Culture » Overview

exploring the transformative power of the arts – building bridges across cultures – supporting young cultural innovators

The Salzburg Global Seminar’s Culture and the Arts Program focuses on the transformative power of the arts, facilitates cultural exchange at multiple levels, and provides capacity-building opportunities through the annual Young Cultural Innovators Forum. Through multi-year projects and strategic convenings, the Culture and Arts Program seeks to secure a more prominent role for the arts on policy agendas and to support the continuously evolving needs of the creative sector – as a major driver of sustainable economic development and social improvement – through the multi-year Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators.


Sessions in 2017:

The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage and Renewal 
February 7 to 12, 2017 

Salzburg Global Young Cultural Innovators Forum: Regional Fellows Event
April 27 to 29, 2017

Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators IV
October 14 to 19, 2017

For past sessions, click here

Anida Yoeu Ali - “You can have very powerful conversations without speaking a single word”
Anida Yoeu Ali - “You can have very powerful conversations without speaking a single word”
Andrea Abellan 

Anida Yoeu Ali likes to refer to herself as a “global agitator” It is the best way for her to define the social provocation her art is constantly seeking. The poem she shared with the audience at the opening of the recent Salzburg Global Seminar session The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage and Renewal, set the tone for the following five days, creating a special and inspiring atmosphere: 

I will return to a country I have never known

That burns a hole inside my heart the size of home

The piece, titled Visiting Loss, describes how she felt before returning to Cambodia, her country of origin, after 25 years living in the United States. Her path to self-discovery and reflections about her own identity play a fundamental role in her work. 

Ali combines her work as an Art and Global Studies teacher at the University of Washington Bothell with the development of her own projects through Studio Revolt, a media-lab she manages with the Japanese filmmaker Masahiro Sugano. Together they develop “unconventional narratives” that range from short videos and films to live performances. These projects largely differ to what audiences are used to finding in traditional media, both in terms of content and form. Although she points out that they are not always fully understood by the audience, Ali keeps believing in that “sort of chemistry” that emerges when connecting her creative performances with Masahiro’s special visual aesthetics.

The Buddhist Bug, one of her most recognized projects, is one such example. It consists of a bright, huge, saffron-colored creature that Ali has taken to a number of open spaces. The main goal of this project is to raise awareness about identity and displacement issues. Ali’s body is a fundamental part of the performance as it makes the bug be alive and able to move so it can get closer to people. 

“The work I do would not mean anything without the use of my body,” she explains. “I truly think that arts, and specifically performance, can engage the audience through the energy that our body emits. Of course I want people to ask themselves questions while observing my work, but I also want them be aware of those different emotions that are surfacing. You can have very powerful conversations without speaking a single word.” 

Another important feature that characterizes the Buddhist Bug is the use of humor to talk about challenging and compelling topics. “It leads the audience to reflect on different subject such as the challenges of religious hybridity, or what the sense of belonging and tolerance means. However, people always have to look twice to understand what is really happening. Then they smile, or laugh because in the end they are just looking at a bug,” Ali states.

Her work is usually placed in public spaces; location a key part of her performances. Ali’s goal is to take contemporary arts out of galleries, the “boxes” where artistic representations are frequently trapped. Her hope is to open conversations with bigger populations. The “surprise element” is another of her priorities when building a project. The original – and not discreet – clothes she wears together with her unexpected actions enable her to catch audience’s attention when they less expect it. The artist likes playing with the surprise factor as a form of engagement. 

Even though she recognizes that she could not imagine herself doing anything else rather than arts and teaching, she is very clear when talking about the difficulties that being an artist involves. “You must have a lot of faith and courage to do what you do. As artists we often lack resources and proper support. Also, we are constantly judged, especially in my case as my work is always placed in the street. I get a lot of criticism and judgement by the press and through social media. I guess you need a very thick skin to do this” she declares.

