Power is invisible. That’s part of what makes it tricky to dismantle. Audre Lorde asks us, “What are the words you do not yet have?” – a rallying cry to move from silence to speaking the truth of our experiences. For me, art across time and mediums has played a significant role in raising my consciousness to the injustices I felt in my bones but did not have words to describe. As a communication strategist, I know that we can’t build something new without envisioning it first.
And we’re unequivocally at a moment where building something new is on the table. Over the last few months of the pandemic, we’ve seen shifts in philanthropy as funders across the country have committed to meeting grantee partners where they are. They’re shifting grants to general operating support, reducing reporting restrictions and listening to grantees as they share what they need to do their work. If we were to extend the same ideas to strategic communications, how might we think more creatively about the work and what is truly needed to shift deep narratives and create change on a systems level? This is where public art comes in.
Sabiha Basrai, F. Javier Torres-Campos and Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson recently discussed the why and how of all of this during an incredible panel. Why at this moment we need art for movements, for strategic communication, for challenging the racist structures that hold people down and for building new systems that serve people. And given that urgency, how artists and philanthropy work best together, in community and as partners. Because the agenda that foundations and grantmaking organizations set and fund will play an important role in how communities rebuild the systems and structures we need to care for people and make justice a reality.
The takeaways? Seek to build long-standing relationships rooted in trust and respect by investing in what artists need. To truly support movements, work with artists as strategists, not producers. Radically imagine a new way forward through cultural work that expands the ideas of what is possible.
We invite you to watch a recording of the discussion linked below.
We are so grateful to the incredible panelists who shared their guidance and expertise: