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Sign Now: USDAC Pledge on Cultural Rights and the Muslim Ban

The US Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC) is calling on artists, designers, cultural organizers, and other cultural workers to sign the following pledge: to stand with humanity against inhumanity at this vital political juncture. Commit your creative energy to the struggle, and stop by this blog in the coming weeks to find advice, resources, and opportunities for action. VISIT THE USDAC to sign the pledge today.

 

THE FIRST STEP IN A TOP-DOWN CAMPAIGN TO OBLITERATE CULTURAL RIGHTS IN THE U.S. HAS BEEN TAKEN. We are called to stand together in response.

On 27 January 2017, a presidential executive order was issued blocking refugees and restricting immigration from Muslim countries. Protest has been immediate and massive.

History teaches us that authoritarian regimes start their mission of domination with the right to culture: limiting cultural communities’ freedom of movement and practice; condemning or restricting press freedom; condemning or restricting artistic expression; and denying the fullness of belonging to all but a privileged few. Artists and creative activists have key roles to play.

THE USDAC CALLS ON ALL ARTISTS, CREATIVE ACTIVISTS, AND ALLIES TO TAKE THE USDAC PLEDGE ON CULTURAL RIGHTS AND THE MUSLIM BAN:

I stand with allies in the U.S. and around the globe to protect and extend cultural rights threatened by the 27 January 2017 presidential executive order blocking refugees and restricting immigration from Muslim countries.

The right to culture—to express customs, faiths, and creativity in freedom and dignity—is a fundamental human right. When it is transgressed, no matter which group is first targeted—every community and individual is in jeopardy. Culture is a right, not a privilege.

As artists, activists, and allies who cherish the right to culture, we pledge to oppose all actions to limit fundamental human rights; to use our gifts to expose and reverse such actions; and to exercise our freedom of expression to bring about full cultural democracy for all—Indigenous peoples, citizens and residents of all backgrounds, immigrants and refugees alike.

Sign the USDAC Pledge TodaySIGNED, THE USDAC:

Valerie Amor, Cultural Agent
T. Lulani Arquette, Catalyst for Native Creative Potential
Caron Atlas, Minister of Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts
Judy Baca, Minister of Sites of Public Memory
Daniel Banks, Catalytic Agent
Roberto Bedoya, Secretary of Belonging
Jack Becker, Public Art Mobilizer
Ted Berger, Senior Policy Advisor
Ludovic Blain III, Chief Political Wonk
Sarah Boddy, Cultural Agent
Larry Bogad, Minister of Tactical Performance
Eric Booth, Secretary of Teaching Artists
Amelia Brown, Minister of Emergency Arts
Katherin Canton, Regional Envoy
Con Christeson, Cultural Agent
Monique Davis, Cultural Agent
Chrislene DeJean, Cultural Agent
María López De León, Minister of Inclusive Leadership Transformation
Jayeesha Dutta, Cultural Agent
Dana Edell, Secretary of Creative Sparks
Arlene Goldbard, Chief Policy Wonk
Beth Grossman, Cultural Agent
Lynden Harris, Cultural Agent
Bob Holman, Minister of Poetry and Language Protection
Adam Horowitz, Chief Instigator
Yvette A. Hyater-Adams, Regional Envoy
Denise Johnson, Cultural Agent
James Kass, Secretary of Belief in The Next Generation
Devon Kelley-Yurdin, Regional Envoy
Paul Kuttner, Minister of Cultural Scholarship
Dave Loewenstein, Cultural Agent
Mo Manklang, Chief of Making Things Happen
Charlene Martinez, Cultural Agent
Liz Maxwell, Chief Dot Connector
E. Ethelbert Miller, Minister of Sacred Words
Meena Natarajan, Radical Equity Catalyst, Pangaea Division
Emmett Phillips, Cultural Agent
Nora Rahimian, Cultural Agent
Nora Rasman, Cultural Agent
Martha Richards, Chief Strategist for Women Artists
Favianna Rodriguez, Secretary of Cultural Equity
Julianna Ross, Cultural Agent
Sebastian Ruth, Secretary of Music and Society
Carissa Samaniego, Cultural Agent
Michael Schwartz, Cultural Agent
Shirley Sneve, Tribal Liaison
Jessica Solomon, Cultural Agent
Harold Steward, Regional Envoy
Julia Terry, Cultural Agent
Makani Themba, Minister of Revolutionary Imagination
Carlton Turner, Minister of Creative Southern Strategies
Angela Wasekuk, Cultural Agent
Roseann Weiss, Cultural Agent
Yolanda Wisher, Cultural Agent
McKenzie Wren, Cultural Agent
Lily Yeh, Urban Alchemist
Betty Yu, Cultural Agent

*The USDAC is not a government agency. 

Beautiful Trouble takes on the “Trumpocalypse”

Are you drowning in think pieces about what Trump’s election means for the left? How about a little practical advice from our favorite troublemakers.

With Trump preparing to take over the White House, activists and organizers are scrambling to prepare themselves for the inevitable fights ahead. Getting out ahead of Trump will require struggling on multiple fronts at once, engaging in diverse organizing strategies, and thinking beyond common, predictable modes of protest.

Of course, this is the approach that the minds behind Beautiful Trouble, Beautiful Solutions, and Beautiful Rising have been promoting for years. Rather than laying out a single organizing strategy, these sites offer interconnected webs of tactics, stories, principles, and theories shared by activists around the world. Together, these modules serve as “toolboxes” for radical change, and can be combined in numerous ways to respond to different issues and local contexts.

Not long after the election, Andrew Boyd and Dave Mitchell, the original editors of the Beautiful Trouble book, turned on the B(A)T signal. They called on contributing editors to curate a Beautiful Trouble toolbox for the Trump era, selecting and summarizing modules with particular relevance to this moment in time. The result is Trouble Vs. Trump, an ongoing series that will be posted at the Beautiful Trouble Blog. I’ve included a few below to whet your appetite. Click HERE to read the first set of six modules, with much more to come.


