Resources on Art, Cultural Work & Inclusive Democracy

Artistic and cultural processes are uniquely well-suited to address our current challenges of democratic decline and rising authoritarianism because they engage us cognitively, emotionally, sensorily, and, in some cases, spiritually. They can be crafted to cultivate the relationships and understandings needed for effective movement-building to resist current systems of oppression, to mobilize masses to stand up for our values, and to inspire people to come together to build our shared future. When we align the arts, cultural work and pro-democracy organizing, we enliven our sensibilities – sense of justice; sense of humor; sense of beauty; sense of integrity – and energize us to work with conviction, creativity and compassion.

Successful pro-democracy movements involve a wide range of sectors and actors who play different roles, with diverse insights and practices that arise from a variety of disciplines, organizing traditions, lived experiences and modes of knowing. Horizons is committed to supporting these many actors to come together to build the relational infrastructure to bolster democracy and confront the global rise of authoritarianism. We believe this will take a whole-of-system approach, taking into account the multiple forces contributing to democratic decline and amplifying the many bright spots that are fostering societal repair and democratic renewal. Arts and cultural work are an integral part of this pro-democracy ecosystem, with unique approaches to energize movements and actors to be nourished, supported, lifted up, and linked together in mutually reinforcing ways.

The following resources were curated by the Horizons Project in collaboration with Cindy Cohen, Senior Fellow with IMPACT, Inc. Launched in 2022, IMPACT, Inc. advocates for arts and culture to transform conflict and build more creative, inclusive societies. With a global network of doers, thinkers and influencers, IMPACT brings people together through events and platforms, and raises awareness of diverse voices and contexts. IMPACT, Inc. supports those delivering impactful work through capacity building, making connections and creating opportunities for sharing practice and learning. 

The resources listed and described here are by no means comprehensive; instead, they are meant to suggest the breadth and depth of work being done at the intersection of arts, culture and inclusive democracy. If you would like to suggest additional themes or resources, please contact us at [email protected].

  1. Mobilizing voters

Elections matter, and yet we know that modern autocratic regimes are often democratically elected. Countering authoritarianism in the US therefore involves much more than electoral politics. Nevertheless, the need to mobilize people to vote, and to vote for candidates that uphold democratic principles, is an urgent and indispensable part of a multipronged strategy. Here we highlight successful practices of engaging artists and cultural workers in mobilizing voters; as well as two examples of locally rooted initiatives involving artists and cultural workers collaborating with organizers to get out the vote in the 2022 and 2020 elections in the US.

Artists For Democracy – People For the American Way

Art has the power to change perceptions and inspire action, cutting through the noise and speaking to our hopes, fears, and dreams. Artists are working to create art across four (and possibly more!) swing states: Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. They are conveying the stakes we’re up against in this election on billboards, in radio announcements, and at public gatherings. Related article in The Guardian:

Rock the Vote

“A nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to building the political power of young people. For 30 years, Rock the Vote has revolutionized the way we use pop culture, music, art, and technology to engage young people in politics and build our collective power. For over thirty years, it has continuously adapted to the changing landscapes of media, technology and culture to break through and empower each new generation.” 

Art for the Polls – The Center for Artistic Activism

A program of the Center for Artistic Activism that supports U.S. artists creatively engaging in the 2024 election. Art moves people, making it vital in an election year where potential voters are fatigued, frustrated, fearful, and maybe even furious. Fortunately, we know creative minds like yours can communicate hope, perseverance, and the power of collective action through evocative visual and experiential art. Online and in-person workshops provide resources and insights to help artists channel unique skills and imagination into effective civic engagement in 2024.

Voter Mobilization and the Arts, Art2Action & Animating Democracy; Andrea Assaf, Michael Rohd, and Frances Valdez

“Ongoing voter suppression, disinformation, the overturning of laws protecting women’s rights: U.S. democracy is in distress…. this session [prior to 2022 elections] explores the roles that artists can play in working together with organizers to motivate voting and civic participation, and to promote dialogue about the state of our democracy. How can artists and activists navigate their different ways of working, and how can cross-training prepare them for strong collaborations and impactful results? What creative strategies have worked best? How do organizing bodies integrate the artistic imagination, and how can artists integrate organizing principles into their work? What’s needed to animate democracy right now?” 

