Arts and culture in just transition organizing

Excerpt, Common Dreams, May 2021,

A central feature of the failed neoliberal experiment was the understanding that inequality of wealth and rights was accepted as a feature and force of economic growth, as Shoshanna Zuboff articulated in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. In fact, our neoliberal economic system requires a continual supply of cheap land, natural resources, and labor to generate never ending economic growth and extreme profits for the few. At its root, our “extractive economy” is underpinned by a worldview rooted in consumption and colonialism, using resources that have to be dugdumped, then burned, and ardently supported and defended by militarism.

Our economy is no longer compatible with continued life on earth. We have hit our planetary boundaries. The answer is in the unknown, but far from colonizing Mars our future lies in our own creative practices rooted in a framework of just transition. As environmental justice group Movement Generation says, transition is inevitable, but justice is not. A just transition means moving towards a regenerative economy, characterized by explicit anti-racist, anti-poverty, feminist, intersectional approaches to living. Rather than exploiting labor for the profit of a few, it relies upon cooperation and collaboration for the benefit of all. Its purpose is ecological and societal well-being, it is governed by deep democracy, has a worldview of sacredness and care, and approaches resources with a similarly regenerative mindset. Visual artist Micah Bazant created this chart helping us visualize this, and the rest of this article is dedicated to showing how artists, cultural workers, and creative people are deeply engaged in our just futures.

Take a look at this. Next week Mural Arts Philadelphia is dedicating an entire Symposium to conversations at the intersection of art and environmental justice, through a just transition framework. Some of the speakers include, Sins Invalid, a disability justice performance group led by QTBIPOC artists, whose most recent performance before the pandemic lock-down was title “We Love Like Barnacles: Crip Lives in Climate Chaos” which was embodied practice of storytelling that “centers our communities in the throes of climate chaos and our agonized planet.” Sipp Culture, leading in equitable food futures in Mississippi and beyond will be in conversation with Indigenous artists, activists and farmers from Three Sisters Collective and Alas de Agua Collective in O’ga P’ogeh, Santa Fe, New Mexico who recently founded Full Circle Farm.

In a recent piece for The Center for Cultural Power Alexis Frasz wrote, “If we want a just transition, we need transformational cultural strategies.” In it, she highlights the powerful role culture can play in not only waking people up to the crises we face, but also helping people move through the transformational process to build a better world together. First, by feeling and healing the harm that has been caused, and continues to be caused, by systems of exploitation, violence and hoarding, that most significantly impact people of color and poor communities. Second, by imagining a new way of living, and living together. The good news – artists specialize in imagination, it’s kind of their thing. Third, creating (and iterating) new. Stepping into the unknown, and behaving in entirely new ways, as individuals, communities, and societies.

Director and Co-Founder of the Center for Artistic Activism, Steve Lambert reminds us, “Every major social movement throughout time has integrated creativity/art and activism,” and this is no less true today. The role of art in resistance movements is clear. It was a core component of the Black Panther Party, who’s former Minister of Culture, Emory Douglas, readily drew upon transnational and transcultural solidarity as an inspiration for his work. In Take Care of Your Self. The Art and Cultures of Care and Liberation. Sundus Abdul Hadi shares how through his commitment to Black liberation, Douglas readily encountered and collaborated with liberation struggles across the globe, namely the Zapatistas, the Organization of Solidarity of the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Actually, look at this incredibly recent example, Mexico’s Indigenous Zapatistas Are Planning to Invade Spain by Boat, Kind Of. They have already set sail with a trans woman, four women, and two men, and hope to arrive in August, where they will engage in learning sessions to share their vision to combat the inequalities rooted in capitalism, they have meetings planned with NGO’s and various organizations throughout Europe, the first stop on their world tour. The Zapatistas rose to prominence in direct response to disastrous and extractive North-American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and have been “iterating new” ever since, through autonomous and collaborative community building and care. They even invite others to come and learn from their praxis too.

Taking a step back to look at creative and impactful policies. More and more cities are experimenting with Universal Basic Income as a means of closing gaps in social and economic equity, successful pilots of the program have existed since the 1960’s both internationally and within the U.S. and point to the health and well being of communities. This is not a new or novel conversation. Specifically, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, some cities specifically have intentionally worked with arts and culture organizations like Springboard for the Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, CA in centralizing the essential role of artists, particularly BIPOC artists, in the economic recovery of the City. 

