part of a series of artist-led conversations and meals focused on interdependence taking place in the summer of 2011 created by MAPP International Productions in collaboration with Samita Sinha and Create Collective.

From the Highway to Nowhere to the Power of Place

By Caron Atlas

In June and July I was fortunate to attend ROOTS Fest National Learning Exchange in West Baltimore, the Rural Cultural Roundtable in St Paul, and the freeDimensional retreat on Wasan Island in Canada. While diverse in focus, the three events were all grounded in the power of place, culture and creative agency. Collectively they made me reflect on how we can take active roles in creating communities that reflect our values. 

Creative Responses to the 10th Anniversary of 9/11

August 2011

This conference call focused on the 10 Year Anniversary of 9/11 and the programs, cultural convenings and artwork that have helped to heal, facilitate dialogue, build community and move us forward.

Radio for Community, Art and Culture

July 2011

This conference call focused on the power of radio in fostering art, culture and community. It provided informattion about an exciting upcoming opportunity for community groups to start their own radio stations.

Cultural Organizing and Collaborating Across Sectors at the National Rural Assembly

This session at the 2011 National Rural Assembly in St Paul, MN was a conversation about cultural organizing and collaborating across sectors and the role these approaches play in rural development and social change. Participants shared their own experiences and best practices, and reflected on the recommendations from the Rural Cultural Roundtable that proceeded the Rural Assembly.

Jeremy Frey Porcupine basket c/o Maine Indian Basketmakers Association

Rural Cultural Roundtable

The Rural Cultural Roundtable demonstrated the role of place-based culture and creative industries in rural communities. Coponsored by Arts & Democracy Project, Arts + Community Change Initiative, Center for Rural Startegies, and InCommon, the roundtable took place just prior to the 2011 National Rural Assembly. (June, 2011)

Cultural Organizing Workshop at ROOTS Fest

Artists who are dedicated to social justice often find themselves organizing their communities, their audiences, or even other artists. But what does it mean to be an 'organizer'?  This workshop took place during ROOTS Fest's National Learning Exchange and explored the intersection between culture and organizing. (June, 2011)

Arts & Economic Justice

May 2011

This nation-wide conference call was focused on the role of the arts, culture and media in economic justice organizing and movement building in communities across the U.S.

Music, Memory and Imagination

By amalia deloney

Two separate, yet related–events made me think about music and memory, and the healing properties they offer together.

Fabulous February of Freedom

By Dalia Basiouny

February 2011 was the busiest month of my life. I participated in a revolution that toppled a corrupt regime after 30 years of dictatorship.

Pro-Democracy Organizing in the Middle East & Beyond

February 2011

Focusing on events in Egypt and the extraordinary pro-democracy movements sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East, this conference call highlights how artists, art spaces and cultural organizers in the region and in the U.S. are participating and responding, and how more cultural workers can engage in positive ways.

Cultural Organizing for Community Recovery, New Orleans

A report and reflection on the Community Organizing for Cultural Recovery workshop held in New Orleans February 18-20, at the McKenna Museum for African American Art. Its goal was to strengthen capacity to use the tools of creativity, imagination, and organizing in community building.

Update on Belarus Free Theater

The Belarus Free Theater is out of hiding in Belarus and in New York performing its acclaimed play, "Being Harold Pinter" at the Under the Radar Festival until January 16. Two New York Times stories feature the company and review the play:

Little Globe Crosstown #4, Santa Fe Bus Opera - photo Chris Jonas

Inspirations from 2010

By Caron Atlas

Looking back on 2010, I am inspired by the grace and power of the imagination in the midst of challenging times.

Cultural Organizing for Social Justice Idea Forum

How we can further our work by connecting with one another and with sustained strategies for social justice and movement building? This Idea Forum at the 2010 National Performance Network meeting in Dallas, Texas explored this questions with examples of creative activism and cultural organizing. (December, 2010)

Arts & Equitable Development

November 2010

This conference call focuses on the arts and equitable development work that is being conducted in Brooklyn, NY; Harlan County, KY; Skid Row, Los Angeles; and beyond.  

A New Movement for Humanization

By Caron Atlas

When I first met Grace Lee Boggs in 2003 she transformed me, along with everyone else. Boggs embodies the US Social Forum concept of "another world is possible, another U.S. is necessary," and she celebrated her 95 birthday at the Detroit Social Forum in 2010, looking to the future.

