Art and Democracy


Arts & Democracy builds the momentum of a growing movement that links arts and culture, participatory democracy, and social justice.

Arts & Democracy cross pollinates culture, participatory democracy, and social justice. We support cultural organizing and cross-sector collaborations; raise the visibility of transformative work; connect cultural practitioners with activists, organizers, and policymakers; and create spaces for reflection.

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The Project grew out of the National Voice 2004 campaign that engaged groups committed to constituencies who are underrepresented in the American decision-making. Through a series of convenings we learned what has, and hasn’t, been effective in building closer ties between arts and culture and sustained and strategic activism. Building on this knowledge we developed our program and decentralized network to creatively support transformative change.

What we do:
Arts & Democracy puts arts and culture on agendas where it hasn’t been before, connects artists, cultural organizers, and activists who wouldn’t otherwise know each other, and creates the connective tissue and generative environment needed for cross sector collaboration to succeed.

  • We share resources through our website, newsletters, social media, and presentations highlighting creative work that furthers immigration reform, environmental justice,equitable development, participatory democracy, and human rights.
  • Bridge Conversations bring to life the remarkable people who make change at the intersection of generations, cultures, sectors and geographies.
  • Cultural organizing workshops draw on our framework for building a robust practice where culture is fully integrated into organizing.
  • Our urban planning course links arts, culture, and participatory planning through experiential learning.
  • Networking events, roundtables, and conference calls raise the visibility of art and social justice and connect artists, cultural organizers, activists and policymakers.
  • Strategic partnerships connect community-based creative practice with policymaking and systemic change. With Service Employees International Union (SEIU) we are creating an artist in residency program to tell the stories of workers and their communities and provide a liberating experience of creation. With Participatory Budgeting NYC, we are integrating arts and culture into a neighborhood-based process of participatory democracy across the city.
  • We participate in NOCD-NY, a citywide alliance seeking to revitalize New York City from the neighborhood up.

Arts & Democracy is a fiscally sponsored project of State Voices


For more information on Art and Democracy please visit—

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Cultural Organizing for Social Change in New Orleans

July 19, 2014, Blue Plate Artist Lofts, New Orleans, LA

Two dozen artists and activists from the New Orleans area gathered for the 4th annual Cultural Organizing workshop, produced by Arts & Democracy in collaboration with Junebug Productions.

Cultural Organizing for Social Change, Frankfort, KY

Saturday, May 10, 2014, KY Domestic Violence Association, Frankfort, KY

Over 40 artists, organizers, activists and policy advocates from across Kentucky and beyond came together to participate in this day long workshop focused on Cultural Organizing for Social Change in Kentucky.  While the group was quite diverse, they shared a belief in the power of art & culture to advance social justice for all Kentuckians. The purpose of the workshop was to connect individuals, organizations and resources to create and sustain cultural organizing as a statewide strategy.

Cultural Organizing for Community Change, Frankfort, KY

Cultural Organizing for Community Change (Frankfort, KY) provided a space where artists, activists, cultural workers, organizers and educators from across Kentucky came together to strengthen their relationships, and deepen their capacity to use the tools of creativity, imagination, and culture for social justice organizing. This participatory workshop featured case studies, tools, strategies, networking and relationship building.

Culture, Planning, and Community Engagement Course

This experiential mini-course for Pratt Institute’s Programs for Sustainable Planning and Development investigated arts and culture, broadly defined, as a critical part of envisioning and building an equitable and sustainable Chicago. Through site visits, tours, and conversations with practitioners and policymakers we explored the intersection between arts, culture, media and participatory planning.

Stories & Places

March 5, 2013

Cultural practice and artistic expression breathe life into communities.They create opportunities for individuals and institutions to transform their sense of self and relationships with one another, and share their local traditions and ways of being.   

This conference call looks at the power of place-based culture to create community narratives, advance racial and economic equity, promote participatory democracy, and foster self-determination and inclusion in rural communities.  We will hear from five presenters about culturally-based work in a diverse range of contexts addressing themes that include traditional practice, opportunities for young people as emerging leaders, cultural economies, ecological and cultural stewardship and cross-sector partnerships.

SEIU artist residencies

Arts & Democracy Project and SEIU (Service Employees International Union) are partnering on artist residencies in six SEIU locals in Miami, Florida; Central CA; Las Vegas, NV; Minneapolis, MN; Toronto, ON; San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Each of the residencies will create an artwork to be presented at the SEIU convention in Denver in May 2012.

Anthropology as Social Activism

Alaka Wali and R. Lena Richardson on drumming circles, sustainable conservation, and valuing difference.

By R. Lena Richardson

You Can’t Evict an Idea Whose Time Has Come

By Caron Atlas

At the recent Policy Link Conference in Detroit, at a session called “Holding Ground,” presenters spoke about maintaining equity in a time of cutbacks. At the end of the session, one of the younger audience members asked where in all this talk of holding ground were the progressive ideas, the vision for the future. His question significantly shifted the room.

ACCESS and the Arab American National Museum

Since 1972, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) has supported community building and empowerment for the Arab-American community in Dearborn, Michigan.  In May 2005, ACCESS opened the first-ever Arab American National Museum devoted solely to Arab-American history and art, in order to exemplify that art nourishes the spirit and helps to build relationships.

Los Angeles Poverty Department

The Los Angeles Poverty Department, founded in 1985 and rooted in Los Angeles’ Skid Row neighborhood, intends to “create performance work that connects lived experience to the social forces that shape the lives and communities of people living in poverty.”  These performances raise consciousness about social and political issues, while also creating opportunities for people to intervene in policy decisions that affect their lives.

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