 

TROUBLE VS. TRUMP

Insights from Beautiful Trouble and Beautiful Rising for the era of Trump.

As our movements gear up to face down the looming Trumpocalypse, here are 10 modules from the Beautiful Trouble and Beautiful Rising toolboxes that may prove useful.

By Rae Abileah, Nadine Bloch, Andrew Boyd, Paul Kuttner, Dave Mitchell

We have a lot more leverage than we might realizeTHEORY: Points of Intervention

In sum: Points of intervention are specific places in a system where a targeted action can effectively interrupt the functioning of power and open the way to change. 

If we are going to mobilize people to effectively resist the Trump agenda, we must pick our battles wisely, and recognize where we can intervene to have the greatest leverage. It’s worth

considering five different types of points: production, consumption, destruction, decision, and assumption. For example, ongoing boycotts and targeted phone-jams of Trump’s business empire are applying economic pressure at the point of consumption. Trump’s threat to deport millions of undocumented Americans is being forcefully resisted by rebel cities and a new Sanctuary Movement that will challenge migrants’ criminalization at the point of assumption and potentially, through mass direct action at airports, train and bus stations, at the point of destruction. Strikes and other point-of-production actions have historically been used to resist terrible presidencies. Yes, the Presidency is a powerful office, but there are many, many other points of decision at which we can intervene and win victories: remember how during the dark days of the Reagan Presidency, ACT-UP brought the fight for justice for people with AIDS directly to drug companies and the FDA.

—AB

 

Guerillas in Trump-LandPRINCIPLE: Know your cultural terrain

In sum: The first rule of guerrilla warfare is to know your terrain and use it to your advantage. This holds true whether you are fighting in an actual jungle or in the metaphoric wasteland of mass culture.

Trump did not reach the White House by offering a coherent economic policy or political platform. Rather, he made a cultural appeal to voters discontented with the direction they saw the country going. We need to understand this cultural wave that helped lift Trump to the presidency if we are going to counter his administration’s policies and divert some of this discontent toward more progressive ends.

A significant part of Trump’s campaign was based in white identity politics. He stoked racial fears while offering a nostalgic vision of a time when the privileges of white Christian men went unchallenged. This aspect of Trump culture is toxic, and must be countered at every turn. Other aspects of Trump’s appeal, however, resonate with the concerns of many on the left and can be built upon to support radical politics. Trump effectively played on people’s utter disgust with a “rigged” two-party system that is elitist, out of touch, and in thrall to undemocratic interests. He spoke to a feeling that the economy has left many, many people out even as it has “recovered.” These appeals may seem a bit absurd, given Trump’s own elite background and support for Wall Street over main street, but they offer potential leverage points for holding Trump accountable and crafting effective cultural strategies. Every time he nominates an establishment politician, or gives a tax break to the wealthy, there is a crack in his narrative we can exploit.

A word of caution: We shouldn’t overestimate the strength of Trump’s narrative — he did, after all, lose the popular vote amid very low turnout. We also shouldn’t simplify the story, for example painting Trump voters with a broad brush as poor and working class whites. Much of Trump’s support came from traditional Republican strongholds (read: wealthy white people). Still, Trump’s discourse during the election has shaped the cultural terrain that he is about to step into, and that terrain, while largely hostile, has some pitfalls we should be taking advantage of.

—PK

 

Now more than ever, we've got to take care of one another

PRINCIPLE: Seek safety in support networks

In sum: When activists are threatened, it’s important to harness national or international networks that can provide support and deter violence.

As the large numbers of women and minorities signing up for self-defence classes since the election testifies, many people are taking the threat of Trump very seriously. The threat of violence against activists, both directly from the State and indirectly from individuals and groups emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric, has escalated greatly in the last year and may continue to rise.

To counter this threat, we must reach out to and support one another: report threats we’ve received, reach out to others who have been targeted by threats, disrupt and defuse bullying or harassment when we see it, form networks of support, share skills and resources, and call on organizations that can assist: the Southern Poverty Law CenterNational Lawyers GuildACLU, the Anti-Fascist Network, and the Sanctuary City and Sanctuary Campus campaigns, to name a few.

Now is the time to move from impartial observer to ally to solidarity actor, to risk privilege and favor, to take a stand, to show up the way asked to. As Barbara Kingsolver writes, “There’s safety in numbers, but only if we count ourselves out loud.”

—DM

 

Read More…

Take a Stand for Cultural Democracy

USDAC launches Cultural Policy & Action Platform

At November’s Culture/SHIFT conference in St. Louis, some of my fellow cabinet members at the US Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC) took the stage. They were there to mark the launch a national “policy and action” platform we’ve been working on, titled Standing for Cultural Democracy. The platform outlines a ten-point framework for promoting arts, equity, and the universal right to cultural participation.

Policy and Action Platform CoverIt couldn’t have come at a more important time. The campaign that elevated Donald Trump to the presidency was fueled in large part by a discourse of cultural supremacy. Trump communicated a vision of the US as a monoculture — a white, Christian country where “good” immigrants and Muslims and People of Color might live and work, but where they will never be fully “American.” The success of this strategy has emboldened white supremacists and has fostered a climate of uncertainty and fear for those that fall outside of this narrow nationalist vision.

Standing for Cultural Democracy, offers an antidote to Trump’s America. It is rooted in a vision of a pluralistic, participatory nation, where our multicultural makeup is exactly what makes us “great.” It proposes major investments in art and cultural work as a strategy for address pressing injustices in our country, whether that be gentrification, educational inequity, or the horrors of the prison system. More broadly, it promotes a shift in our national culture toward “equity, empathy, and belonging.”