Breaking out of a Bifurcated World

This session at the Grantmakers in the Arts 2010 conference, cosponsored with the Seventh Generation Fund engaged a paradox faced by many funders: While some of the most creative strategies for positive social change live at the intersections of sectors, disciplines, cultures, and generations; many of the practices and structures of philanthropy create silos and disconnect funders from their grantees and their full selves. (October, 2010)

Activist Artist and Media Justice Networking Dinner

The networking dinner, cosponsored with Center for Media Justice, took place at CMJ's Oakland, CA office.  The event inked activist artists, media justice activists, community mediamakers, progressive communicators, and policymakers and provided a forum to share resources across communities. (October, 2010)

Chicago Networking the Networks Dinner

This networking dinner, cosponsored with the Art and Social Justice Preconference Committee and the Indigenous Resource Network, took place at the Grantmakers in the Arts Conference in Chicago, IL. (October 2010)

Arts & Culture Resources for Election Participation

September 2010

This newsletter offers nonpartisan resources, opportunities, and events that join creativity and civic participation - during the election cycle - and beyond.

Reportback on the Creative Resistance Retreat

From July 10-15 the Creative Resistance retreat brought together leaders from human rights sector, arts networks, and organizations focused on the mobility of culture workers. Sponsored by freeDimensional and hosted at the Breuninger Foundation's Wasan Island center near Toronto, Canada, the retreat provided space for a critical dialogue on the role of arts networks in strengthening the social justice movement globally.

By Caron Atlas

A Rural Conversation

This rural panel, cosponsored with the Center for Rural Strategies, took place as part of Double Edge Theater's Art and Place Gathering held in Ashfield, MA, August 8, 2010.

Ricardo Levins Morales Reportback on the U.S. Social Forum

By Ricardo Levins Morales

Cross-posted from his e-newsletter, reflections from artist Ricardo Levins Morales on his time at the U.S. Social Forum.

Javiera Benavente's Reportback on U.S. Social Forum

By Javiera Benavente

On June 22-26, 2010 the 2nd US Social Forum took place in Detroit, MI, and brought together thousands of people from around the country (and beyond) to participate in a movement-building process that distinguishes itself by focusing on creating space "to come up with peoples' solutions to the economic and ecological crisis" we face in the world today.

Immigrant Rights Organizing

August 2010

As ongoing immigration battles are waged in our own backyards, this resource newsletter shares information and cultural organizing resources that are related to migrant and immigrant justice.

Detroit U.S. Social Forum Workshops and Creativity Lab

Modeled after the World Social Forum process that began in Porto Alegre Brazil in 2005, the US Social Forum is grounded in a belief that social, political and economic transformation are not only possible but necessary, and that they must be embodied by a "multi-racial, multi-sectoral, inter-generational, diverse, internationalist movement." Arts & Democracy Project sponsored two workshops at the Social Forum in Detroit in July, 2010, and with several colleagues organized a Creatvity Lab.


Image from the Art Dept. Chronicles  

Open Internet

May 2010

A free and open Internet has become a necessity, not a luxury, for all aspects of art and democracy.  As laws tighten and access is further limited, this newsletter offers resources that assist in understanding issues and offer opportunities to take action.

Creative Recovery: Culture, Planning, and Community Engagement course

This experiential mini-course, offered to Pratt Institute urban planning graduate students, investigated arts and culture, broadly defined, as a critical part of envisioning and rebuilding an equitable and sustainable New Orleans. Through site visits, tours, cultural events, and conversations with practitioners and policymakers representing multiple perspectives, the class explored the intersection between arts and culture and participatory planning.

Taking Over and Talking Back

Taking Over and Talking Back tells the story of the community conversations following Danny Hoch’s performances of his play Taking Over in New York City neighborhoods. At the Williamsburg, Brooklyn talkback a longtime resident of Williamsburg's Latino community said, “We fought poverty, violence and blight, and we made the Southside a better place to live. We are now strangers in our own neighborhood, and it’s painful.” 

Brooklyn Networking the Networks dinner

Bringing together a wide range of networks and groups--including Alternate ROOTS, Animating Democracy, Art is Change, Arts & Democracy Project, Arts & Social Justice Working Group, California Alliance of Traditional Arts and Cultures, First Peoples Fund, Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media, Grantmakers in the Arts, League of Young Voters, MAG-Net, National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, National Performance Network, Opportunity Agenda, and many more--in Brooklyn, NY, October 2009.

White House Briefing on Art, Community, Social Justice and Recovery

On May 12th, 2009, more than 60 artists and creative organizers engaged in civic participation, community development, education, social justice activism, and philanthropy came together for a White House briefing. It was cosponsored by Arts & Democracy Project, Nathan Cummings Foundation, Pratt Center for Community Development, and Arlene Goldbard. This is the report from that briefing.

