Changing Culture through Media, Art, and Technology

June 24, 2015 Uncategorized

Today, when it comes to social justice, more and more people are talking about culture change. We’re glad to be helping drive that conversation. In fact, we have pioneered and experimented with culture change since our founding.

The field of culture change—like culture itself—is always evolving. It always requires new thinking, new players, new approaches, new conversations.

We love those conversations. Love to have them, love to help keep them happening.

Most recently, in partnership with NEO, we helped pull together a crew of deeply interesting and innovative people to talk about the latest in culture change.

We talked about what culture change looks like today and how to ride the most current waves to the highest level of impact.


  • Michele Lord, President of NEO
  • Mallika Dutt, President of Breakthrough and Board Member of NEO
  • Bridgit Antoinette Evans, President of Fuel and We Power Change
  • Cara Mertes, Ford Foundation’s JustFilms Director Cara Mertes

Here are some highlights of the discussion:

How do we define culture change?
Mallika Dutt: “Culture change is about the transformation of the norms and values in which inequalities live into norms and values that embody dignity, equality, and justice.”

Cara Mertes: “The culture piece can be seen as the place where we make meaning and think about our values and our beliefs.” Culture change can and does occur in our religious communities, our academic communities, and our artistic communities. “That is sort of the space that we want to think about.”

How do we define culture change strategy?
Bridgit Antoinette Evans defined culture change strategy as “a long-term, multilayered approach designed to shift–over time–cultural narratives, values, beliefs and behaviors.”

Mallika Dutt: “As an organization that has embraced the use of media, arts, and technology as a cultural strategy to transform culture from our very inception, [Breakthrough has] had so many years of innovating, learning, succeeding, and failing.”

She described the defining aspects of Breakthrough’s work on immigration and racial justice. “The idea of creating a video game around something as complicated as detention and deportation emerged from some of the young people that we were working with. It’s really important to think about what the form of cultural expression that you’re creating is in terms of whom you’re trying to reach and what you’re trying to transform.”

Mallika also noted the importance of partnership in facing the challenges of culture change. “When you’re talking about long-term narrative shift, the power of partnership and networks is absolutely critical. It’s important to make sure that there is a network of people that you are connected to … There were very few of us that were working on detention and deportation as the issue that we wanted to challenge in the post-9/11 context.” Multiple voices and multiple actors that have a stake in a culture change strategy are strengthened by a mutual buy-in to what they’re doing. “It’s really important to be open to artistic expression and creation and outcomes, and the voice and role of partnerships in the process.”

How do we create leadership in the arts?
Cara Mertes: “Using arts to create leadership in [long-term] projects requires re-engagement over and over again. These are real relationships within the community. These are real leaders that are created in these particular topic areas. You can think of film or art as a leadership creation strategy, not simply as a product. It’s about what people become as they become engaged or practitioners.”

Bridgit Antoinette Evans: “If you’re sitting down to imagine how to change something fundamental, the creativity and innovation of artists belong in the first conversation and the last point of implementation. That’s something that more movements and organizations are beginning to embrace, the intentionality of building long-term strategy. They’re beginning to also align with artists, and artists are beginning to participate at all of those stages of the process, including in the creation of cultural work.”

Other insights.

  • It’s imperative to understand varying levels of access to the arts, certain technologies, and mediums.
  • There is great merit in listening to younger colleagues to find the pulse of what lies outside the traditional idea of content creation.
  • The importance of monitoring and evaluating culture change along with its built-in challenges and need for diverse approaches.

Culture change remains an evolving, innovative, and experimental field. Bridgit Antoinette Evans ended the session with a call for a fundamental change in who we are, how we work, and how we build relationships with the world.