As we continue the frontline battle against COVID-19, communities and the culture bearers that are so deeply embedded within communities are acutely aware of the deep shifts that need to occur for communities to feel healthy and safe in the future. There is no going back to the way things were before, it was killing us. Not only have they been telling us, but they’ve been showing us the future.

Sepideah Mohsenian-Rahman is a cultural and social worker caring for people and the planet, she engages in meaningful creative curation with Mural Arts Philadelphia and 12Gates Gallery, and formerly served as the Program Director of US Santa Barbara’s MultiCultural Center. Currently, she is studying liberatory community herbalism at the People’s Medicine School in Ithaca, New York, which builds upon her training as a doula, MSW from Columbia University, and degrees in International Peace and Conflict Resolution, and Religious Studies from American University.


MSC-Love_With_Power_2-Movement_Generation-Cultivating_Home 1

Movement Generation has developed a Just Transition strategy framework with the Our Power Campaign.

After centuries of global plunder, the planet will no longer sustain the industrial economy without massive ecological — and economic — disruption. Transition is inevitable. Justice is not. A just transition is the process of getting from where we are to where we need to be by transforming the systems of economy and governance.

A just transition requires moving from a globalized capitalist industrial economy to linked local living participatory economies that provide well-being for all.

It involves shifting from dirty energy to energy democracy, from funding highways to expanding public transit, from incinerators and landfills to zero waste, from industrial food systems to food sovereignty, from gentrification to community land rights and from rampant development to ecosystem restoration. Workers and communities impacted first and worst must lead the transition to ensure it is just.

Below are a few resources we’ve developed to help deepen understanding and use of the framework.



Just Transition strategy diagram, 2016 EDGE Funders Alliance Version


Design by Micah Bazant.


Just Transition Framework powerpoint presentation

This powerpoint was presented at the opening plenary of the EDGE Just Giving Funders Conference. April 19, 2016.


Movement Strategy Center’s story series “Love With Power: Practicing Transformation for Social Justice”

MG is excited and honored to be featured in Movement Strategy Center’s story series “Love With Power: Practicing Transformation for Social Justice”

Read an excerpt on MSC’s website here.

Click here to download the full PDF.


Pathways to Resilience e-book

MG’s piece in the e-book Pathways to Resilience published by Movement Strategy Center, Kresge Foundation Environment Team, Emerald Cities Collaborative, and the Praxis Project.

Click here to visit the Pathways to Resilience website, with download links to the e-book included.

Filed under: Blog by Ellen Choy
Comments Off on Movement Generation Just Transition Framework Resources< April 30: Race Class & Ecology: Permaculture for the People Community Report BackMG stands with Orlando and our queer and trans family everywhere >


Art & Environment Initiative

Building capacity of organizations nationally

Weaving Culture Dedication with Basurama at the Southwark School in South Philadelphia. Photo by Steve Weinik.


Also Announces the Launch of a New Public Art & Civic Engagement Program, To Which It Is Currently Accepting ApplicationsPRESS RELEASE (PDF)

Mural Arts aims to support other communities interested in using collaborative, participatory arts-based processes to address local environmental issues. Beginning in 2018 with partners in three cities, Akron, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan, and Memphis, Tennessee, the Mural Arts Institute began sharing the Mural Arts model nationally to support cities’ own public art initiatives with the “Art & Environment Capacity Building Initiative.” This application-based program focuses on working with organizations in cities to help them create a sustaining model of their own, one that will allow artists and communities to work together and create well-beyond our involvement.

Our approach is highly collaborative: we seek to share our own knowledge, experiences, and resources while also enabling internal self-discovery for each city and exchange among the cohort as a whole.

Click to learn about the work created through this initiative in Akron , Memphis, or Detroit.

After a successful pilot of this initiative, we are excited to announce three new United States cities for the second round of the program, another two-year initiative (2020-2022). Each city will have its own unique set of conditions and assets with which to work, and we hope to be able to inform work we support elsewhere through documenting the diverse set of approaches that emerge from this initiative.

This work would not be possible without the strategy and program design support we receive in collaboration with Alexis Frasz and Helicon Collaborative.