Cultural Organizing at the Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed Conference

This multiracial, intergenerational, and multidisciplinary dialogue between civically engaged artists, cultural organizers, and scholars focused on the intersection between art, culture, and organizing around social change. It addressed both tensions as well as synergies in this work and offered examples of different approaches – some generated by artists and some generated by community organizers. (Minnapolis, May, 2009)

Cross-­Sector Partnerships and the Role of the Arts in Policy and Systems Change

By Erik Takeshita and Anusha Venkataraman

In April of 2009, 27 participants from the arts, community development, education and other diverse sectors around the country met at California State Monterey Bay as part of the Community Arts Convening and Research Project to discuss “Cross-­Sector Partnership and the Role of the Arts in Policy and Systems Change.” This is the report from that session.


Arts and Activism Convening in partnership with Nathan Cummings Foundation

The Arts & Democracy Project joined with the Nathan Cummings Foundation to organize a convening of the Foundation's grassroots arts activist grantees and their allies November 19-21, 2008.  The convening connected people from across the country to discuss the opportunities, challenges, and exemplary practices of linking arts and activism. This is the summary report from the convening.

Cultural Organizing for Progressive Change session at the National Organizers Alliance Gathering VI

This session at the Baltimore National Organizers Alliance conference featured three guest presenters: Walda Katz-Fisgman, Project South; Jerome Scott, Project South; and Ricardo Levins Morales, Northland Poster Collective (July, 2008)

Cultural Organizing for Progressive Change at Michigan Policy Summit

The session explored the power of cultural organizing to expand who is included in organizing and how they are included, creatively frame and communicate visions of change, encourage critical thinking, break down fear, and humanize polarized issues. (Lansing, May 2008)

From Activist Art to Cultural Organizing at Intersection V conference

An interdisciplinary dialogue between artists and organizers, co-organized with New World Theatre, that provided frameworks and went deeper into examples and issues related to cultural organizing. What's the difference between issue-based art and cultural organizing?  What are some of the successes and challenges artists and organizers have experienced in working together? Where does your work fit in the spectrum? (Amherst, MA April 2008)

Learning Community Gathering

This was a key gathering in Arts & Democracy Project's early years which brought together active participants from previously gatherings across the country to help the Arts & Democracy Project shaoe its upcoming plans. The group  committed to continuing as advisors and a core constituency of the Arts & Democracy and formed themselves into an ongoing "Learning Community".  The gathering was cosponsored by Service Workers International's Greenhouse Project and was held at SEIU. (Washington DC, February 2008)

Hip Hop artist and activist gathering

In this strategic conversation, cosponsored with the League of Young Voters, Hip Hop artists, presenters, and activists shared their plans for 2008 and how they might collaborate in their work. 

State of the Nation Gathering

This three-day conversation on cultural organizing, cosponsored with M.U.G.A.B.E.E. and Alternate Roots was part of the 4th Annual State of the Nation Festival in Jackson, MS. The State of the Nation Festival is dedicated to strengthening relationships and supporting collaboration between artists from Louisiana and Mississippi who are committed to addressing social, political, and economic justice issues facing the region. The length of time allotted to this conversation allowed several participants to present their work to the group and to develop an honest conversation about the challenges of the work and how to overcome them. (October 2007)

Highlander 75th Anniversary Celebration Gathering

This gathering took place as part of the Highlander Center’s 75th Anniversary and followed a one-day institute on cultural organizing that was also part of the celebration.  The goal of Highlander was and is to provide education and support to poor and working people fighting economic injustice, poverty, prejudice, and environmental destruction.  Presenters at the gathering included: co-facilitators Anasa Trautman, Highlander Center; Caron Atlas and Javiera Benavente, Arts & Democracy Project; Amelia Kirby, Appalshop; Carlton Turner, Alternate Roots; Michelle Miller, SEIU; Mathew Jones, SNCC Freedom Singers; and Baldemar Velazquez, Farm Labor Organizer Committee.

Atlanta United States Social Forum

The Arts & Democracy Project’s session on cultural organizing at the first-ever USSF in Atlanta had a standing room only crowd of 60 people. (June 2007)

Rural Cultural Organizer Gathering

This was a small 1.5 day-long strategic national gathering of cultural organizers cosponsored by the Main Street Project /Raices, Center for Rural Strategies, and the Humboldt Area Foundation in Klamath, CA, April 2007.  Also participating were Alternate Roots, Appalshop, Central Valley Partnership for Citizenship, Llano Grande Center, Feral Arts, United Indian Health Services, and Northland Poster Collective.