HELP MAKE THIS PLATFORM A REALITY

  1. Download the Summary or the Full Platform.
  2. Endorse the policy and action platform
  3. Apply for a USDAC Lab Microgrant
  4. Take action in your community today!

The idea of cultural democracy is an important one to have in the national consciousness right now. First developed in the early 20th century, cultural democracy proposes a kind of multiculturalism in which there is no hierarchy, no center, no “high” or “dominant” culture. Its goal is pluralism rather than assimilation. It promotes not just inclusion but participation. It goes beyond tokenism to ensure that people of all cultural backgrounds have the resources and access they need to effectively participate in and co-create our national cultural fabric.

Cultural democracy has always stood as a bulwark against racist and nationalistic ideologies like those put forward by Trump and some of his supporters. As Don Adams and Arlene Goldbard write:

“Cultural democracy…was first espoused in the 1910’s and 1920’s by progressive thinkers such as Horace Kallen and W.E.B. DuBois. They advocated cultural pluralism in the face of widespread assertions of white superiority and nativist calls to delimit a single, true American culture, embodied most frighteningly in the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and other manifestations of xenophobic violence…Racist articulations of monoculture and liberal ideas of the “melting pot” both work against cultural democracy’s vision of a culture that accepts and respects diversity as a strength to be preserved rather than a problem to be resolved. As was the case in the early decades of the Twentieth Century, cultural democracy has always been an insurgent idea, pushing against dominant values, never gaining the ascendancy, but persisting because its essential truth resonates with the lived experience of people who refuse to be dismissed or “melted” down.”

The USDAC was founded on the principle of cultural democracy. One of its goals is to guide cultural policy in the US, from the grassroots up. So, over the last two years the USDAC has been involved in a massive, national participatory research project involving thousands of people at hundreds of local arts actions around the country. You can read about the findings of this work in the USDAC report, An Act of Collective ImaginationNow, Standing for Cultural Democracy synthesizes these findings into ten recommendations, along with concrete strategies, examples, and tools. These recommendations include:

  • Adopt a “cultural impact study,” requiring developers to research the potential negative impacts of new development on the cultural resources and fabric of a community.
  • Reform the culture of punishment that has led to our current status as “Incarceration Nation.”
  • Implement a “rapid artistic response” system to address the cultural harm of natural and human-made disasters.
  • And more…

Parts of the platform will require state- and national-level engagement. Progress will surely be slow, particularly in this political climate (though no less important for that). Others can be implemented today, right in your neighborhood, community, or city. So stop reading this blog and start reading the report. Check out the tools. Endorse it today. And then, let’s get started.

We need creativity and imagination as much as (or more than) ever

On Tuesday night, while I was half-watching MSNBC, I kept one eye on Twitter. As the outcome of the election became clear, the rise in emotion was palpable. People were processing the result in so many different ways: in tweets of mourning, in calls to action, in blame and recriminations, in critical analysis, in “I told you so’s,” and in silence. I certainly had no idea what to write.

Since then, a lot of thoughtful things have been said about the election. My inbox is full of essays by progressives and activists of all stripes exploring what this means, what went wrong, and what comes next. I don’t have any ground-shattering wisdom to add. But I do want to take a moment to share some thoughts, as I look at this election through the lens of cultural organizing. These are things I’ve learned from the amazing artists, cultural workers, and organizers I’ve had the honor to connect with. I find some comfort and direction in them. More than anything, I offer this essay with love and gratitude to all of you.

1. We need creativity and imagination as much as (or more than) ever

Among the many dynamics at play this election season was a failure of political imagination. Liberal politicians could not fully grasp the levels of anger and frustration coursing through the nation. Meanwhile, conservative politicians fell back on fear and hate, when hope is what was needed. But while imagination at the highest levels of power may be stunted, it continues to thrive in communities across the country where artists, cultural workers, organizers, and so many others are imagining and crafting new possibilities. We will need all of our combined creativity in the coming months and years in order to push back hate and make room for transformation.

2. We are more than just red and blue states

Every four years we are forced to channel all our hopes, fears, values, and dreams into an either-or choice between two people. We are then given a map covered in red and blue, and fed a story about “two Americas.” This is a deficient narrative that does little to explain the complexity of our country, and even less to guide us forward. There are certainly many divides in our country, which were brought into stark relief during this campaign. But to address them we will have to put aside this single story, and get back to telling the multiplicity of true stories that capture who we really are.

3. The cultural shifts of the past decade are still underway

The country that elected Trump is the same country that elected Obama. We enter into this new era with a powerful movement proclaiming the value of Black lives, an increasingly diverse and politicized pop culture sphere, a large cohort of young immigrant rights leaders with skills honed in recent struggles, and a plethora of new voices amplified through creative use of social media. I don’t believe, as some have said, that the “whitelash” we saw in this election is necessarily the “last gasp” of the old order. Whiteness surely has more tricks up its sleeve. But the strength of the backlash should signal to us how strong the forward movement has been.


I don’t share these thoughts to deny anyone their anger or sadness, to say “it’s going to be fine.” There are dark times ahead, and many fights coming. If you need to mourn, mourn. If you need to organize, organize. This is where my mind goes as I try to sort through all my thoughts and feelings. I would love to hear your thoughts as well. Sharing our stories is a necessary first step toward healing and change.

In solidarity,

CulturalOrganizing.org

 

 

Map image from Mark Newman, Department of Physics and Center for the Study of Complex Systems, University of Michigan

How do you visualize a world you haven’t yet seen?

Earlier this year, I did some graphics work for the Family Leadership Design Collaborative (FLDC), a group whose mission is to radically re-imagine family engagement in schools and other institutions. It turned out to be one of the toughest design challenges I’ve faced.

In this post, I want to share a bit of that design process with you. The back-and-forth that the process inspired — with me offering draft images and them giving critiques — was fascinating on its own. But more than that, this project exemplified some of the tensions I’ve struggled with over the years creating visual communications for social justice groups.

One of these recurring tensions has to do with the use of symbols. Infographics and other visualizations often rely on simple, widely-recognizable symbols to communicate ideas. We know instantly that a paintbrush means art, a graduation cap means education, and two tall figures and two short figures means family. These symbols serve as visual shorthands, allowing images to be comprehended quickly, and by a broad audience.

A social justice perspective, however, values diversity and inclusiveness. There is no one kind of family, no one educational path, and to simplify these ideas into universal symbols is to marginalize those who deviate from that single image. In addition, social justice is often about imagining how the world could be. That can be hard to do using symbols that are based on the world as it is — particularly if you’re not totally sure what the future you are fighting for will look like. But the farther you stray from the dominant culture’s symbols, the less you can assume that viewers will immediately recognize your meaning.

These are not insolvable dilemmas. Many artists are navigating them creatively. Here’s a story of one of my attempts. I hope it offers some useful insights; I certainly learned a lot. And since I recently critiqued another person’s visualization, it’s only fair that I share some of the critiques I’ve received — all of which, ultimately, have led to better designs.

The Job

Ann Ishimaru, a professor at the University of Washington, approached me with the job. She and her colleague Megan Bang had received funding from the Kellogg Foundation to bring together a group of nationally-recognized community organizers, educators, and researchers from around the country for a two-day meeting. The topic under discussion was family engagement — the practice of supporting families as leaders, advocates, and collaborators in schools and communities.

Ann, Megan, and their colleagues were not content with the current state of “best practices” in family engagement. Their goal was to to develop “next practices” — approaches that go beyond what we’re doing now to what is possible tomorrow. They wanted to center racial justice and the voices of “nondominant” groups, with the ultimate goal of “family and community wellbeing and educational justice.” Ann wanted to capture all this in an image to share at the meeting.

Clearly no small task.

We began with a couple different concepts. One was Tupac Shakur’s metaphor of “the rose that grew from concrete,” which is about the strength and beauty of people who learn to thrive despite facing significant life challenges. Ann wanted to expand the metaphor to explore what was happening below the surface of the concrete, as well as the broader ecology around the rose.

Another concept was root systems. The root systems of plants are often much more extensive than you’d expect, just as there is much going on beneath the surface in marginalized communities that goes unrecognized by outsiders. As a starting point, Ann shared with me the image below, showing a fungus that that attaches to plant roots. She liked the way the tendrils were interconnected through nodes, which suggested ideas about human interconnectedness and networks.

Mycorrhizosphere graphic

After some back and forth, I drafted the image below. I carefully selected flowers from different climates around the country to communicate the diversity of the gathered group. I also used flowers at different stages of growth, to symbolize inter-generational collaboration. The urban landscape signified the broader ecology within which family engagement took place, as well as the large, often inaccessible institutions that families had to navigate. Linked root systems signified networks of mutual support, and a rootedness in shared history and culture.

flowers-v4web

The image sparked some great discussion at the meeting. Basically, they didn’t like it. Perhaps the loudest critique was about the lack of people in the image. Family engagement and leadership, they said, is about human beings, and that needs to be clear. Another critique was that the use of flowers made it seem like the image was about the environment. A third critique was that family leadership isn’t just about breaking through racism and oppression (the concrete), but also about building something new. Ann summarized it this way:

“The roots of schools as we know them are stunted and problematic from the get-go. They are rooted in oppression, in colonization, in assimilation and the stealing of land. How do we reconstruct something entirely different — not a school building, per se, but a system of education that starts from the roots and strengths and cultural practices of different communities and then builds from there…the process of growing or cultivating that somehow helps communities to heal, to be well, to build solidarities, to envision themselves into the future.”

planet-sketchwebIn conversation with Ann and Jondou Chen, the project director, I began to sketch out a new image that showed people with roots in the ground. The people had tools in their hands, to symbolize the building of new types of institutions. But Ann and I agreed that it was getting a bit too “we are the world,” and losing any indication of oppression and struggle.

At this point I realized I needed to shift my design approach. Simple stick figures could never capture the full humanity of people, or the complexity of family leadership across all the different groups involved. What if I used actual photographs? This idea led to the image below, based on Ann’s description of “a system of education that starts from the roots and strengths and cultural practices of different communities.” What would such an education system look like? (I used photos from an older project on community organizing for these early drafts, so thank you to all the groups featured!).

treessolid2web

Ann and Jondou liked the photos. However, they said the root system looked like a honeycomb. Also, they really didn’t like the top part. It was immediately clear, when they looked at the image, that the idea of a new institution as the end-goal wasn’t right. (I wasn’t thrilled with it myself, since it ended up looking like a cathedral, which is culturally specific and has its own baggage). Having an idea rejected like this can be frustrating, but over the years I’ve realized that this is one of the more helpful services visualizations can offer. By having their words reflected back to them as an image, they were able to clarify what they did not mean, and the dialogue moved forward in a better direction.

After some more conversation, I merged the ideas from my last two designs and came up with the graphic below. I moved the images of family leadership work into the leaves, rather than the roots. This suggested that people in communities around the country were already carrying out “next” practices, that the future goal was already here within today’s struggle. The multi-colored soils were meant to represent the diverse cultural and historical roots that fed this work. (At one point I tried to put historical images of family leadership and activism among the roots, but it got WAY too busy.)

peopletree-colorweb

Ann, Jondou, and their colleagues really liked the new direction, but had a few concerns:

  • The image came across as too individualistic. Each person was on their own, rather than connected to larger families or communities. As an alternative, they suggested multiple figures in groups, with arms/branches connected.
  • The landscape, at least to some, read as literally urban (rather than as a metaphor for unwelcoming institutions). They worried this was not inclusive of groups working in rural areas.
  • They wanted more age diversity among the figures, because so much of the work was intergenerational.