Artists and Cultural Workers Mobilize the Vote, Art2Action

“Houston in Action awarded 12 projects to selected artists & cultural workers to create culturally relevant artistic expressions that inspire & mobilize voter engagement. THE GOAL: To activate Youth, Black, Latinx, & Asian American communities to register & turn-out to vote in Houston, TX (and beyond!).” 

  1. Bridging Differences

Pro-democracy movements require people to work together across many lines of difference to effectively organize and mobilize for change and constructively engage with conflict. To achieve the multi-racial, pluralistic and inclusive democracy we seek in the future, arts and culture can help to strengthen our collective capacity to work with those who may have opposing views; flex the muscles of dialogue and deliberation; and to find common ground to work together on shared issues of concern. Creative approaches to bridging differences can draw on qualities of deep listening, respect and presence cultivated by engaging with artistic practices and historic and cultural wisdom. 

Bridge Entertainment Labs

Bridge Entertainment Labs was created “to help reverse the trend towards deepening division in America by promoting the creation of content that humanizes political tribes to one another, develop shared cultural spaces for Americans of different backgrounds and beliefs, and fosters the societal preconditions for healthy civic debate and collaborative problem-solving.” Its founders “believe the entertainment industry has a powerful role to play in helping us overcome the ‘us versus them’ dynamics that are fracturing our country.”

Guidelines for Story Circles, John O’Neal, in Acting Together: Resources for Getting Started, pp. 3 – 5

These Guidelines offer a straightforward easy-to-implement framework for facilitating democratic story-sharing and community-building conversations, as described by a leader of the US Civil Rights movement. Listen to John O’Neal describe a specific story circle here! 

In Your Shoes, The Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics

In Your Shoes™ is a program of the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics at Georgetown University which “harnesses the power of theatrical performance, dialogue, and deep listening to surface and celebrate the rich life experiences that shape who we are and how we interact. Participants dwell ‘in each other’s shoes’ by performing each other’s words back to one another with exquisite care and creativity.” In Your Shoes™ was created and developed by acclaimed international theater-maker and educator Derek Goldman through over a decade of intensive workshops in a range of global contexts, including China, Russia, Bangladesh, and Sudan, and with diverse and often polarized university and community participants throughout the United States. 

Sojourn Theatre

Currently investigates civic discourse focusing “on how the action of theatre making can be best applied to the process of civic decision making; how creative practice can release creative collaborations and imaginative problem-solving in multi-party, cross ideological contexts.”

Healing, Bridging, Thriving: A Summit on Arts and Culture in Our Communities, January 30, 2024

An archive of the summit can be found here, including a session on Arts, Culture and Civic Infrastructure, described as: “Arts, culture, and the humanities knit the social fabric of our communities and are essential to advancing equitable outcomes. We must develop pathways for artists who are eager to work with other sectors and support them holistically in their endeavors.”

Art in a Democracy: Selected Plays of Roadside Theater, Vol 1 & Vol 2, Ben Fink

“This two-volume anthology tells the story of Roadside Theater’s first 45 years; Roadside has spent 45 years searching for what art in a democracy might look like. The anthology raises questions such as, “What are common principles and common barriers to achieving democracy across disciplines, and how can the disciplines unite in common democratic cause?” See also “Art in a democracy,” Episode 68 in ‘Cultural Democracy’ on Change the Story, Change the World “Our conversation with editor Ben Fink and contributor Arnaldo J. Lopez explores Roadside’s 50-year history of creative collaboration percolating at the crossroads of art, community, and America’s struggle to craft an authentic living democracy.”

Imagining America

“The Imagining America consortium (IA) brings together scholars, artists, designers, humanists, and organizers to imagine, study, and enact a more just and liberatory ‘America’ and world. Working across institutional, disciplinary, and community divides, IA strengthens and promotes public scholarship, cultural organizing, and campus change that inspires collective imagination, knowledge-making, and civic action on pressing public issues. By dreaming and building together in public, IA creates the conditions to shift culture and transform inequitable institutional and societal structures.”

Let’s Make a Better World Podcast: Songs and Stories,” Jane Wilburn Sapp

Podcast episodes explore Imagination and Agency, Resilience and Transformation, Freedom and Justice, Music and Human Rights, Building Community. They feature Jane Sapp in conversation with civil rights leader Rose Saunders and LGBTQ/Women’s/Anti-racist activist Suzanne Pharr, among others, and illustrate the power of cultural work and music to bring people together across differences.

