2016 was an amazing leg in the Intelligent Mischief adventure. We laughed, we cried, we made new friends...Now, before you stop reading, please know that this isn’t your typical donation appeal letter. You’ve given to us all year round in so many ways and we’re already super grateful. We’ve also learned to operate on a very tiny budget, (amazing, I know!), so while we would appreciate a contribution at any time, this isn’t that ask. We’re sincerely processing our past year of mischief making, capturing our lessons and genuinely want to share those with you, especially if you’re pop culture nerds like we are. In no particular order, here are 10 tips for shifting culture for social change based on our experiences in 2016.
Channeling the trickster in social change work oftem means straddling many different modes of operating at the same time.
This year we moved as artists, consultants, facilitators, trainers, designers, and cultural organizers. We dug deep into our idea of ourselves as a col-lab-oratory/lab, truly fulfilling our mission by “experimenting with different forms of civil society” trying to learn where the sweet spot is at the nexus of popular culture and social change. Sometimes we brought creative strategies into social justice spaces like our work with Ujima Project and Movement NetLab and other times we ensured that social justice values and principles were guiding cultural production. Overall it was exhausting but dope and we’d do it all again!
LESSON #2: It takes approximately 2.5 years to write a book if you are not an experienced author.
Some of you know about the Black Body Survival Guide. For those who don’t know we often tell folks it’s a multi-media compilation of tips, tricks, and tools to survive with a black body in a so-called “post-racial” society. We’ve been working on the project since February 2014 in one form or another. We have convened over 200 people with black bodies to hack survival and started actually writing the book in the Summer of 2015. We wrapped content on the book and are doing some edits and a bit of formatting before we connect again with potential publishers. Along the way we met several independent authors who told us that they also took anywhere from 2.5 to 3 years to write their books after coming up with the initial concept. That made us feel extremely relieved! We also realized that we had the added challenge of figuring out how to write a book collectively.
LESSON #3: Less talking more doing; less meeting more liming.
Right around the middle of 2016 we got really tired of meetings. It just felt like we needed to challenge the assumption that the secrets of social change were hidden in a long formal meeting somewhere. Now don’t get us wrong. We truly appreciate and understand the importance of meetings for getting work done but we felt that we were losing touch with the important aspect of social change work that involved just being with each other and with our people, having a good time, chilling, liming, eating, drinking, sharing a laugh etc. We also felt that we were spending so much time planning and that we needed desperately to just try things. To prototype and fail fast rather than creating the perfect plan for the perfect solution to an age old problem. So, in 2017 we want to do a little less talking and planning, and more doing, trying, experimenting and prototyping. We also want to do way fewer unnecessary meetings and just hang out and lime. Come to think of it, I bet most meetings are called because people just want to spend time together. Of course, this past year we launched our series of LIMES to bring people together, to connect, collaborate and uplift creatives of color in Boston. In 2017 we’re hoping to focus less on the programmatic goals of LIME and really find ways to spend quality time with the creatives and activists we love and admire, really get to know each other and strengthen our sweet community.
Black renaissance requires intellectuals, artists/creatives, and patrons.
As we explore what’s coming after Black Body Survival Guide we started thinking about Black Liberation and asking ourselves what is black liberation organizing. We were struck by the concept of Black Renaissance as a cultural movement that gives birth to a culture of liberation that makes liberation organizing and system change possible. As we nerded out on all this we found over and over the elements of Black Renaissance were popping up and tugging at our hems. We realized that there was something essential about naming the cultural moment, documenting it and then creating intentional networks of thought leaders, artists and culture makers and patrons/dedicated funders.
DJs are still saving lives on the dance floor.
“ Movies are real! Music is real! It affects people, it’s real...The other night I went to a club and I watched a DJ control and entire room. Even politicians can’t do that.” Prince Rogers Nelson.
This year we had the opportunity to collaborate with some of our favorite Boston DJs - [DJ Raq Starr, Oxycontinental, and Haro Caz] during our second Fete Forward Festival. We also hosted DJ Nomadik at our collaboration with MIT Media Lab to celebrate the life of Prince and the power of the cooperative movement during the Co-op Disco Tech. IM Collective member, Chrislene, also debuted as DJ BlVck No!ze. As part of our exploration of culture shifting we’re more convinced than ever about the important role of music makers, song writers and DJs in healing hearts, changing minds, and getting us moving for solidarity. In 2017 we’ll be working harder than ever to integrate sound, music, and dance as part of our social justice activism.
Sometimes the solutions aren’t always very clear and you just have to hack it.
We went back to our original roots this year with four cultural hacks of our own in 2016. We co-facilitated a Reparations hack with Ed Whitfield from the Fund for Democratic Communities at the at the New Economy Commonbound conference in Buffalo, NY and another one at the Black Land & Liberation Initiative convening in Whitakers, North Carolina. We also co-facilitated an Anti-Displacement hack called Strategies for Staying Power at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit and did a Sci Fi for Social Change hack for students from Northeastern University. We also spent some time in experimentation and play with the Design Studio for Social Intervention during their weekly SPIT design sprints. We had so much fun prototyping and hacking creative solutions for social justice issues and are looking forward to hacking the heck out of 2017!
Small is beautiful.
Sometimes big things come in small packages. We received meaningful support in the form of small grants from RESIST foundation, the New England Grassroots Foundation and the Boston Impact Initiative. These contributions of $5,000 or less were just what we needed to test important ideas, focus our energies, and experiment with our business model. This enabled us to travel to attend amazing gatherings, strengthen our relationships with collaborators and spend time in deep reflection.
Access to space is essential for marginalized groups to maintain cultural visibility.
In Boston, like most rapidly gentrifying cities, space is at a premium. We know that access to affordable space is what allows creatives and culture makers to thrive. Boston needs studio space, performance venues of different sizes, meeting space, exhibit space and more. This year we were grateful to discover new spaces and to spend time with other creatives at spaces like The Inner Sanctum, Make Shift Boston, and The Record Company. We also were able to have a writing retreat for BBSG at Old Oak Dojo. We’re grateful for these different types of spaces and are looking forward to liberating some more space in Boston in the coming year.
Networked social movements are the way forward.
In the past year we strengthened our relationship with Movement Net Lab which is a think and do tank that studies and support the role of Decentralized Networks in Social Change Movements. We’re working with the Within Our Lifetime Network to uplift the stories of communities responding to racialized state violence in the hopes of catalyzing a translocal network of communities on the ground. We also attended the BAJI conference and got to know the Black Immigration Network and joined the Art x Culture x Social Justice Network.
In September we attended the Movement Strategy Center Transition Lab in Mt. Madonna, California and experienced a week of deep spiritual connection and activation for social change that centered on strengthening embodied practice for social transformation. The MSC Transition Community is a Beloved Community of people that practices placing Love at the center of social transformation. Out of this community the transition community responded to the presidential election with the #LeadwithLove statement.
So those are our 10 tips we learned from this past year of culture shifting. We hope they can provide you with lessons for your own culture shifting projects. We would love to hear your thoughts on our tips or any culture shifting lessons you may have.