After a few more rounds of back-and-forth, we landed on the image below. In the end a wall, rather than a city, was used to symbolize the barriers faced by families. I drew inclusive, diverse groups of connected people, which purposefully did not read as traditional nuclear families. To be sure, it not the kind of graphic whose meaning is immediately clear to a viewer. Rather, it invites exploration, explanation, and discussion. It is as much about the feeling of the work as about the idea of the work.

Though it took a long time, and many re-drawings, ultimately the critiques greatly improved the design. In addition, the design process helped Ann and her colleagues clarify their own mission, goals, and values. Now the FLDC is running collaborative research projects in communities around the country, and I’ve been told that one group used the image to guide their discussions. They asked participants to describe how race and class have shaped their own histories (the roots); to write their hopes and dreams for their children, schools, and communities on cut-out leaves; and to use white note cards as “walls” to represent the barriers and challenges to realizing those hopes and dreams.

All around, a success, though I wouldn’t be surprised if we continued to adapt it going forward.

tree-image-vectors-v3-web

The problem with that equity vs. equality graphic you’re using

[NOTE: November 1, 2016. This post has been updated based on the new things I’ve learned about these images since posting the original article.]

I was doing some work for a colleague at the Family Leadership Design Collaborative, and she gave me a challenge: redesign the “equity vs. equality” graphic that’s been circulating on the web. You’ve probably come across a version of this graphic yourself. There are a bunch of iterations, but basically it shows three people trying to watch a baseball game over the top of a fence. The people are different heights, so the shorter ones have a harder time seeing. I’ve included the original image above, by Craig Froehle.

In the first of two images, all three people have one crate to stand on. In other words, there is “equality,” because everyone has the same number of crates. While this is helpful for the middle-height person, it is not enough for the shortest and superfluous for the tallest. In contrast, in the second image there is “equity” — each person has the number of crates they need to fully enjoy the game.

The distinction between equity and equality is an important one. For example, if we’re talking about school funding, advocating for equality would mean ensuring that all schools had the same amount of resources per pupil (an improvement in most cases, to be sure). On the other hand, advocating for equity would mean recognizing that some schools — like those serving students in low-income Communities of Color — will actually need more resources (funding, experienced teachers, relevant curriculum, etc.) if we are going to make a dent in the educational disparities that have come to be known as the “achievement gap.”

The problem with the graphic has to do with where the initial inequity is located. In the graphic, some people need more support to see over the fence because they are shorter, an issue inherent to the people themselves. That’s fine if we’re talking about height, but if this is supposed to be a metaphor for other inequities, it becomes problematic. For instance, if we return to the school funding example, this image implies that students in low-income Communities of Color and other marginalized communities need more resources in their schools because they are inherently less academically capable. They (or their families, or their communities) are metaphorically “shorter” and need more support. But that is not why the so-called “achievement gap” exists. As many have argued, it should actually be termed the “opportunity gap” because the problem is not in the abilities of students, but in the disparate opportunities they are afforded. It is rooted in a history of oppression, from colonization and slavery to “separate but equal” and redlining. It is sustained by systemic racism and the country’s ever-growing economic inequality.

This metaphor is actually a great example of deficit thinking — an ideology that blames victims of oppression for their own situation. As with this image, deficit thinking makes systemic forms of racism and oppression invisible. Other images, like the one of  different animals having to climb a tree, or of people picking fruit, suffer from the same problem. How would we make these root causes more visible in our “equity vs. equality” image?

Well, if we began with the metaphor of the fence, this would require making clear that the reason some people have more difficulty seeing than others is not because of their height, but because of the context around them. Below is a sketch of this idea. In this image, some people are standing on lower ground (a metaphor for historical oppression) and are trying to see over a higher fence, a metaphor for present-day systems of oppression. (I also put a hole in the fence, made by the person on the right, to symbolize the creative and often subversive ways that people find to work around systems and get some of what they need.)

equalityequity

However, I still don’t love this new version, because nothing is being done here to address the real problem: the fence. So I drew this third image for fun. Though by this point it’s losing a lot of the original images nice simplicity.

justice2

iisc_equalityequityIf you want to play around with this metaphor yourself, check out the 4th Box toolkit. Recently, the people at the Center for Story-Based Strategy and the Interaction Institute for Social Change worked with artist Angus Maguire to recreate the fence image, producing the beautiful version to the right. It went viral, and they noticed a lot of people remixing the image to expand on the concepts. So they collaborated with Maguire again to create an adaptable visual toolbox, which makes it easy to create your own image in the “4th box” as shown below. They’ve been using it to inspire both in-person and online dialogues.

the4thpanel_kit

I still see a lot of drawbacks to the core metaphor, however, so I’ve been on the lookout for others. One I’ve heard, which I think works better, references runners on a racetrack. On an oval track, the outer lanes are actually longer than the inner lanes. If everyone started at the same place, some would have to run farther than others. So, naturally, we start runners at different places along the track. Here’s a mock-up of this metaphor, though it assumes that you already know about the different lengths of each lane:

track

Beyond this, I haven’t had any major breakthroughs, and the idea of life as a “race” isn’t very appealing to me. Fortunately, I was not the only one trying to figure this out. Meyer Memorial Trust and Northwest Health Foundation had similar concerns, so they launched the Equity Illustrated contest, asking Oregonian artists to take up the challenge.

First place winner Salomé Chimuku rejected the simple metaphoric approach all together, noting that “equity isn’t about watching baseball.” Instead she offers a series of cartoon portraits of friends, with quotes from each illustrating a different aspect of equity. The result has the quality of a conversation. Here’s a sample. You can download the whole pdf HERE.

