What does "cultural organizing" and work "at the intersection of arts and democracy" look like? Check out these profiles of projects that connect powerful arts and culture with community transformation.

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.

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.