Imaging the Frame, Framing the Image

In the first years of the Arts & Democracy Project we co-convened small conversations to learn about the needs and interests of artists and activists across the country. Our first one, cosponsored with the New Progressive Coalition, took place at la Pena in Berkeley, bringing together over twenty Bay Area artists, activists, and cultural organizers for a discussion about the relationship between framing, community cultural development, arts, and organizing.  (March 2007)

Cultural Organizing: A Conversation at the Intersection

At the 2005 Grantmakers in the Arts conference a group of activist artists, community organizers and funders began a conversation about the purposeful intersection of art and activism. That session stimulated follow-up e-mail exchanges and writing among the conference participants and a few others. The resulting discussion is reflected in this article, published in the Summer 2006 GIA Reader. Our intention was to make cultural organizing visible by sharing its principles, demonstrating its rigor and creativity, and illustrating its diverse methodologies.

Arts & Democracy BAC Local Arts Support sample

Caron Atlas Local Arts Support sample for Brooklyn Arts Council

Report on Latino Culture & Traditional Arts in TN

Report on Latino Culture and Traditional Arts in Tennessee by Norma E. Cantú, Ph.D.

Tennessee Arts Commission hired Norma E. Cantú, Ph.D., to carry out a fact finding mission in West, Middle and East Tennessee to meet with representative members of Latino communities and learn about Latino culture and traditional arts in the state. This is the report that resulted from this inquiry. 

ACCESS and the Arab American National Museum

Since 1972, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) has supported community building and empowerment for the Arab-American community in Dearborn, Michigan.  In May 2005, ACCESS opened the first-ever Arab American National Museum devoted solely to Arab-American history and art, in order to exemplify that art nourishes the spirit and helps to build relationships.   

All-Ages Movement Project

All-Ages Movement Project (AMP) is a member-driven network of community based organizations that connect young people through independent music and art.  Founder of AMP, Shannon Stewart speaks of the importance and benefit of fostering democratic culture and leadership through youth-run music and cultural spaces.

Appalshop and Robert Salyer

Appalshop is a multi-disciplinary arts/education center in the heart of Appalachia that produces original films, video, theater, music and spoken-word recordings, radio, photography, multimedia, and books and provides the tools for documenting local stories.  It encourages the questioning of media as an information source while building media literacy.

Future of Music Coalition

The Future of Music Coalition (FMC) gathers knowledge, translates and educates in the fields of music, technology, public policy, and law to promote public understanding and discussion about freedom of speech, control of music production and distribution, and public ownership of the airwaves and bandwidth.

Hip Hop Congress

The Hip Hop Congress (HHC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that uses powerful potential of hip-hop culture to foster social action, civic service, and cultural creativity among young people.  HHC works to develop organizing skills and civic engagement among community members, with a human rights and social justice movement building focus. 

Los Angeles Poverty Department

The Los Angeles Poverty Department, founded in 1985 and rooted in Los Angeles' Skid Row neighborhood, intends to "create performance work that connects lived experience to the social forces that shape the lives and communities of people living in poverty."  These performances raise consciousness about social and political issues, while also creating opportunities for people to intervene in policy decisions that affect their lives.

League of Young Voters

The League of Young Voters is a national organization that supports young people in developing the power to solve problems facing their communities.  They work with those "who have been shut out of the political process to make politics fun, engaging, relevant, and meaningful."

Marty Pottenger

Marty Pottenger is a critically acclaimed writer, director, and performer with more than 20 years of experience in creating and directing community-based arts initiatives. She uses art to "reveal the underlying connection between people, and activate people's inherent desire and momentum for justice and equity."

Sojourn Theatre

Based in Portland, Oregon, Sojourn Theatre creates community-engaged theatrical productions that have explored a broad array of social issues, ranging from the Oregon school system (Witness Our Schools), the future of Portland as a city (One Day), and the meaning and impact of going to war (The War Project).  

Urban Bush Women

Throughout its 23-year history, the Urban Bush Women performance ensemble has spoken of the power of the spiritual tradtions of African American and the African Diaspora community through dance, music and storytelling.

We Got Issues!

Founded in 2003, We Got Issues! (WGI!) is a women-led movement and performance project which focuses on young women's leadership through the the power of creative expression.  WGI! is committed to creating a safe and supportive space for all women across race, class, gender, and socio-political lines.

Working Films

In my work as a curator, I was excited that 200 people could sit in a dark room, see a film, be moved, and ask, "what can we do?"...So then, Judith Helfand and I began to think about an organization that could deliberately connect the non-fiction stories of struggles with ground-level activists and organizers.  -- Robert West.

Direct and Indirect Approaches to Community Change

Littleglobe and SouthWest Organizing Project talk about finding a relationship between community-engaged arts and organizing.