 

salomepdf-4

 

The third place illustration, from Matt Kinshella, is also pretty great. It keeps the simplicity of the fence image, but puts aside the baseball metaphor for a more concrete example — one close to my heart as someone invested in community work.

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It may seem that I am reading too much into these images. Certainly they were all created with the best of intentions. But metaphors are important. They help us understand new ideas by referencing things we already know. At the same time, they shape our experience, opening us up to some ideas while closing us off to others. The mental shorthand we use to understand “equity” will affect how we go about fighting for it.

In the spirit of keeping the conversation going, I’ll end with this image from Sam Killermann, which I find pretty amusing, and which you can buy in poster or t-shirt form.

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The Art of Restorative Questions

We live in a punitive culture. We are so used to punishment as the go-to solution for any behavior we want to change, that it can be difficult to imagine other options. A group of artists, organized by Project NIA, are here to help us.

When it comes to discipline and punishment, we seem to be reaching a tipping point. The number of people incarcerated in the US has become so outrageously large, that bi-partisan support (a rare thing these days) is building up behind criminal justice reform. People are (re)considering alternatives to incarceration, particularly for non-violent crimes. In schools, too, it has become clear that a largely punitive approach to dealing with behavior “problems” has only led to more problems. Schools hand out unconscionable numbers of suspensions and expulsions. This disproportionately harms low income Students of Color, exacerbates the large opportunity gaps that already exist, and fosters what has come to be known as the school-to-prison pipeline.

In response, we have seen rapid growth of the restorative justice movement, which offers a radically different approach. Restorative justice asks that we make a paradigm shift in the way we think about “crime” and “misbehavior.” As Dr. Carolyn Boyes-Watson at the Center for Restorative Justice at Suffolk University explains,

“Rather than privileging the law, professionals and the state, restorative resolutions engage those who are harmed, wrongdoers and their affected communities in search of solutions that promote repair, reconciliation and the rebuilding of relationships. Restorative justice seeks to build partnerships to reestablish mutual responsibility for constructive responses to wrongdoing within our communities. Restorative approaches seek a balanced approach to the needs of the victim, wrongdoer and community through processes that preserve the safety and dignity of all.”

Within this realm, practitioners have developed a wide range of “restorative practices” — such as victim-offender dialogues and peacemaking circles — often drawing on conflict resolution practices from indigenous societies around the world. But restorative justice cannot be reduced to a set of practices. It is a way of thinking about and approaching conflict. It requires a shift in how we relate to one another. It is about developing a restorative culture in our schools and communities.

If this seems daunting, a new arts-based campaign offers a simple, but powerful, starting point. The effort was catalyzed by Project NIA, an influential Chicago-based organization dedicated to “participatory community justice” (which encompasses restorative justice as well as more systemic approaches like transformative justice). Project NIA brought together a group of (mostly) Chicago artists to create restorative justice posters. These stunning posters feature “restorative questions,” drawn from the work of Margaret Thorsborne.

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The posters, and the questions they pose, are deceptively simple. However, if we were to truly use these questions as our starting point to address crime, violence, and conflict, we would find ourselves veering far from the punitive path. To ask someone who has been harmed, “What is needed to make things right?” is to privilege healing over retribution.  To ask someone who has done harm, “Who do you think has been affected by what you did?,” is to assume that learning and growth are possible.

All posters are available for public download. Print out your favorites and hang them in your neighborhood. I’m definitely going to be putting some up in the schools I work with here in Salt Lake City, where restorative practices are just beginning to gain traction. If you take a photo of the posters you hang, you can share it with the project by emailing it to transformchi2013@gmail.com.

Shifting from punitive to restorative approaches to justice and discipline will take more than learning new practices. It will require what Jeff Chang calls a “collective leap of imagination.” Fortunately, catalyzing our imaginations is something many artists excel at. As it says on the restorative posters website, “Artists help us to imagine new worlds. Let’s keep imagining together.”

 

 

What’s Hip-Hop Got to Do with Education?

This post has been re-posted from the Utah Museum of Fine Arts blog, and was written by UMFA intern Courtney-Rae Reinecke. It reports on an event that I had the chance to work on with the museum, as well as many other partners, back in May. Enjoy!

“This ACME Session had such a block party vibe!” —ACME Session participant

“This ACME Session had such a block party vibe!” —ACME Session participant

Outside the Glendale Branch of the Salt Lake City Public Library, break dancing erupted when DJ Dynamic started busting out the beats. Onlookers ate pizza and enjoyed the dancing and music, while artist Zach Franzoni from Mestizo Institute of Culture and Arts prepped canvases for a collaborative graffiti session. As the crowd swelled (ultimately to some 200 people), so did the excitement for what this May 11 ACME Session hosted by the Utah Museum of Fine Arts—“What’s Hip Hop Got to Do with Education?”—had in store.

ACME (Art. Community. Museum. Education.) is the UMFA’s outreach initiative dedicated to rethinking the public role of the museum. These bimonthly ACME Sessions bring together Salt Lake City’s most creative, inventive, and cross-disciplinary minds—K–12 educators, artists, museum professionals, university faculty and students, engineers, scientists, technologists, activists, researchers, and others. May’s session was designed to demonstrate the value of hip-hop as a relevant educational vehicle.

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“Performing lyrical brain surgery so we can see new visions of our one world” —excerpt from Jarred Martinez and Saia Langi’s poem

Jarred Martinez and Saia Langi from Truth Cypher, a Salt Lake-based community of writers, storytellers, and spoken word artists, started the session with a poem. They talked about the importance of school but also how hip-hop can help teachers connect with their students in more meaningful ways.

