Cleveland VOTES came to the Center for Artistic Activism in 2023 with a question: how could they, a civic engagement and voting advocacy organization, create a cultural strategy that would enable them to work with artists and other culture creators and together expand  the ways in which Cleveland voters and communities participate in politics and change-making

More advocacy organizations are asking questions like these, in recognition that their work must be culturally relevant, creative, and innovative in order to be effective.

Together, and with support from their funders, we developed a research plan and assessment of the Cleveland cultural landscape, a Cultural Strategy and Implementation Plan, a series of workshops and events for artists and community members called “More Than My Art,” and a plan for evaluating the impact of these workshops.

“The expertise and the previous and current partnerships that C4AA has allowed us to hone in with more specificity to actually develop a plan. C4AA is both a supporter and a cheerleader, but also a practical partner.”

Erika Anthony, Executive Director, Cleveland VOTES
Erika Anthony, Executive Director, Cleveland VOTES

Our team at C4AA was able to bring our expertise in creative activism research and training. We worked with Cleveland VOTES’s staff to understand how artists and others might best engage with what can feel like complicated electoral politics.

Through our research and assessment process, we learned about the hopes and hesitations that the Cleveland cultural community brought to the table. We set specific objectives and goals with the Cleveland VOTES team and helped to create a plan. We trained their staff and provided curriculum for their More Than My Art workshop series that will run in April 2024. 

Erika Anthony talked about this work at our special Arts + Civic Power event on Monday, March 18, from 12-1pm ET.

Cleveland VOTES is giving all of their More Than My Art participants copies of C4AA’s Unleashing Unstoppable Voters Creative Campaigns Toolkit. This toolkit is available for free download to anyone interested in making their voting work more affective and effective.

Why Creative Activism?

Cleveland VOTES defined why they were looking to integrate creative activism into their civic engagement strategy. Here’s what they had to say:

Creative/artistic activism is broadly defined as “a dynamic practice combining the creative power of the arts to move us emotionally with the strategic planning of activism necessary to bring about social change.”

Developing a creative activism component will help Cleveland VOTES achieve the goals of our strategic plan by engaging the art/creative community to help us be more participatory and develop practices that create action to lead to true change. To increase our reach, we must creatively design and experiment with building communities of practice that will work collectively to achieve the desired future state we are so desperately working toward. (Please note that we use “creative activism” and “artistic activism” interchangeably as we describe our work.)

We know that the art/creative community is one of the keys to developing an engagement environment that is healthy, equitable, inclusive and provides opportunities for everyone to share their gifts. When creatives come together with other sectors in a healthy, empowering environment, we will be able to engage with community members in new ways that not only produce better outcomes but also result in a critical investment in civic capacity for communities. This increased civic capacity will support holistic, community-driven investments in neighborhoods, which will increase social capital and helps make community development as much about people as it is about place. A creative activism strategy is an important component of our work for reasons including the following:

  1. It can reach a wider audience: Creative activism can attract people who might not otherwise be interested in social and political issues. By using art and creativity, activists can engage people in a way that is both entertaining and informative.
  2. It can be more memorable: People are more likely to remember a creative performance or art installation than a lecture or speech. By creating memorable experiences, creative activists can help to raise awareness and change attitudes.
  3. It can inspire action: Creative activism can be a powerful motivator for people to take action. By using art and creativity, activists can make social and political issues more tangible and urgent, inspiring people to get involved and make a difference.
  4. It can be a catalyst for change: Creative activism can often generate media attention, which can help to spread the message and raise awareness of an issue. By creating a buzz, activists can push for change and create momentum for social and political movements.
  5. It can empower marginalized communities: Creative activism can provide a platform for marginalized communities to express themselves and tell their stories. By giving a voice to those who are often overlooked or ignored, creative activism can help to empower people and create positive social change.

Contact us if you’re an advocacy organization looking for help with cultural strategy, creative activism research, working with your cultural community, or implementation of creative advocacy campaigns.

Photos of More Than My Art launch event March 2024 by Ryan Harris