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Create Stories that Change the World

Blogs Stories Conference 2023 Funding Ecosystem

Erin Williams, Constellations Culture Change Fund & Initiative, The Center for Cultural Power.

Graphic illustration from Constellations' virtual Nebula Convening in May 2022 by Tiare Lani - A dark sky with natural, fluid elements highlighting our community and goals rooted in place and remembering forward with space to dream big. Our purpose of fighting for imagination lights up the night sky.

It was a beautiful day in December 2022 in Oaxaca, Mexico at the Human Rights Funders Network’s Funding Futures Festival, when a group of us from various philanthropic institutions gathered outside to discuss how and why resourcing BIPOC artist disruptors and culture bearers is key to transforming our world. The powerful and poignant Cultural New Deal calls on us “to invest, support, and sustain the builders of our imagination and the keepers of our cultures”.

Artist disruptors and culture bearers are incredibly agile, not only in responding to injustice and holding a mirror reflecting our worldviews, but also in imagining new possibilities and breathing life into them. They help us visualize and manifest a future rooted in liberation, collaboration, care, and interdependence. They accelerate critical societal changes, yet they are systematically under-resourced and overburdened, lacking field infrastructure and supportive spaces to build. To achieve narrative power and cultural justice, they need long-term flexible funding, sustainable community networks, and the space to fully experiment and take risks.

Too often, human rights philanthropy sidelines art and culture, or treats it as a “nice to have”. Artists and culture workers are frequently asked to entertain, not strategize. Further, program officers mainly focus their resources on groups working towards crucial political and economic transformation without connecting the dots.

However, we know that the political, economic, and cultural systems are interwoven and mutually reinforcing. As Jeff Changs notes, “We must wake up and focus our attention in the place that most people are, all of the time, which is culture”. Culture is the very place that people learn to love, share, and appreciate. Global majority folks are rekindling ancestral, indigenous, and historical stories and weaving them with contemporary messages. When these stories connect, they become narratives and, when they gain power, they become mindsets. Mindsets can destabilize the political and economic structures that have excluded, marginalized, and terrorized many people—uncovering new ways for humanity to organize and thrive.

At the Festival, we heard from feminist funders in the Pacific that culture workers and technologists are creating digital copies of islands destined to disappear into the ocean as greedy, racist, neo-capitalist actors bulldoze Mother Nature. Storytellers are creating art and songs to educate and bring communities together to demand climate justice.

As a group, we agreed: this is where human rights philanthropy must step in. There is no social movement in which the arts have not been central to moving hearts and minds. What stories do we want to leave behind? What shared values do we want to proliferate? The choice is ultimately ours.

Housed at The Center for Cultural Power, The Constellations Culture Change Fund & Initiative is a three-year network approach to build collective power among BIPOC artist disruptors, culture bearers, and cultural strategy organizations working at the intersections of art, culture, and social justice across the U.S. We redistribute resources and provide the scaffolding for our network to collaborate and grow through fellowships, general operating support grants, awards, a narrative design lab, and convenings. We were imagined and designed by BIPOC grassroots cultural practitioners from the ground up.

Learn more about the session co-organizers:


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