Despite the many difficulties her work involves, she still has many ideas to keep the audience surprised. For instance, she is planning to focus her next project in the United States on the so called “Trumplands,” those areas where the current president was voted for the most. “I am very interested in opening up discussion there. These are mostly rural areas where people do not see difference so they can only imagine what difference means and that often relies just on stereotypes and misinformation,” Ali explains.

When asked about the outcomes she was expecting to achieve through her participation it the session The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage and Renewal, she didn’t hesitate for a second. “I believe we have to create and reinforce these international connections as we have already started to do. We need to break up our bubbles and try to put ourselves on the radar. As artists we should work together for our communities and the world.” 

To conclude, Ali insists on “the need to produce new and innovative projects, instead of keep trying to make old models work – which did not help in the past.” 

The Salzburg Global program The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage, and Renewal is part of the multi-year Culture, Arts and Society series. The session is being supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSculture.

Orijit Sen - "Comics allow the audience to identify with the characters – it lets them enter their world"
Anida Youe Ali
Orijit Sen - "Comics allow the audience to identify with the characters – it lets them enter their world"
Andrea Abellan 
Comics have traditionally been used to tell fictional stories, but the medium can also be an interesting format to portray reality. In fact, in recent years well-established media outlets have increasingly used this storytelling method, publishing cartoons to inform about current affairs. Indian graphic artist and designer Orijit Sen, a participant of the Salzburg Global Seminar session The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage and Renewal, shares his thoughts on the medium and how he has used illustrations to tell difficult and compelling stories. AA: You say that Art Spiegelmann’s graphic novel Maus had a strong influence on you. In this work the artist talks about his own challenges of being in a Jewish family during the holocaust. Do you also find motivation from your own experiences to create your drawings? OS: I am a visual artist and my main goal is to tell stories through my drawings. It is the reason why I prefer to define myself as a “storyteller”. I grew up in India during the 70s – in that time TV was not as common as it is nowadays. I have been drawing since I was a child as comics were the easiest way we had to create our own visual culture. Every time I build a story I fully immerse myself in it first. My work is all about my personal experience so I would never make a piece of a place where I have never been or someone I have never met. I came across Art Spiegelmann’s Maus while I was at college studying graphic design and as soon as I found this piece I realized that serious comics were the thing I wanted to do for my whole life. AA: Your piece, River of Stories, considered to be India’s first graphic novel, talks about environmental, social and political issues surrounding the construction of the controversial dam on the Narmada River. Why do you think comics are suitable medium to raise public awareness? OS: Comics as a medium of storytelling allow the audience to identify with the characters – it lets them enter their world. In my illustrations, I try to be very detailed. I like painting people’s faces, their eyes and gestures, trying to be as accurate as possible. When I finished university, I got involved in an environmental group. We travelled together to Jhabua area, in central India. We met a lot of people there fighting against the dam project. However, the story of all these protests did not make it to the city. People would only see one side of the story: how great it was to have electricity and other facilities thanks to the dam construction. They did not reflect on how much did that the electricity cost and how many people had been displaced to pay for it. Stories like this one are usually told by figures and numbers so it is hard for individuals to relate to them. You can of course understand what it means when 1,000 people have lost their homes if you read about it, but it is not the same as when you can see it. Comics help us to engage with a topic and become immersed in it. You are one of the founders of the Pao Collective, which seeks to supports comics as a medium in India. How would you describe the state of comics industry in the country? The status of comics has evolved a lot since I first published River of Stories in 1994. Mainstream publishers are relying on Indian cartoonists more and more. But even today, comic artists in India cannot make of it a full-time job and still must dedicate their time to something else for their living. We have many good, young, talented artists with amazing ideas but we unfortunately are still lacking funding. From 2009 to 2011 you collaborated in the creation of A Place in Punjab, one of the world’s largest hand-painted mural installed at Virasat-e-Khalsa Museum. What message did you want to convey with it? The government asked me to make a mural for the museum to represent the cultural heritage and landscape of Punjab area. Again, my main goal was to tell the real stories of the people living there and properly describe their hopes and tragedies. I realized how many different perspectives Punjab’s inhabitants have about the same place. People used to talk a lot about how different the area was before the green business arrived. For instance, they repeatedly mentioned the ponds, where they used to spend lot of their time swimming with the buffalos and mingling with other people. However, when I was there I found all these ponds to be very dirty and only full of trash. I decided to create the Landscape of Memories where I portrayed both perspectives, past and present, so it was easy for visitors to compare them. The mural acts as a “storytelling mirror”. In your presentation at the Salzburg Global Seminar session The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage and Renewal, you have showed some pieces of your project Mapping Mapusa Market. What inspired you to start it? In the past I used to live in Goa and go to Mapusa market with my family quite frequently. It was always fascinating as it was full of amazing products and people. Later, when I was invited as a visiting professor at Goa University, I thought it would be a good idea to involve students from very different fields such as arts or history to work together. What we are doing at the moment is tracking and mapping different aspects of the market. This work is resulting in a visual map where people, products, and techniques are depicted. What are you expecting from this session? This is a very special opportunity. Here we are, 50 people from all over the world sharing so many different perspectives. It is a unique situation. More than specific expectations I am looking forward to be “surprised”. And so far, I think this is what will happen.
The Salzburg Global program The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage, and Renewal is part of the multi-year Culture, Arts and Society series. The session is being supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSculture.
How art and the cultural sector can support indigenous communities
How art and the cultural sector can support indigenous communities
Oscar Tollast 