  1. Art, Culture, and Justice

This section highlights a sampling of projects and organizations working towards greater racial, social, gender-based and environmental justice. Given the extent to which anti-Black racism and the genocide of Native American people are woven into the fabric of American society, pro-democracy efforts are indelibly linked with movements for racial and cultural justice and repair. We are inspired by the many diverse approaches taking place at community, state-wide, regional and national levels, and involving artists, arts organizations, cultural institutions, and philanthropies. 

Center for Performance and Civic Practice (CPCP)

CPCP “believes that with the right approach, the same tools and capacities that artists use to make meaningful art can be utilized to transform systems and improve the impacts of government and community-driven efforts and programs. Civic Practice refers to projects that bring artists into collaboration and co-design with community partners and local residents around a community-defined aspiration, challenge or vision.” 

Alternate Roots

“Alternate ROOTS is an organization that supports the creation and presentation of original art that is rooted in community, place, tradition or spirit. We are a group of artists and cultural organizers based in the South creating a better world together. As Alternate ROOTS, we call for social and economic justice and are working to dismantle all forms of oppression – everywhere. As a progressive arts organization, ROOTS is at the forefront of establishing model programs for regional cultural organizing in the US.”

Animating Democracy: A Program of Americans for the Arts – Fostering Civic Engagement Through Arts and Culture

A treasure trove of resources including books, case studies, essays, a glossary, frameworks for evaluation of arts and civic engagement initiatives, profiles of municipal – artist/partnerships, and other resources exploring arts-based civic engagement for social change.

Arts & Democracy

Arts & Democracy cross pollinates culture, participatory democracy, and social justice. It supports cultural organizing and cross-sector collaborations; raises the visibility of transformative work; connects cultural practitioners with activists, organizers and policymakers; and creates spaces for reflection.

United States Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC)

“The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture contributes to the strength and vibrancy of the movement for collective liberation by resourcing and mobilizing cultural organizers and artists. As a people-led and people-centered arts and culture department, we merge organizing, political education, and performance to create a vibrant ecosystem that activates and harnesses spaces ripe for social, cultural and political change. The USDAC contributes to the strength and vibrancy of the movement for collective liberation by resourcing and mobilizing cultural organizers and artists.”

Americans for the Arts: Cultural Equity

To support a full creative life for all, Americans for the Arts commits to championing policies and practices of cultural equity that empower a just, inclusive, equitable nation. Cultural equity embodies the values, policies, and practices that ensure that all people—including but not limited to those who have been historically underrepresented based on race/ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, socioeconomic status, geography, citizenship status, or religion—are represented in the development of arts policy; the support of artists; the nurturing of accessible, thriving venues for expression; and the fair distribution of programmatic, financial, and informational resources.

Borders to Bridges: Arts-based Curriculum for Social Justice, Lynn Glixon Ditchfield

Borders to Bridges is designed to promote dialogue in schools and communities by engendering deeper understanding and discussion to counter the myths and fears that negatively affect our learning institutions. This guidebook contains practical lesson plans, narratives, poetry, mixed media artwork, and resources for K-12 educators to enrich learning and engage students about critical issues that touch their lives and communities. Contributors include world-renowned educators, poets, artists, and writers from 38 countries and 20 states of the U.S.

Theatre for Community Conflict and Dialogue: The Hope Is Vital Training Manual, Michael Rohd 

“The first step forward in working with today’s youth is to create a dialogue, and that is exactly what this exciting new book does. It helps you provide opportunities for young people to open up and explore their feelings through theatre, offering a safe place for them to air their views with dignity, respect, and freedom through the Hope Is Vital interactive theatre techniques.” 

Harry Boyte: Democracy & Imagination,” Episode 79, in ‘Cultural Democracy’ on Change the Story, Change the World.

“How can we make democracy an everyday practice for everyone? Given the warnings about the end of democracy, our discussion about the role of culture in the labor and civil rights movements, and the inseparable nature of imagination and democracy is timely, to say the least.”

“Carlton Turner – Sipp Culture Rising,” Episode 47, in ‘Cultural Democracy’ on Change the Story, Change the World.

“Sipp Culture uses food and story to support rural community development in Utica, Mississippi. We believe that history, culture, and food affirm our individual and collective humanity. So, we are strengthening our local food system, advancing health equity, and supporting rural artistic voices – while activating the power of story – all to promote the legacy and vision of our hometown.”

