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Culture Before Politics

In freeing creativity, progressives can once again capture and carry forward our national imagination.

Jeff Chang and Brian Komar

In this article, published in The American Prospect in November 2011, The Culture Group members Jeff Chang and Brian Komar argue that cultural change comes before political change. The authors define culture as “where people make sense of the world, where ideas are introduced, values are inculcated and emotions are attached to concrete change….Or put in another way, political change is the final manifestation of cultural shifts that have already occurred.”

Artists are central, not peripheral, to social change.

When people claim that “cultural strategy” is just the communication strategy for a political campaign, I disagree wholeheartedly. With communication strategy you are still in the action space, meeting the needs of the campaign or reacting to dominant messages in the media. The idea space presents more complex messages. It allows us to deal with contradictions and gray areas. Take the new concept I have been working on, the idea that “migration is beautiful.” It’s very different to say “No on SB 1070” than to say “migration is beautiful,” because the latter message opens up a positive way of seeing migrants, whereas the former statement simply reacts to an immoral law. So when we talk about tomorrow’s cultural policies, we should think about the whole spectrum of activity, from immediate actions to campaigns to ideas, because we need to give artists the space to develop their bodies of work over years.

Culture Matters: Understanding Cultural Strategy and Measuring Cultural Impact

In 2011, The Culture Group decided to investigate how to better support and invest in cultural strategies for social change. “Culture Matters” is the culmination of this endeavor. In addition to a review of extant literature about measuring cultural impact in social justice campaigns, this report contains a summary of interviews with cultural strategy experts, a study of sustainable revenue models through cultural strategies, an article emphasizing the importance of culture, and cutting-edge research about implicit bias. We also developed a list of recommendations to help establish cultural strategy as a field of its own and to guide future research.


AMO offers direct support to artists and cultural workers dedicated to advancing the stories, struggles, and ideas of the 99%. Directly engaged with Occupy and other grassroots movements, AMO provides support to cultural workers who seek to impact the national conversation on the Economy, including production grants, distribution, and PR support. AMO supports artists across art forms, including visual art, music, public interventions, videos, street theatre and more — while creating a national network of artists focused on exposing the real costs of the current crisis, and envisioning a future that puts people before profits. Learn more about AMO here.

Photo by AMO Grantee, Vanessa Bahmani.


Headed up by Yosi Sergant, The Culture Group launched #govote with TaskForce in the weeks leading up to the 2012 election. The campaign developed into over 200 beautiful, creative, interesting and diverse images of the hashtag #GoVote from artists including Shepard Fairey, UPSO, Lisa Congdon, Craig Ward, Michael Freimuth, Love Me, and Munk One.

go vote

In the three days prior to election day, #GoVote was attached to tweets at a rate of once per second, and, at its peak on election day, #GoVote was tweeted over 400 times per minute. 


Top: by Craig Ward

Bottom: Left by Shepard Fairey and right by Katie Daisy

Artists’ Statement on Immigration

Over 100 high profile artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers, comedians, directors, producers, and performers are calling on President Obama and Congress to acknowledge the hope and dignity of the American immigrant story by passing just, fair, and inclusive immigration reform.

Read more: Artists’ Statement on Immigration

Members of the creative community who are speaking out for humane reform include Russell Banks, W. Kamau Bell, Ross Bleckner, Margaret Cho, Teju Cole, Chuck D, Rosario Dawson, Zack De La Rocha, Junot Díaz, Abigail E. Disney, Dave Eggers, Shepard Fairey, Eric Fischl, John Leguizamo, Yo-Yo Ma, Mira Nair, Robert Redford, R.E.M., The Roots, Sarah Silverman, Jose Antonio Vargas, Colson Whitehead, and many others.

Published on, the Artists’ Statement on Immigration Reform says, “Creating a just and humane immigration process is a moral and cultural imperative that secures the future of a vibrant nation. Immigration reform should reflect our shared belief in fairness and inclusion.” Visit for the full statement text.

Migration Is Beautiful 2

Photo Top: Migration Is Beautiful, stencil collaboration by John Carr & Favianna Rodriguez.
Photo Bottom: Emcee & activist, Jasiri X, stands in front of butterfly painting by Favianna Rodriguez. Charlotte, NC

Making Waves:

A Guide to Cultural Strategy from The Culture Group explains the concept of cultural strategy—how it works, and why it matters. We include historical and contemporary examples to bring the theories and concepts to life, and offer practical steps for initiating and deploying cultural strategy. This reference guide is now available to advocacy organizations, foundations, organizers, and artist activists who want to effectively integrate these practices into their social change work. We can arrange for bulk orders of the book as well as presentations based on materials from the guidebook as a training for advocacy organizations, foundations, funder affinity groups, and others interested in learning more about cultural strategy for social change. Please contact [email protected].

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Making Waves: A Guide to Cultural Strategy © 2014 Revolutions Per Minute. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 license, All third party and underlying copyrights contained in the guidebook are reserved.