When we talk about refugees and migrants, we think of people who have been compelled to leave their homelands. In the case of indigenous communities, we see people trying to keep close and connected to their land and roots - yet they are often also marginalized. In the world today, there are at least 370 million people who are indigenous. Despite colonization, marginalization and discrimination, indigenous peoples across the planet have continued to show resilience in the face of adversity, maintaining and reaffirming their cultures, languages, and social institutions. 

Indigenous communities have had to withstand shocks in the face of difficult conditions. Even today, battles continue. In North America, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe is fighting against the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline. In February, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) was given formal permission to continue laying the pipeline under a North Dakota reservoir. The project previously stalled following protests from Native American communities. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe says the pipeline endangers its drinking water. A legal challenge has again been filed to stall the project’s completion. In January, Indigenous Australians marked "Invasion Day" - more commonly known as "Australia Day" - marking the British colonization of the country.

The creative sector provides a source of unconventional thinking and innovation, opening up opportunities to capture civic imagination for greater cohesion and resilience. As part of a panel discussion at The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage, and Renewal, Salzburg Global Fellows considered the ways in which artists, cultural workers, and creatives could inspire and strengthen the capacities of indigenous communities. Listed below are a few of their summarized thoughts.

Art can provide education and stimulate social development

Charities such as Amantani work to improve the lives of children, providing greater access to education in rural areas. Since 2008, it has helped marginalized Quechua families in Peru. It has attempted to bridge the gap between home and school for people living in Ccorca. Its Educational Boarding Houses enable the most disadvantaged children in Ccorca to have a place to stay near school, allowing time for extra support and community outreach projects.  

Amantani works in a small district comprised of eight communities. The young people are growing up in a different world to what their parents experienced. Amantani helps these young people to take on the narrative of their own communities, change it, and retell their stories from a positive point of view through their video project "Meet My World". Young people went into their communities and looked for things they wanted to teach others. Short films were made by young people about the production of food and how to have fun without technology. One film showed a child teaching his audience how to catch a fish with their bare hands. Films like this are now shown all over the world. This has led to a large emotional response, including many thank you cards. Through this method of art, children gain skills to negotiate Peru’s modern society, while reinforcing indigenous autonomy. 