Theatre in the Age of Climate Change: Creating Work in Series in the Anthropocene, Changal Bilodeau

“I want to invite audiences into a sacred space where grief, anger, and despair can be laid bare and transformed into joy, courage, and hope. As I stand here, surrounded by the vastness of Iceland, I start to formulate a question: what happens once we have so thoroughly imposed our will on the earth systems that we no longer feel small?”

Sustaining Places: An Encyclopedia of Resources for Small Historical Organizations.

“The museum field is currently experiencing a paradigm shift which places people, not objects, at the core of a museum’s purposes. This new paradigm responds to changing ideas about cultural authority, in which the community’s voice is as important as the expert’s voice…. Museums operating within the new paradigm empower their communities by fostering dialogue, with the goal of re-evaluating the past and the present in order to envision a more just future.” 

  1. Art and Creative Nonviolent Action

Artistic and cultural processes can be crafted to embody a compelling but non-coercive power that can be mobilized in support of creative nonviolent action. They can reach beneath the defensive structures of guilt, shame and rage to restore capacities for agency and collective action; they can challenge existing assumptions; they can support expression that is otherwise forbidden; they can bring reluctant adversaries into conversation; they can lower barriers of fear and motivate people to challenge injustices and repression; they can offer new ways of framing issues. Even when confronted with the power of violence, racism, and domination – whether economic, political, social, gender-based, or cultural – artistic and cultural processes can challenge and subvert widely accepted patterns of supremacy, fear, exclusion and repression. [Adapted from ‘Lessons from the Acting Together Project, Acting Together: Performance and the Creative Transformation of Conflict, Volume II. Cynthia Cohen, Roberto Gutierrez Varea and Polly O. Walker. P. 191]

Creative Boom: Celebrating Art as Nonviolent Resistance, Taylor Alarcon

As many artists know, there is an everlasting connection between social justice, activism and creativity. Art can, and continues to be, a medium for commentary and resistance – and another way that we engage in challenging our society. This piece by Creative Boom introduces a few names whose work continues the legacy of King, reveals a “deep faith” in a possibly different future, and uses art and creativity to share that unique message. 

Tracing the Long Story of “We Shall Overcome,” Kate Stewart

In 1956, a 12-year-old girl named Jamila Jones participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. About two years later, she came to the Highlander Folk School for nonviolent activist training. As Jones recalls in an interview conducted for the Civil Rights History Project, Highlander was raided by the police, who shut off all the lights in the building. She found the strength to sing out into the darkness, adding a new verse to “We Shall Overcome.” When a police officer, trembling, asked her to sing more quietly, she realized the power of music in the struggle for civil rights, and sang louder and louder along with others in the room. To listen to excerpts from an oral history interview scroll down the page.

Why Nazis are so Afraid of These Clowns, Sarah Freeman-Woolpert

Clowns have an impressive track record of subverting Nazi ideology, de-escalating rallies and bringing communities together in creative resistance. This 2017 article in Waging Nonviolence documents several effective examples, including a performance in Knoxville, Tennessee in which clowns feigned confusion at neo-Nazi demonstrators’ cries of “White power!” calling back “White flour?”, “White flowers?”, “Tight shower?”, and “Wife Power!” The neo-Nazis called off their demonstration several hours early. “Since humor and clowning can incorporate so many community members — children and the elderly, musicians and athletes, politicians and school teachers — they draw everyone into a joyful, silly expression of solidarity. That’s something a band of tiki torch-wielding neo-Nazis don’t stand a chance against.”

Don’t Look Away: Art, Nonviolence, and Preventive Publics in Contemporary Europe, Brianne Cohen

This book delves deeply into the role that art can play in creating public commitment to curbing structural violence in Europe. Art often looks at past violence, and has, at times, enabled it. In Don’t Look Away, Brianne Cohen explores how it can be used to prevent violence, particularly by helping to create a “shared social sense of vulnerability” and “mass stranger relationality.” “Art can have a critical role to play not only in challenging injurious public discourse but also in actively reconceiving the groundwork of more ethically self-reflexive, pluralistic public spheres,” she writes. “I wish to transform a question of informed public action in the aftermath of violence to one of informed public prevention of both direct and more indirect aggression.”