Jorge Rojas, UMFA director of education and engagement, gave a bilingual rundown of the ACME initiative. Paul Kuttner, the University Neighborhood Partners’ Education Pathways Partnership manager, explained that this session was designed to recognize hip-hop culture’s approach to learning and how to use it to transform traditional schooling methods to better serve our diverse youth.

acme_lab_may_2016_21Kuttner turned the audience’s attention to a poster that explained the original four “elements” of hip-hop, each of which line up with a different kind of “intelligence,” as proposed by Harvard University professor Howard Gardener’s theory of multiple intelligences.

Keynote speaker Robert Unzueta, a hip-hop and social justice professor at the University of Utah, then jumped in to explain that hip-hop is both an art medium that gives voice to marginalized communities and also a venue for knowledge production. He taught participants that marginalized communities use hip-hop as tool to engage in critical dialogue and action against social injustices. After Unzueta read Tupac Shakur’s “The Rose that Grew from Concrete,” participants split into four breakout sessions to deepen the conversation:

  • Graffiti Art—Visual-Spatial Intelligence led by Franzoni.
  • Hip-Hop Dance—Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence led by Josh Perkins and the BBoy Federation
  • Turntablism & Producing—Musical Intelligence led by Luis Lopez, then-program coordinator of Artes de Mexico en Utah
  • Emceeing/Poetry—Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence led by Martinez and Langi from Truth Cypher

These stations provided four different contexts in which to explore two specific questions: “How does learning, teaching, and social change happen through hip-hop?” and “How can hip-hop culture help us rethink and transform schooling?”

After two rounds in which all participants discussed both questions, everyone joined together in a cypher of chairs to conclude the evening. A hip-hop cypher is a space for dancers or emcees to create room for each other to have their time and then step back so someone else can have their time, a place for listening and building off what others have to say. In this cypher, participants explained what they did and what they learned, sparking a discussion among the educators, parents, and students who gathered. All expressed their wishes to integrate what they learned in the Acme Session into traditional schooling.

Because of the excitement triggered by this ACME Session’s enthusiastic turnout, session leaders proposed a follow-up meeting to maintain the momentum, from bringing together a larger “think tank” in the Salt Lake City area to creating workshops for educators and artists. Stay tuned for more upcoming events!

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P.S. Here’s a list of resources compiled by the session leaders that you can use to explore how to integrate hip-hop into your own curriculum and classrooms!

Books

Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation by Christopher Emdin

Hip-Hop Genius by Sam Seidel

Black Noise by Tricia Rose

Hip-Hop Wars by Tricia Rose

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop by Jeff Chang

Schooling Hip-Hop: Expanding Hip-Hop Based Education across the Curriculum, edited by Marc Lamont Hill and Emery Petchauer

The Organic Globalizer: Hip Hop, Political Development, and Movement Culture, edited by Christopher Malone and George Martinez

Black Noise by Tricia Rose

The Art of Critical Pedagogy by Jeffrey M Duncan Andrade

The Hip-Hop Reader by Tim Strode and Tim Wood

Holler If You Hear Me by Michael Eric Dyson

That’s The Joint Reader by Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal

Organizations

#HipHopEd, a network co-created by hip-hop educator Christopher Emdin

B.Love, the website of hip-hop educator Bettina Love

Hip Hop Congress

High School For Recording Arts, an entire school focused around hip-hop and music production

The Good Life Organization, a Chicago-Based group that developed the “Fulfill the Dream” curriculum

Videos

Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation

Hip-Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education

Hip hop, grit, and academic success: Bettina Love at TEDxUGA

 

USDAC Statement on Syrian Refugee Crisis

Today I am reposting a statement from the US Department of Arts and Culture, calling on artists and creative activists to step up in this time of increased xenophobia, and to stand for empathy and justice. The image above is We Are Not Numbers, by Heba Al Akkad, part of a collection curated at the World Bank.

The USDAC calls on all artists and creative activists to use our gifts for compassion and justice, sharing images, performances, experiences, writings, and other works of art that raise awareness, build connection, cultivate empathy, and inspire us to welcome those who are forced from homes that are no longer safe.

More than four million Syrians have been driven from their homes, becoming refugees. Although state governors hold no power to bar entry to the U.S., a short time after the acts of terrorism that took lives in Beirut and Paris, more than half have issued statements rejecting Syrian refugees within their borders. Polls have shown that many Americans oppose accepting Syrian refugees. Poll results from the 1930s and 1940s showed majority opposition to accepting German child refugees and Jews; and from the 1970s majority opposition to the admission of refugees from Southeast Asia.

Once again, we must ask:

Who are we as a people?
What do we stand for?
How do we want to be remembered?

As a culture of fear and isolation? Or as a culture that values every human life, extending love and compassion to newcomers needing refuge?

As a people-powered department, we honor the stories of those whose ancestors were brought here by force, those who sought refuge here, and those rooted on this land before others arrived. Together, we can choose to create a culture of belonging, welcoming new culture-bearers. Together, we can live up to the promise inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome….

We join together in affirming to all public officials and policymakers that a culture of fear and isolation cannot stand. We join together in applying our gifts to sustaining a culture of compassion and justice. We stand together with generations of creative activists in communities across the nation who have been envisioning and working toward a world of equity and belonging for all.