Art allows people to remember who they are and where they come from

The root of resilience is relationships - respecting, renewing and remember our relationships to all things. Organizations like First Peoples Fund in the US support the “collective spirit” of First Peoples artists and culture bearers. It provides tools, resources and a voice to Indigenous artists. The organization was founded in 1995. It describes “collective spirit” as the feeling which encourages people to stand up and make a difference and to ensure ancestral knowledge is passed on. It believes in the power of art and culture to bring about positive change in Native communities. It works alongside community-based partners across Indian Country to strengthen their capacity. Since its establishment, First Peoples Fund has supported thousands of artists. It has awarded $1.5 million in direct grants to individual artists and $1 million to community-based organizations. The story of resilience can be rooted in songs, stories, and the ways in which people have kept to their way of life. 

The cultural sector has a responsibility to accurately tell histories

Despite the mainstreaming of Indigenous art, such as dot paintings, which decorate walls of contemporary offices across Australia, there still lacks a widespread understanding for the stories and the complexity of culture behind such artworks. Many Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians consider the nation to be in the midst of a history and culture war, determining what version of the country's history is told and valued. Controversies include the opening of the National Museum of Australia in 2001, which led to accusations that the exhibitions had politicized the country's history.

First Nations people have been able to regain their identity as as the original inhabitants of Australia, following the Racial Discrimination Act (1975), but social marginalization persists. There is a view that the First Nations people in Australia “should know their place,” representing a significant barrier to achieving meaningful recognition within its constitution.

The arts and cultural sector has a significant role to play to ensure that indigenous peoples' histories and cultures are represented accurately and respectfully. As one Fellow remarked, “I strongly believe in the power of museums and the creative sector. More broadly, I believe they have a responsibility in building social capital. I believe they have a civic role and can be agents for social and political change if carried out in a non-polemical way.”

Art can give a voice to those who need it 

Art can move us, but not always to action. Some of us can feel changed and inspired to continue creating art as if it does matter. It can give us new pictures of the world, influencing patterns of behavior. Art is not essential to our survival, but it is integral to our humanity. Art can be a way for the marginalized, refused and repressed to return. In the making and adoration of art, there is a space of difference - even resistance - where people can find refuge from ideas that otherwise rule them.

Cultural decolonization covers two areas. It is about unsettling settlers while also helping them to adapt as non-colonial persons with Indigenous spaces. It is also about First Nations, Inuit and Métis people being themselves by struggling to make new ways of being Indigenous within the complex of the contemporary negotiations of Aboriginal/settler/international Indigenous identities. Beautiful works of art display world views but sometimes fail to explain them. To design effective decolonizing tools from art, “artists should look beyond visual allure alone.”

Aboriginal culture before contact was neither de-colonial or activist. Art as a form of de-colonial activism is the result of contact. It emerges from cultures in collision. De-colonial pieces of art are neither wholly Indigenous nor western. Native contemporary artists create work in the space of cultural overlap. 

As a society, we should consider centering the Aboriginal and Indigenous, “not out of guilt, deference, or an expression of multicultural inclusion… but because we recognize it as a better way of knowing and being in these territories…” 

The Salzburg Global program The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage, and Renewal is part of the multi-year Culture, Arts and Society series. The session is being supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSculture.

How art heals trauma and urban upheaval
How art heals trauma and urban upheaval
Oscar Tollast 

According to the UN Refugee Agency, the world is experiencing the highest levels of displacement on record. Around the planet, 65.3 million people have been forced to leave their home. Of this number, 21.3 million people are refugees. 

It is an ongoing complex challenge which requires cross-sector support and knowledge. Each day, nearly 34,000 people are reportedly forcibly displaced. Each sector can provide a skillset to meet this challenge, including the arts and cultural sector.

The role of the arts and cultural sector and resilience is being discussed by Salzburg Global Seminar at the session The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage, and Renewal. Fellows at this session have a vast amount of experience in their fields. Here are a few of their thoughts:

Art can give people a safe platform to “kill” others and express anger

In times of upheaval and chaos, people should have the freedom to express their inner feelings and opinions on the challenges they face. The conflict in Syria, which has left a mark on people for “six horrifying years,” has let their desires and feelings rise to the surface, whether right or wrong. It is important those suffering in times like this have an artistic platform to express these feelings in a safe space and have scenarios acted out on stage, rather than in real life. 