Conclusion Paper: How can arts, civic pride and culture contribute to boosting local resilience and democracy against extremism, hate crimes and other threats to democracy? Radicalization Awareness Network

This paper from the Radicalization Awareness Network highlighted examples of initiatives in 17 participating countries and concluded that “promoting arts, cultural activities and civic pride can significantly enhance local resilience and democracy and in turn prevent violence, extremism, hate crimes and other threats by: promoting diversity and inclusion, reducing polarization; empowering individuals and communities, thereby reducing the appeal of radicalization; building social cohesion, creating a sense of belonging; fostering critical thinking; countering misinformation; providing powerful counter-narratives to extremism; fostering a sense of responsibility of one’s community; offering positive role models who embody democratic values; enhancing resilience against extremist recruitment tactics; and providing neutral ground for discussion of sensitive topics, fostering understanding and empathy.”

Culture and Conflict Summit Resource Guide, USIP and the British Council

This resource guide is the beginning of a comprehensive resource for educators and peacebuilders interested in using arts both inside and outside academia. It is meant to be a useful guide to those who are teaching about using arts in conflict scenarios for the purposes of peace, and those who will engage in it in practice. The resources cover a variety of mediums – including music, theater, books, and more.

  1. Art and Transitional Justice

A sustainable, robust and truly just democracy requires its citizens to acknowledge past harms, address unjust conditions in the present, and together imagine a fairer future. Artistic and cultural processes can be crafted to support communities to do the difficult work of mourning losses, composing more complex narratives, seeking justice and imagining a better future, even when relationships have been adversarial, where harms have been inflicted, and where trust must gradually be restored.

Artistic Imagination as a Force for Change, Art2Action & Animating Democracy; adrienne maree brown, Sage Crump, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar

“This session, honoring the vibrant legacy of the late Grace Lee Boggs, explores artists’ imaginative power to grow the personal and collective soul, featuring cultural activists adrienne maree brown and Sage Crump, both with deep roots in Detroit, and Urban Bush Women’s founder Jawole Zollar. These three powerful thought leaders delve into the relationship between the artistic imagination and civic/social/political action, and how artistic strategies and emergent strategies can bolster movements and make progress toward change.”

BLIS Collective: Black Liberation – Indigenous Sovereignty 

The BLIS Collective is “borne out of the idea that we must repair the damages done to Black and Indigenous people in what we now call the United States and create a future where every individual, no matter their identity, has equal opportunity to live life freely and fully… We produce and support original works of literature and art and cultivate a community of artists, storytellers, filmmakers, historians, cultural bearers, comedians, poets, and athletes committed to forwarding narratives of liberation and decolonization.It also produces a newsletter: “Reparations Daily (ish).”

Echoes of a Coup – Scene on Radio

“In November 1898, an armed White supremacist mob—supported by most White elites in North Carolina—murdered untold Black Wilmington residents and drove the city’s elected Fusionist government from power, installing Democrats in their place. (Fusionists were a biracial coalition of mostly-Black Republicans and mostly-White members of the Populist Party.) The coup in North Carolina’s then-largest city violently snuffed out some of the last flickers of multiracial democracy in post-Civil War America. Scene on Radio Season 6, Echoes of a Coup, a five-episode podcast tells the story of 1898 and puts these events in historical context, at a time when the United States is once again facing threats of political violence, amid orchestrated attacks on democracy—from within.”

Art, Dialogue, and Race, Art2Action & Animating Democracy; Kim Pevia, Katrina Browne and James Scruggs

“In the context of countless murders of Black people, racially-motivated assaults on Asian and Arab Americans, and continuing systemic and structural racism against Black, Indigenous/First Nations, and people of color communities, art and artists can advance meaningful, transformative dialogue and racial reckoning. The artists and leaders in this session explore this path, from deepening understanding, to shifting minds and hearts, to healing historical wounds, to advancing actions, policies, and systemic and structural change. Through the lens of their radically different artistic approaches, they will examine the role of art to disrupt narratives, reveal complicity, deepen dialogue, and make progress toward truth and reconciliation.”

Creative Approaches to Reconciliation, Cynthia Cohen

This chapter explains why the arts and cultural work are critical to promoting coexistence and reconciliation in the aftermath of violent conflict. It lays out theoretical frameworks for reconciliation and for the nature of aesthetic engagement that explain why the arts and cultural work should be effective resources for peace-builders. Then it offers examples of how the arts and cultural work are already being used to facilitate seven different educational tasks crucial to reconciliation, including assisting former adversaries to appreciate each other’s humanity, to empathize with each other’s suffering, to address injustice, and to imagine a new future. 

