"Culture Changes Us" Campaign and Retreat Series Launches with Support from Nathan Cummings Foundation

Friday, May 20, 2016

"Culture Changes Us" Campaign and Retreat Series Launches with Support from Nathan Cummings Foundation

New York City—Today, award-winning culture change strategy designer and Nathan Cummings Foundation Fellow Bridgit Antoinette Evans announced the inaugural class of movement leaders from across the United States who will take part in a first-of-its-kind retreat series exploring the power and potential of culture change and pop culture strategy to drive social movements. The retreat series, taking place in New York City from May to October 2016, is the first public program launched by CULTURE CHANGES US, a multi-year campaign created by Evans at the Nathan Cummings Foundation to dramatically accelerate the social justice sector’s understanding and use of culture change strategy design.

Culture change strategy—which Evans defines as “a sustained, multi-layered approach to story design and delivery aimed at shifting deeply entrenched cultural narratives, values, beliefs and behaviors within mass audiences”—has experienced a surge of interest in recent years, with major foundations and leading non-profit organizations increasingly investing staff time and programmatic resources in projects and initiatives that move people in ways that PowerPoint presentations and policy briefs cannot.

“Human beings live in stories,” says Evans, whose culture change studio, FUEL, has for more than 15 years collaborated with many of the nation’s most respected pop culture and social change visionaries. “To not recognize narratives and stories as important sites in which to activate the emotional lives, imagination and creativity of mass audiences in pursuit of social justice is to stand on the sidelines of the American cultural conversation. CULTURE CHANGES US offers a thoughtful, sustained environment for social justice leaders, advocates and philanthropists to immerse, learn and grow together as we navigate our transition into the culture change strategy field.”

Selected based on recommendations from colleagues at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Ford Foundation, Unbound Philanthropy, NoVo Foundation and Wellspring Advisors, the eight leaders taking part in the inaugural retreat series will have the rare chance to freely explore big ideas and cutting-edge methodologies with top practitioners, strategists and thought leaders in this burgeoning field. Through hands-on workshops, master classes and rare access to pop culture artists and industry executives, they will cultivate their creative imaginations, tap into the science and practice of strategic storytelling, and develop a culture change strategy ‘blueprint’ for their organization or movement.

“Social movement leaders need space and support to understand the landscape and levers for shaping culture,” says MacArthur Fellow Ai-jen Poo, co-founder of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and a featured speaker in the retreat series. “Like any terrain of influence and power, in order to build an effective strategy, one must first understand its unique language, openings and opportunities. CULTURE CHANGES US offers movement leaders a chance to ground themselves in the methodology and its possibilities.”

In addition to the retreat series, the CULTURE CHANGES US campaign will also convene an experimental writers room led by award-winning TV writer and playwright Mona Mansour (Showtime’s Dead Like Me) that will see a dozen writers and cultural experts collaborate to develop the concept and story arc for a new game-changing episodic television series; and a portfolio of educational tools that demystify the science of stories and the frameworks of the culture change strategy practice. Among the media offerings is the soon-to-launch podcast, Wonderland, which Evans is developing with CultureLab director Tracy Van Slyke and creative producer Nancy Vitale of Eyes Up Here Productions; and a book project that documents Evans’ 15 years on the frontlines of culture change initiatives focused on issues ranging from child sex trafficking to genocide intervention in Darfur.

Support of this project builds on the Nathan Cummings Foundation’s longstanding belief in the power of arts and culture to engender empathy, and catalyze and advance social change. In recent years, this focus has expanded to include an investigation of pop culture as a potential landscape for innovative narrative and culture change strategies. Selection of NCF Fellows including Andrew Slack of the Harry Potter Alliance (2014) and Evans (2016), both of whom have created successful models for integrating pop culture and movement building, have yielded critical learning opportunities for the Foundation. And in March, the Nathan Cummings Foundation partnered with Unbound Philanthropy and the Ford Foundation to launch #PopJustice, a series of reports that provides an in-depth analysis of the pop culture landscape and identifies opportunities for future philanthropic investments that can harness and influence pop culture, and signals the next evolution of this exploration.

“Culture change is critical to policy change, and artists are central to shaping culture,” says Nathan Cummings Foundation President Sharon Alpert. “We’re excited about pop culture as a promising strategy for shifting culture and dominant narratives, and look forward to continuing this exploration with our fellows, grantees and funding partners.”

The leaders chosen for the CULTURE CHANGES US retreat series are:

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