“All this violence is initiating vengeance and initiating more killings and revenge. I think the arts is a solution in this case because it gives a safe platform for the whole desires and feelings, no matter how extreme they are through the medium of fantasy. On stage, you can kill who you want, and in a film, you can do this, but you can’t do it in real life. I think if we provide art as an alternative platform for violence, we can release all of these sentiments that [otherwise] result in such an extreme cases of violence.”

Art can be used to respond to urban upheaval in cities

The world is becoming more urban by the minute. By 2030, six out of 10 people will be urban dwellers. Mexico City is a young, dynamic metropolis but it also has the oldest urban agglomeration on the continent. Organizations such as Laboratorio Para La Ciudad, made up of architects, designers, editors, urban planners and more, are looking for creative ways to connect governments and citizens. Laboratorio Para La Ciudad has attempted to map Mexico City’s transit system. Unofficial routes have sprung up over the years in response to demand. The Lab helped create Mapaton, a government-civil society collaborative initiative that provides a database of the formal and informal public transportation system. Riders can share GPS data with a database, mapping their routes as they ride. Users are incentivized as the more points they attain, the increased chance they have of winning a prize. 

It’s an example of how civil society, private enterprise, and government can have a successful partnership. It's working in Mexico City - and could work elsewhere. Creating access to information can create more opportunities.

Art can play a part for those seeking justice

Art can teach those in times of war how to cope during and after the conflict is officially over. As part of the self-healing process, we have to ask ourselves where acceptance of past atrocities features. Does it come before forgiveness or can it only feature afterward? Acceptance does not necessarily lead to reconciliation, which can be a "dirty word" in some circles. In the hope of stopping atrocities happening again, art therapy can help people to accept and admit what happened, regret their actions, and ask for forgiveness - which may or may not be given. The difficulty lies in understanding that justice can differ from person to person. In some cases, one generation has had a process of reconciliation and yet the next generation felt that that experience been taken away from them. "Justice is not simply justice. It could be any number of things. Justice for one person is very different to justice for someone else."

Art can help later generations understand traumatic experiences

The devastation which occurs after war can be hugely disorienting. It can cut across generations affecting parents, children, and grandchildren. There’s a “massive disruption” to the fabric of inter-generational relationships. Art is a tool to reconnect with people’s pasts and tackle uncomfortable areas. Art and performance can begin to fill some of those gaps and play an integral part in explaining points of history otherwise incomprehensible to those not present. Inspiring examples can be taken from projects and work in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Uganda. If there are a lack of trained professionals to deal with a mental health crises, arts organizations can step in. In Uganda, for example, spaces have been created where people can talk and make art together, helping people feel human and have something to offer the world. As Pablo Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

The Salzburg Global program The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage, and Renewal is part of the multi-year Culture, Arts and Society series. The session is being supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSculture.