Acting Together on the World Stage Resources

The Acting Together initiative is a global multi-media educational initiative intended to document and strengthen the contributions of performance and ritual to social justice and conflict transformation. It consists of a feature documentary, a two-volume anthology, mini-docs on targeted issues, and PDF resources for learning and teaching. The documentary includes sections on resistance, re-humanization and reconciliation. Watch the trailer here

Case studies include “Do You Smell Something Stinky? Notes from conversations about Making Art while Working for Peace in Racist, Imperial America in the 21st Century,” by John O’Neal available here.

Here I Am, The Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics

“Here I Am weaves narrative, music, and multimedia imagery, inviting the audience on an experiential journey celebrating Mélisande Short-Colomb’s 11 generations of maternal grandmothers and exploring her complicated relationship with the institution that enslaved her ancestors. Mélisande Short-Colomb is a direct descendant of families sold into slavery by the Society of Jesus in 1838 to keep Georgetown University solvent, (The GU 272), and has been an anchoring member of President’s Task Force Examining Loyola’s Connections to Slavery.”

International Journal of Transitional Justice Special Issue on Creative Approaches to Transitional Justice: The Contributions of Arts and Culture, Volume 14, Number 1, March 2020.

Articles highlight creative transitional justice processes in Myanmar, Colombia, Tunisia, South Africa, Bosnia Herzegovina, Argentina, Cambodia, Peru among others. 

Imagination Infrastructures 

A long-term investment in growing and maintaining the capacity of communities and institutions to collectively imagine, so that they are able to see, feel and think differently in order to act differently. Imagination Infrastructures recognize that collective imagination is a practice that you develop overtime, and therefore our capacity to do so can be strengthened.

  1. Global Perspectives

Art can be a medium for expressing dissent and subverting status quo norms; it provides a voice, and thus power, to voices deemed unimportant or dangerous. As such, art can threaten authoritarian control and help dream up alternative, more free, futures. It is no surprise then that artists, their resources, and their creations are highly targeted by authoritarian regimes. Artists and cultural workers from around the world are sharing knowledge about the vulnerabilities of being an artist under authoritarian regimes, as well as creative contributions to successful efforts to overthrow dictatorships and oppose authoritarian tendencies. 

 Why Authoritarians Attack the Arts, Eve L Ewing

After referencing the silencing of artists under several authoritarian regimes, past and present, Ewing concludes that “[w]e need the arts because they make us full human beings. But we also need the arts as a protective factor against authoritarianism. In saving the arts, we save ourselves from a society where creative production is permissible only insofar as it serves the instruments of power. When the canary in the coal mine goes silent, we should be very afraid — not only because its song was so beautiful, but also because it was the only sign that we still had a chance to see daylight again.”

Artist at Risk Connection, PEN America

PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) safeguards the fundamental right to artistic freedom of expression worldwide. Its mission is to ensure that artists and cultural workers can live and create without fear, regardless of their country or discipline. ARC plays the critical role of connecting at-risk artists from any country and discipline to available resources across a global network of more than 800 organizations, providing urgent support, fellowships, and legal support. In addition, ARC provides emergency grants, resilience grants, and technical assistance, bolstering protection and resilience for artists at risk. ARC’s impact is amplified by its regional protective networks in Africa and Latin America. By advocating for policy reforms that uphold the safety and well-being of artists under international human rights law, ARC works tirelessly with its coalitions to create a more secure environment for artistic expression worldwide.

To learn more about the artists around the world who have used their creative talents to uplift, sustain, and mobilize social and political movements, check out ARC’s 2023 publication Art is Power: 20 Artists on How They Fight for Justice and Inspire Change. The report was written by PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) and features profiles of 20 artists from across the globe, exploring why they became artists, how they became involved in social and political movements, and the persecution they have faced as a result of their creative expression. 

