Unbound Philanthropy, Nathan Cummings Explore the Promise and Potential of Pop Culture for Social Change

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Unbound Philanthropy, Nathan Cummings Explore the Promise and Potential of Pop Culture for Social Change

We are thrilled to announce the launch of 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 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 to tell diverse stories and build 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, for example: 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.
The learning exchange that we held on March 21 with the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Ford Foundation 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 energy and excitement were obvious and potent that day and in the conversations that have transpired since.

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 of experience, to lead the fund’s design and start-up phase.

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