Why is art important for resilience?
Why is art important for resilience?
Oscar Tollast 
Today's world is disrupted by manifold sources of shock, violence and conflict. The complexity and sheer speed of change are testing the limits of people, places and communities. Increasing social inequality, accelerating urbanization, unprecedented migration flows, rapidly evolving technologies and climate-related changes are generating physical, virtual, and cultural challenges that have no precedent in recent history. To add to the complexity, these trends are playing out against a backdrop of exceptionally low trust and widening polarization in societies worldwide. In times of crisis, there is a tendency to look for means of resilience from the technological, scientific, and economic sectors. The role of arts and culture, however, has become a new source of inquiry, as is being discussed this February by Salzburg Global Seminar at the session The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage and Renewal.  As defined by Merriam-Webster, resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from stress. It's the notion of springing back into shape after being knocked down. In today's world of economic and political turmoil, being able to withstand the related shocks and stresses - for both individuals and societies-at-large - is more important than ever.  Resilience can show itself in many forms - and the arts can help build it. To explore this topic, Salzburg Global Seminar has convened an international group of sixty practitioners and thinkers to explore the dynamic relationship between the arts, culture, and resilience. Coming from an wide array of backgrounds - from artists, cultural leaders, designers, architects and creative entrepreneurs to policymakers, environmentalists, urban planners, educators, anthropologists, sociologists, media experts, philanthropists, and community leaders - the participants in Salzburg have a wealth of experience in using the arts to tackle issues such as refugees and migration, urban upheaval and social injustice, post-conflict trauma, climate change, and loss of cultural heritage and threats to indigenous communities. We share a few of their opening thoughts: Artists are caught in the middle of conflict There are several ways to respond to conflict and times of upheaval, including non-violent means, and "the arts have occupied a huge space in this area." The arts give people a voice and face to resolve problems without having to resort to violence, be that as a means of reuniting communities or expressing dissent against a political leader. Artists are often working in areas which remain contested: "It's the artists who have the ability to propel themselves beyond the situation and imagine how it can be different." Resilience can be stronger than resistance  When considering non-violent action in the face of conflict, we often talk about "resistance" - but perhaps we should also consider the power of "resilience."  As one Salzburg participant who had lived in conflict zones in the Middle East remarked: “Performance and art-making are sacred spaces... For me, the thing that has kept me sane is the resilience of art.” Artists can take control and “activate” spaces, displaying art among the very people who have inspired them. “I feel artists are cultural innovators. It takes a lot of courage and fortitude, and those are all the things that make up this idea of resilience.” But how can we ensure that resistance and resilience are pro-active instead of reactive? As one participant said, “If we’re always looking at resilience as bouncing back from something bad, we’re already starting from a negative point.” A new, shared vocabulary is needed A dictionary definition of "resilience" is all well and good, but what does societal and individual resilience mean to different people in different contexts? How can the arts continue to thrive - and foster resilience - in situations such as living under dictatorships? As well as "resistance" and "resilience," the term "renewal" has been adopted, especially in post-conflict settings, but still this means different things to different communities in different settings. As they launched their week-long discussions, the participants considered what steps could be taken to reconcile differing world views and create a shared vocabulary. The time is now Many participants in Salzburg agree now is the perfect time to have a discussion about the relationship between the arts and resilience. As one participant said: “The fact this [session] is taking place is an act of resilience.” Engaging with matters concerning courage, creativity, and renewal is important. Another participant added, “I don’t think this session could have been more timely. It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to take time to reflect.” Resilience concerns the ability to recover in the face of adversity and the ability to secure a future, something which requires creativity and courage. Questions facing these art makers and advocates now include: Can we make resilience an asset for artists? Do artists want to use resilience as an asset? How can we make the relationship between art and resilience better understood? 
The Salzburg Global program The Art of Resilience: Creativity, Courage, and Renewal is part of the multi-year Culture, Arts and Society series. The session is being supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSculture.
Report now online - Young Cultural Innovators Forum III
Report now online - Young Cultural Innovators Forum III
Denise Macalino 
The report from the third annual Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators is now available online to read, download and share. The Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators (YCI Forum), is an annual series that supports emerging young artists and cultural actors who are using innovative practices to catalyze urban transformation in their communities.  Our biggest and most diverse cohort of sixty-four young cultural leaders from sixteen different cities, including six new hubs, gathered in the Schloss Leopoldskron in mid-October. Salzburg Global was fortunate enough to host future innovators this past Fall from Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Japan, the Mekong Delta Region, the Philippines, South Africa, South Korea, Russia, and the United States.  This group of young leaders spent a week in each other’s company, exploring concepts on how to foster strong culture in order to transform communities. The YCI Fellows, passionate about the growth in their local hubs, connected with like-minded individuals to spread their innovative thinking with a global network. With a revitalized energy towards their work, the YCI Fellows returned to their communities with new perspectives and ideas on their role as leading innovators.  Download the Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators II report (PDF) (low-res)  

The Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators III is part of a ten-year multi-year series, which is generously supported by: Albanian-American Development Foundation; America For Bulgaria Foundation; American Express; Arts South Australia; Asia-Europe Foundation; Cambodian Living Arts; Edward T. Cone Foundation; Lloyd A. Fry Foundation; Korea Foundation; the McKnight Foundation; Red Bull Amaphiko; The Kresge Foundation; Japan Foundation; Stavros Niarchos Foundation; Adena and David Testa; and the Yeltsin Center.  More information on the session can be found here: More information on the series can be found here:  You can follow all the discussions and interactions on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram by following the hashtag #SGSyci.
Baltimore Rise Up
Baltimore Rise Up
Tony Abraham 
One hundred men and women are gathered inside a lecture hall at Baltimore’s esteemed Johns Hopkins’ University early on a Saturday morning, and though they range in age, race, class and gender, they all have one thing in common. They’re all here to learn how to be social entrepreneurs. From wannabes to seasoned vets, the room is filled with social entrepreneurs like Steven Nutt, a cyber security professional who just received funding from the Warnock Foundation for his food donation app, Are You Going to Eat That, and Andrew Foster, who received funding from the same foundation last spring to develop Baltimore Pooch Camp, a program he launched to help both at-risk youth and shelter dogs. A woman named Gladys wants to start a program for disadvantaged youth. The woman next to her, Kimberly, hopes to do the same. 

Darius Graham, the director of Hopkins’ Social Innovation Lab, is hosting the bootcamp, a taste of the Lab’s social enterprise incubator, in hopes of drumming up interest and fostering talent while keeping a community of innovators connected.

“This is an opportunity for you to share with us, with each other and with the speakers what your experience has been so far as an entrepreneur or changemaker in this city,” he said.

Social entrepreneurs, community organizers and artists in Baltimore have been galvanized by the uprising that ignited three miles Southwest of this lecture hall in the spring of 2015, sparked by the murder of Freddie Gray by six police officers in the spring of 2015.

Poet and entrepreneur Brion Gill remembers her reaction to the live news coverage that day.

“Baltimore’s about to explode.”

In a way, the city did. But the brutal injustice that was Freddie Gray’s murder did not happen in a vacuum. Gill herself has seen how systemic injustice impacts low-income people of color – especially youth. The poet used to be a teacher at Eager Street Academy, a school for teens who have been charged as adults and are subsequently housed in the city’s detention center.


Now, Gill runs Free Verse, a poetry workshop for Baltimore youth that bolsters creative expression and initiates dialogue about race.

Zeke Cohen, an entrepreneur and candidate for Baltimore City Council, used to be a teacher, too, at a school in the neighborhood where Freddie Gray grew up. Students at the school, which he likened to a prison without heat or air conditioning, were unable to drink water from the lead pipes. They had to walk past “liquor stores and heroin dealers” to get to class – if they could even make it to class.

That’s why Cohen and a handful of his fellow educators collectively launched a nonprofit called The Intersection, to teach high school students civic leadership and community organizing. The nine students in the pilot program went on to register 100 people to vote, build a community garden to address fresh food crises, lobby for inclusive immigration legislation, document neighborhood blight and host a mayoral forum.

“I have come to truly believe that if we’re going to change our city, state and country, it will have to come from young people,” said Cohen. “If you think about movements that have happened in our country, it’s often the youth, young people, who start the movement.”

Cohen, is now running for City Council as the candidate who will work across sectors, silos, districts – just about any boundary – to create real equity in Baltimore. That will mean working closely with the city’s social entrepreneurs. For example, Cohen vowed to hire an ambassador from Baltimore Corps, a fellowship for social changemakers in the city.

Brian Gerardo, founder of Baltimore Dance Crew Project, was one of the first Baltimore Corps fellows. Like Cohen and Gill, Gerardo was a teacher before becoming a social entrepreneur.

“There are so many entrepreneurs here in the city who have found needs, and I think a lot of us are from education backgrounds. People see education as being a very big need,” he said. “The work we’re doing is never easy, especially for people of color.”