Authoritarian Apprehensions: Ideology, Judgment and Mourning in Syria, Lisa Wedeen

If the Arab uprisings initially heralded the end of tyrannies and a move toward liberal democratic governments, their defeat not only marked a reversal but was of a piece with emerging forms of authoritarianism worldwide. In Authoritarian Apprehensions, Lisa Wedeen draws on her decades-long engagement with Syria to offer an erudite and compassionate analysis of this extraordinary rush of events—the revolutionary exhilaration of the initial days of unrest and then the devastating violence that shattered hopes of any quick undoing of dictatorship. Developing a fresh, insightful, and theoretically imaginative approach to both authoritarianism and conflict, Wedeen asks, What led a sizable part of the citizenry to stick by the regime through one atrocity after another? What happens to political judgment in a context of pervasive misinformation? And what might the Syrian example suggest about how authoritarian leaders exploit digital media to create uncertainty, political impasses, and fractures among their citizens? Drawing on extensive fieldwork and a variety of Syrian artistic practices, Wedeen lays bare the ideological investments that sustain ambivalent attachments to established organizations of power and contribute to the ongoing challenge of pursuing political change. 

A European body condemns Turkey’s sentencing of an activist for links to 2013 protests

Osman Kavala, the founder of Anadolu Kultur, a nonprofit organization that focuses on arts and cultural projects promoting peace and dialogue, was imprisoned in Turkey on charges of attempting to overthrow the government through involvement in the Gezi Park protests. To learn more about Kavala and his impact on Turkey’s civil society check out this documentary.

The Contributions of Arts and Culture to Pro-Democracy Anti-Authoritarian Movements: A report on sessions of the 22nd Century Conference/Forging a People-Powered Democracy, Cynthia Cohen, IMPACT Senior Fellow.

How are artists and cultural workers contributing to strengthening just and vibrant democracies and opposing rising authoritarianism – in the US and around the world? What approaches have been effective and in what contexts? How have artists and cultural workers minimized risks of harm to themselves and others? How could experiences of friends and colleagues from around the world be of help to artists and cultural workers aligning with the emerging multi-sectoral anti-authoritarian movement in the United States? This report shares stories from Kenya, the Philippines, Iran, Australia and the United States. 

Romanian Artist Tackles Art and Freedom in Authoritarian Times

Geta Brătescu’s work positions the artist as a creator of freedom even in oppressive times.

Acting Together Video Shorts

This set of videos includes examples of creative approaches to resistance to authoritarian regimes (Argentina, Serbia, Uganda); re-humanization in the aftermath of violence and oppression (Peru, United States, Australia); building capacity for democracy (Palestine).

Acting Together Summaries of chapters

This set of chapter summaries highlights performances in contexts of, and in the aftermath of, authoritarian regimes, including in Serbia, Sri Lanka, Palestine, Peru, Cambodia, the United States, and Australia. 

Howlround Theatre Commons

“Your hub for global theatre conversations…a free and open platform for theatre makers worldwide….We function as a commons – a social structure that invites open participation around shared values: Generosity and abundance; Community and collaboration; Diverse aesthetics; Equity, inclusivity and accessibility; Global citizenship (local communities intersecting with global practice.

  1. Theory and Practice 

The transformative power of art and cultural work derive in part from their aesthetic integrity. Linking art and activism requires integrating strategic thinking with these embodied and emotional modes of apprehending and interpreting the world and its challenges. The resources in this section offer frameworks for understanding how art, culture and pro-democracy efforts are working together, drawing insights from the fields of conflict transformation, neuroscience, journalism and more. They offer examples from the United States and around the world. 

Art Works: How Organizers and Artists Are Creating a Better World Together, Ken Grossinger

“When artists and organizers combine forces, new forms of political mobilization follow—which shape lasting social change. And yet few people appreciate how much deliberate strategy often propels this vital social change work. Behind the scenes, artists, organizers, political activists, and philanthropists have worked together to hone powerful strategies for achieving the world we want and the world we need. In Art Works, noted movement leader Ken Grossinger chronicles these efforts for the first time, distilling lessons and insights from grassroots leaders and luminaries such as Ai Weiwei, Courtland Cox, Jackson Browne, Shepard Fairey, Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Alexander, Bill McKibben, JR, Jose Antonio Vargas, and more.”

The Center for the Study of Art and Community: Change the Story, Change the World 

CSA&C has over thirty years experience building arts partnerships in educational, community and social institutions. We have provided expert guidance for developing artistic, educational, funding, community development collaborations with over 250 partners from the arts and other community sectors. CSA&C’s clients include artists and arts organizations, educational, health, human service, and criminal justice agencies, state and local government, and the business and philanthropic communities.