These community-oriented teams include: 

The Austin, TX Team

In Austin, Texas the collaborative team is headed by Raasin in the Sun , The Mosaic Workshop, and the Austin Creative Alliance , among others. Raasin in the Sun was founded by former Olympian Raasin McIntosh as a placemaking and restorative initiative aimed at inspiring, uniting and uplifting communities within East Austin. The Mosaic Workshop, co-founded by artist/educator J Muzacz, and hosted at Something Cool Studios, is a creative community hub providing access and opportunities for artists to work together and thrive together in East Austin. The Austin Creative Alliance advances and advocates for artists and cultural workers in and around Austin. The focus of their collective work for the Art and Environment Initiative will take place in East Austin, a community historically red-lined and which has seen the disproportionate impact of oil tank farms, power plants, and other toxic industries in a city otherwise praised for its access to nature and clean living. The team will be working with the East Austin Environmental Initiative , which draws upon community activism and citizen involvement to address environmental concern in the area.

The Santa Fe, NM Team

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, Indigenous and Chicanx artists, activists, scholars, and community members that comprise Alas de la Agua Art Collective and Three Sisters Collective are working towards addressing the complex dynamics of colo nial history, cultura l erasure and environmental racism in Santa Fe, O ‘ gha Po ‘ Oghe, Tewa Territory . Alas De Agua Art Collective is an intersectional grass roots space providing resources and opportunities for artists of color, native artists, immigrant, undocumented, and queer artists who have historically and currently been marginalized and not afforded the same resources. They offer opportunities for said artists to provide alternative narratives, and they remove barriers and creatively go around them. Three Sisters Collective utilizes a deconlonial, Pueblo rooted, matriarch-led framework to create an extreme social shift to counteract social and environmental injustices in the community. Indigenous and communities of color in and around Santa Fe have borne the burden of environmental disregard including the storage of nuclear waste on Pueblo territory, the overgrazing of land and overharvesting of plant medicines, contamination of waterways, and heightened vulnerability of women and girls towards violence from temporary workers of environmentally extractive industries (MMIWGT2S).

The Kern County, CA Team

The Kern County, California collaborative team is headed by Dr. Rosanna Esparza, gerontologist & environmental health researcher, and public art & social practice artist, Michelle Glass, MFA. The team is joined by David Gordon, the Executive Director of the Arts Council of Kern . The team is joined by a strong partnership with environmental experts. The Center on Race, Poverty & The Environment with Executive Director Caroline Farrell, JD, provides legal, organizing, and technical assistance to grassroots groups in low-income communities and communities of color. The Central California Environmental Justice Network , directed by Nayamin Martinez, MPH, works toward eliminating harmful environmental impacts, provides technical assistance and oversees the IVAN Network ( Identifying Violations Affecting Neighborhoods ) in the Central Valley. The Central Valley Air Quality Coalition , directed by Catherine Garoupa White, MSW, PhD, ensures that all communities have the opportunity to be involved in air quality policy development, advocacy and regulatory processes improving regional health. Caught between big-oil, big-ag and big greed, the collaborative partnership of the individuals and organizations approach their work with vigor and passion. Their lives depend on it.DOWNLOAD THE FULL PRESS RELEASE ANNOUNCEMENT (PDF)

Installation of Tide Field. Photo by Steve Weinik.

The theme of the second round of the initiative is climate change and resilience.  

Countless studies show that United States cities will experience increasingly severe impacts of climate change over the next few years. Climate change affects us all, but low-income communities and communities of color experience it disproportionately, and they have fewer resources at their disposal to cope with it.

Resilience — the ability to prepare for and cope with change — is critical for communities. Resilience isn’t simply about being able to “bounce back” after a challenge, but also about using the necessity to adapt to the challenge as an opportunity to become stronger. In this case, the need for communities to adapt to the impact of climate change allows them to build on their strengths to address a wide range of needs, improving their overall quality of life and creating a more sustainable future. Critical to this are social cohesion and trust, collaborative civic participation and leadership, equitable access to resources, strong formal and informal networks, cross-sector partnerships, and inclusive and diverse civic spaces. These are precisely the outcomes that Mural Arts has seen from its work with diverse communities throughout Philadelphia.