By Valerie Martinez, Robby Rodriguez, Molly Sturges, and Rosina Roibal

Incarceration, Fatherhood, and Artmaking

Carol Fennelly and Ayo Ngozi on artmaking with fathers and children in federal and state prisons.

By Ayo Ngozi and Carol Fennelly

Listening to the Stories Underneath the Work We Do

Paula Allen and R. Lena Richardson talk about traditional arts and culture as resources for Native community health.

By R. Lena Richardson

Multifaceted Art of Community Planning

Ron Shiffman and Anusha Venkataraman consider the intersections of organizing, creative practice, and community-based development.

By Anusha Venkataraman

New Paradigms of Artful Change

A discussion about whether art can be as powerful a vehicle for change as it can be a bastion for maintaining the status quo.

By Dudley Cocke, Peter Pennekamp, and Craig McGarvey

Power of Art To Move People

Ismael Ahmed and Anan Ameri discuss the extraordinary model of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS).

By Anan Ameri

Tensions and Synergies of Being Strategic and Creative

Brad Lander and Esther Robinson discuss organizing and art, anthropological listening, and whether being holistic is important.

By Esther Robinson

Who Will Carry the Work Forward?

An intergenerational conversation at the State of the Nation festival and a tribute to Nayo Watkins.

By Caron Atlas, R. Lena Richardson, and Carlton Turner

Arts of Regional Change

The Art of Regional Change (ARC) brings together scholars, students, artists, and community groups to collaborate on media arts projects that strengthen communities, generate engaged scholarship, and inform regional decision making. Founded by media artist jesikah maria ross, ARC is a joint project of the University of California at Davis Humanities Institute and the UC Davis Center for Regional Change.

A Youth Voices Curriculum Resource and Guidebook developed to help other communities engage in similar projects is planned for spring 2012.

Center for Urban Pedagogy

The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) Making Policy Public series of foldout posters uses graphic design to explore and explain public policy. Each poster is the result of collaboration between a designer, an advocate, and CUP.  To date, CUP has produced eight posters/instructional pamphlets on issues ranging from affordable housing to the rights of domestic workers.

Operation Paydirt / Fundred Dollar Bill Project

Operation Paydirt/Fundred Dollar Bill Project (Paydirt/Fundred) is a multidisciplinary, artist-driven project addressing the national crisis of lead-contaminated soil. With the self-expression of the young people most affected by lead contamination, these projects propose a solution that incorporates demonstrated scientific procedure. The approach extends across disciplines of art, science, and education and is sensitive to aspects of community development and urban infrastructure. 

Not In Our Town (NIOT)

Not in Our Town (NIOT) is a national organization that creates films and video, and facilitates convenings to help communities working together to stop hate through creative anti-bias programs and responses. Anchored by a social networking website, NIOT documents and shares initiatives, helps link individuals and groups, and provides guidance for positive intergroup responses to hateful actions. Aired on PBS stations on September 21, 2011 (, and screened at venues around the country, Light in the Darkness is the latest in a series of films produced by the Working Group of NIOT. In addition to their documentary work, NIOT has produced over 45 videos (

Llano Grande

The Llano Grande Center for Research and Development’s vision is to inspire a youth culture that aspires to attend college and engage in community change. Beginning informally in the early 1990s with activities intended to show Edcouch-Elsa High School students in Texas that college was both possible and necessary for them, the Llano Grande Center was formalized in 1997 as a program of the Edcouch-Elsa Independent School District (EEISD). The center has trained students, educators, and community development agents locally, nationally, and internationally on how to distinguish, tell, and use their story to achieve community change. 

Sojourn Theatre

Sojourn Theatre is an ensemble of ten core artists creating new performances  in Portland, Oregon, and around the country. Their innovative work shares a goal of bringing together strangers to collectively experience and strategize in arts-based civic dialogue projects. Sojourn’s members are nationally recognized for their innovation as artists and engagement practitioners, and the company’s work is featured regularly at conferences and universities nationwide as a "best practice model" for arts-based civic dialogue projects. 

The Strength of Scribe, Where Videos Give Voice to Unheard Stories

Scribe Video Center came into being in December 1982. It was founded by Louis Massiah as a place where individuals and communities could learn media making and explore the use of video as both an artistic medium and a tool for progressive social change. The center has grown in size from a small rented workshop space to an internationally recognized media arts education center in a 4,000-square-foot loft that has helped thousands of people and over 150 community groups document their passions and concerns in some 200 videos produced with the center’s support.   

Cultural Organizing for Community Change, Brooklyn 2015

Our upcoming cultural organizing workshop in Brooklyn will take place Nov 22. We will post the developing agenda for the workshop soon.