The Craftivist Collective Handbook, Sarah Corbett 

If we want our world to be more beautiful, kind and fair, can we make our activism more beautiful, kind and fair? ‘Gentle Protest’ is a unique methodology of strategic, compassionate and visually intriguing activism using handicrafts as a tool. Since its creation in 2009, the award-winning global Craftivist Collective has helped change laws, policies, hearts and minds around the world as well as expand the view of what activism can be. Dreams inspire positive action, so stitch a Dream Cloud to hang up at home or work and prompt you to think past a problem to the solution. Sew a Gentle Nudge Label to help keep your conscience sharp and your spirit strong. Craft your own Mini Protest Banner to turn heads and influence change, or fly solidarity’s flag for those suffering as a result of the world’s injustices. Stitch a Handmade Hedgerow to champion one of the solutions to the climate crisis or if you are nervous about protesting in public or if there’s a ban on public rallies where you live, let a doll speak your truth by creating a Toy Protest. Listen to the author discuss craftivism, a form of activism and collective empowerment that is centered on practices of craft, here.

The Center for Artistic Activism

“In 2009, the Center for Artistic Activism saw artists struggling to affect change, but without the practical skills to implement their visions. Elsewhere we saw frustrated activists, repeating their traditional marches, petition drives, and vigils until they became frustrated and moved on. We saw movements for social change stagnating with wins coming more by luck than planning. The Center for Artistic Activism started bringing these practices together to transform art and activism, using the best of each to leverage creativity and culture and successfully bring about social change…From our very beginning we identified the fields of culture, art and creativity as key to social justice work because these elements create opportunities for people marginalized from other spheres of influence such as law, politics and business to use their own unique perspectives to gain power, representation and real political change. But we knew creativity wasn’t enough. Training and organization is key. Our decade of experience and research has evolved into theory, curricula, and programs for activists and artists to fully understand how to effectively deploy artistic activism methodologies and win campaigns.”

The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace, John Paul Lederach

Lederach suggests that in addition to understanding the “landscape of protracted violence,” peacebuilding practitioners must “…explore the creative process itself, not as a tangential inquiry, but as the wellspring that feeds the building of peace. In other words, we must venture into the mostly uncharted territory of the artist’s way as applied to social change, the canvases and poetics of human relationships, imagination, and discovery, and ultimately the mystery of vocation for those who take up such a journey.” 

Invite | Affirm | Evoke | Unleash: How artistic and cultural processes transform complex challenges , Cynthia Cohen and IMPACT, Inc. 

How and why do arts and other aspects of culture contribute in constructive ways to addressing the complex challenges that confront humanity and the ecosystems of the planet? …Ethical arts and cultural processes can be crafted to evoke honesty, and nourish capacities to negotiate ambiguity and paradox, key features of complex systems. They unleash creativity and agency. They affirm the dignity of human beings and our interdependence with each other and the natural world. And they can be crafted to do all this not by manipulation or coercion, but by issuing invitations to engage, to enjoy, to co-construct meaning, and to be present – to oneself, to others, to the natural world and to the opportunities and challenges that inscribe the present moment. It is through their beauty, and through the ways they simultaneously animate our sensory, cognitive and emotional faculties, that ethical arts and cultural work invite transformation while respecting the integrity of all who are involved. The report includes examples from Spain, Cambodia, Inuit People, Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, Israeli and Palestinian diaspora communities, Colombia, Kenya and Australia. 

Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us, Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross

From artists David Byrnem and Renée Fleming to evolutionary biologist E.O.Wilson, this book is a journey of discovery and an authoritative guide to the new science of neuroaesthetics that weaves a vibrant tapestry of breakthrough research, insights from multidisciplinary pioneers, and compelling stories from people who are using the arts to make a positive impact on our day-to-day life. Your Brain on Art isn’t a plea to “bring back the arts.” It’s a call-to-arms for the radical integration of the arts with science and technology to design a more humane future. It’s about creating a new ethos that brings together different realms of human knowledge and experience to shape the future. It’s a fresh way of thinking and addressing the increasingly complex problems that face us. This book is perfectly poised to elevate this moment and bring it to the center of our cultural conversation. 

Aeffect: The Affect and Effect of Artistic Activism, Stephen Duncombe

Does artistic activism work aesthetically? Does it work politically? And what does “working” even mean when one combines art and activism? In Æffect, author Stephen Duncombe sets out to address these questions at the heart of the field of artistic activism.