Signed by:

Maribel Alvarez, Minister of Public Sentiment, Tucson, AZ
Liliana Ashman, Story Hunter-Gatherer, New York, NY
Caron Atlas, Minister of Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts, Brooklyn, NY
Judy Baca, Minister of Sites of Public Memory, Venice, CA
Daniel Banks, Catalytic Agent, Santa Fe, NM
Jack Becker, Public Art Mobilizer, St. Paul, MN
Roberto Bedoya, Secretary of Belonging, Tucson, AZ
Ted Berger, Senior Policy Advisor, New York, NY
Ludovic Blain III, Chief Political Wonk, Berkeley, CA
Larry Bogad, Minister of Tactical Performance, Berkeley, CA
Eric Booth, Head Cheerleader for Teaching Artists, High Falls, NY
Amelia Brown, Minister of Emergency Arts, Minneapolis, MN
Sarah Browning, Minister of Poetry and Public Life, Washington, DC
Con Christesen, Cultural Agent, St. Louis, MO
Chrislene DeJean, Cultural Agent, Boston, MA
Maria De Leon, Minister of Inclusive Leadership Transformation, San Antonio, TX
Martha Diaz, Minister of HIp Hop Education, New York, NY
Jayeesha Dutta, Cultural Agent, New Orleans, LA
Dana Edell, Secretary of Creative Sparks, Brooklyn, NY
Hayden Gilbert, Cultural Agent, Cleveland, OH
Arlene Goldbard, Chief Policy Wonk, Lamy, NM
Beth Grossman, Cultural Agent, Brisbane, CA
Lynden Harris, Cultural Agent, Cedar Grove, NC
Mattice Haynes, Cultural Agent, Decatur, GA
Jon Henry, Cultural Agent, Harrisonburg, VA
Barry Hessenius, Minister of Nonprofit Arts Organizations, San Anselmo, CA
Bob Holman, Minister of Poetry and Language Protection, New York, NY
Adam Horowitz, Chief Instigator, Santa Fe, NM
Denise Johnson, Cultural Agent, Baltimore, MD
James Kass, Secretary of Belief in The Next Generation, San Francisco, CA
Paul Kuttner, Minister of Cultural Scholarship, Salt Lake City, UT
Dave Loewenstein, Cultural Agent, Lawrence, KS
Kate McNeely, Action Maestr@, New York, NY
Liz Maxwell, Chief Dot Connector, New York, NY
Angela Miles, Master of Swag, Philadelphia, PA
E. Ethelbert Miller, Minister of Sacred Words, Washington, DC
Jaléssa Mungin, Deputy Deputy, Philadelphia, PA
Meena Natarajan, Radical Equity Catalyst, Pangaea Division, Minneapolis, MN
Martha Richards, Senior Strategist for Women Artists, Berkeley, CA
Favianna Rodriguez, Secretary of Cultural Equity, Oakland, CA
Julianna Ross, Cultural Agent, Seattle, WA
Sebastian Ruth, Secretary of Music and Society, Providence, RI
Allison Schifani, Lead Initiative Investigator, Bureau of Speculative Acts & Technologies of Empathy, Cleveland, OH
Michael Schwartz, Cultural Agent, Tucson, AZ
Shirley Sneve, Tribal Liaison, Lincoln, NE
Jessica Solomon, Chief Weaver of Social Fabric, Baltimore, MD
Elizabeth Streb, Action Architect, New York, NY
Jack Tchen, Secretary of Curiosities, New York, NY
Julia Terry, Cultural Agent, Philadelphia, PA
Makani Themba, Minister of Revolutionary Imagination, Detroit, MI
Fabiola Torralba, Cultural Agent, San Antonio, TX
Ali Toxtli, Cultural Agent, Passaic, NJ
Carlton Turner, Minister of Creative Southern Strategies, Atlanta, GA
Mark Valdez, Minister of Ensemble Creativity, Los Angeles, CA
Veena Vasista, ArtReach Coordinator, Santa Fe, NM
Lily Yeh, Urban Alchemist, Philadelphia, PA
Betty Yu, Cultural Agent, Brooklyn, NY
Roseann Weiss, Cultural Agent, St. Louis, MO
Yolanda Wisher, Rhapsodist of Wherewithal, Philadelphia, PA
Steve Zeitlin, Minister for Art in Everyday Life, New York, NY

Celebrating Joe Hill on Labor Day

“The Copper Bosses killed you Joe,
They shot you Joe” says I.
“Takes more than guns to kill a man”
Says Joe “I didn’t die”
Says Joe “I didn’t die”

— Paul Robeson (and many others), Joe Hill

This past Saturday I took my three-year-old son down to Sugar House Park in Salt Lake City for the Joe Hill Centennial Celebration. The event — which included food, printmaking, and of course lots of good folk music — took place on the site of the former prison where Hill was executed, 100 years ago this November. In honor of labor day, I, too, want to take a moment to celebrate the life and art of one of the labor movement’s foremost cultural organizers.

A Swedish immigrant who came to the US in 1902, Joe Hill worked as an itinerant laborer in cities across the country including New York, Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Portland. In 1910, while working on the docks in San Pedro, Hill joined the International Workers of the World (IWW). A long-time agitator and an organizer, Hill was, at heart, an artist. He played played multiple instruments, drew cartoons, wrote poetry, and, most famously, wrote some of the labor movement’s most memorable songs. As Michael Löwy writes, for Hill, to be an artist meant to be a “rebel.”

While awaiting execution, Joe Hill wrote, in two separate letters: “I have lived like an artist and I shall die like an artist,” and “I have lived like a rebel and I shall die like a rebel.” For him, being an artist and a rebel were the same.

Hill’s songs, which were featured in the Wobblies’ “little red songbook,” celebrated the power of unions, criticized scabs, and promoted class consciousness. He once wrote, pragmatically if a bit paternalistically,

A pamphlet, no matter how good, is never read more than once, but a song is learned by heart and repeated over and over. And I maintain that if a person can put a few common sense facts into a song and dress them up in a cloak of humor, he will succeed in reaching a great number of workers who are too unintelligent or too indifferent to read.

Hill was convicted of the murder of a Salt Lake City grocer and his son, on very circumstantial evidence, and executed by firing squad. But his influence on radical labor culture lives on — even, apparently, in the city that killed him. Below I share a couple of his classic songs, but first, his last wishes:

My body? Ah, if I could choose,
I would to ashes it reduce,
And let the merry breezes blow
My dust to where some fading flowers grow.

Perhaps some fading flowers then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my last and final will.
Good luck to you.