Pop Culture for Social Change

Pop Culture for Social Change

View the video from our #PopJustice learning exchange

We are thrilled to announce the #PopJustice report series, which illuminates the promise and potential of popular culture strategies to advance social change. #PopJustice was produced by Liz Manne Strategy, and was supported by Unbound Philanthropy and the Nathan Cummings Foundation. The PDF icon Executive Brief provides an overview of the six-volume report series.

Recently, pop culture has been “like an injection of hi-octane fuel into the engine of public discourse about institutional racism, gender identity, immigration, pay equity, and other issues of social justice….In a hyper-connected world where practically anyone, anywhere, can join in the conversation, pop culture is changing and influencing public opinion at a rate never seen before.” (#PopJustice: Volume 1- Social Justice and the Promise of Pop Culture Strategies) We’ve seen that pop culture both creates and perpetuates harmful stereotypes and narratives, and also transforms and reverses them.

What do we mean when we say “#PopJustice”? #PopJustice represents the idea that popular culture can shape our politics, perceptions, and assumptions in profound ways. It means recognizing the impact of TV shows like Will and Grace on the cultural and political climate around the acceptance of LGBT people, or conversations sparked about race after Beyoncé’s release of Formation and her performance of it at the Super Bowl. It also means acknowledging that pop culture can be strategically leveraged towards advancing social justice, and that there’s a role philanthropy can play in supporting that effort. As Paul Silva notes in his blog for the Ford Foundation, “Of course, no one television program, viral video, or hit song can transform culture all by itself.” We need to build an ecosystem that leverages pop culture that tells diverse stories and builds new narratives.

In recent years, Unbound Philanthropy’s arts and culture grantmaking and exploration of pop culture in particular has been greatly informed by the pioneering arts and culture strategies developed by our grantee partners, including Active Voice, ColorOfChange, CultureStrike, Define American, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Moore and Associates, National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Puente Human Rights Movement, The Opportunity Agenda, Revolutions Per Minute, and United We Dream Network.

Convinced that there is a place for pop culture in social change work, Unbound wanted to better understand the role that philanthropy could play in advancing this intersection. In 2015, we partnered with the Nathan Cummings Foundation to co-fund Liz Manne Strategy to create the #PopJustice report series. The research provides a deep and cogent understanding of the pop culture landscape, and elevates case studies of successful interventions. This series also identifies opportunities for future philanthropic investments that can harness and influence pop culture, with the goal of improving public opinion and behavior toward migrants, people of color, and other strategic constituencies

On March 21, Unbound Philanthropy, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and the Ford Foundation held a learning exchange produced by Moore and Associates in New York that brought together more than 70 funders, culture change creators, and strategists for the launch of the #PopJustice report series and a conversation about the promise of pop culture in advancing social justice goals. We highlighted several case studies that represent different types of pop culture media and strategies that advance social justice goals, including: Halal in the Family, 16 and Pregnant, National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, and the Harry Potter Alliance.

The #PopJustice authors’ hope is that their research will provide philanthropy with the confidence to build a collaborative fund. Unbound Philanthropy, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and the Ford Foundation have taken up this challenge with enthusiasm and are at the very initial stages of creating a pooled fund dedicated to pop culture and social change. We have hired Diane Espaldon, a strategy consultant to philanthropy and nonprofits with over 20 years experience, to lead the fund’s design and start-up phase.

NCF, Unbound, and Ford will continue to engage in learning exchanges with diverse stakeholders, and to develop the idea for a collaborative fund. 

In the meantime, here are three steps you can take right now to engage with this work.

Action steps:

1. Read the #PopJustice Report Series and the PDF icon Executive Brief.

Advocates may be particularly interested in Volume 1, which includes case studies, theories of change, and recommendations; Volume 2, which maps the key players and connectors; and Volume 3, a research review.

2. Share these resources with others in your organizations and beyond.

3. If you are interested in more information and staying informed about opportunities to learn and take action, please contact us at: PopCulture@unboundphilanthropy.org.

The #PopJustice series of reports were written by Liz Manne, Joseph Phelan, Thelma Adams, Michael Ahn, Rachel D. Godsil, Jessica MacFarlane, Mik Moore, Meredith Osborne, Brian Sheppard, and Michael Simkovic. Graphic design by Luz Ortiz. Revolutions Per Minute served as the project’s fiscal sponsor. The #PopJustice reports are © 2016 Liz Manne Strategy Ltd. All rights reserved.

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