Baltimore Dance Crew Project takes a multi-pronged approach to youth development by using hip hop dance to strengthen the relationships across generations. Students are not only engaging in dance, they’re forging relationships with older dancers who maintain careers outside of dance. Plus, the crew itself is a very necessary support network.

“The average mentorship relationship only lasts five months. That’s not a long time to build a lasting relationship,” said Gerardo. “When I was a teacher here in the city, I myself was having a hard time building relationships with my students beyond my classroom. Having that positive relationship changes the school environment.”

Gerardo said the uprising has magnified the social impact work being done in Baltimore. The urgency has always been there, he said, but there has been an uptick in donations and volunteer power.

Sammy Hoi, the impact-impassioned president of Maryland Institute College of Art, said he feels there’s been a heightened sense of urgency since the uprising – a sense that the city has to create equity “as soon as possible.”

But the galvanization of the social impact community is undeniable, said Hoi.

“Baltimore has a culture of fragmentation, meaning we can be a lot better at coming together for a common agenda. Post-Freddie Gray, there’s a great sense of awareness that we need to come together,” he said. “There’s no lack of good will but the actual synergy is very much a work in progress.”

Hoi is trying to expedite that progress by reframing MICA’s activities and programming, making them mission-based and inclusive while “translating Baltimore’s rich creative capital into a vibrant and equitable creative economy.” In other words, MICA’s students and program staff are partnering with grassroots organizations to bring arts education to underserved neighborhoods like Freddie Gray’s West Baltimore community.

There, a conscious collective of grassroots organizations, anchor institutions, social entrepreneurs, investors and artists called Innovation Village have banded together to invest in their own community, which has largely been subjected to generational marginalization.

“We’re hyper-focused on making sure there’s access to food, health, housing and education, and using technology as an enabler to be created in how those services are delivered,” said chairman Richard May. Earlier this summer, Innovation Village announced a free public wifi initiative in partnership with public-private collaborative OneBaltimore and an upcoming incubator for social entrepreneurs.

You cannot pelt a pebble in Charm City without hitting someone working on, around or within close proximity to a social project or social entrepreneur. And, odds are, they’ll be working with youth.

Back at Johns Hopkins, Graham is instructing the room of nascent social entrepreneurs to communicate with one another.

“Always know who else is doing the kind of work you’re doing. You’re going to want to talk to them and learn what is and isn’t working,” he said. “View them as competition or collaborators – either way, find people doing similar work and ask them questions.”

Gill, Gerardo, Hoi and fellow Baltimore changemakers Meryam Bouadjemi, Shawn Burnett and Cadeatra Harvey just had a chance to do exactly that this month. All six are Fellows of the 2016 Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators. In Salzburg, the Fellows shared best practices with international leaders in the space and brought back lessons on how to improve the city’s cultural ecosystem.

If the uprising was the explosion Gill initially perceived it to be, the city’s social entrepreneurs, artists and community organizers are ready to raise a phoenix from the ashes.

Meet the entire YCI-Baltimore-Hub online and find general information on the Young Cultural Innovators Forum. The original of this article was produced by Red Bull Amaphiko and it can be found here:
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How should cultural institutions approach the creation and articulation of value?
Albino Jopela, archaelogist and lecturer at Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique suggests that considering the values of all of the stakeholders in a community will help ensure relevance and sustainability.

Why is it important for arts leaders to engage in cross-cultural conversations?
Jimena Lara Estrada, program coordinator for the Mexican Cultural Institute of New York, talks about connecting with other leaders and the hope that it instills.

How do you articulate value of arts in a society where it is largely seen as a commodity?
Eyad Houssami, founding director of Masrah Ensemble in Lebanon, talks about the challenges of making a case for the arts in a society where the concept of public value is very limited.

What role should orchestras play in their communities?
Mark Gillespie, general and artistic manager of Orchestra of the Americas and Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Leaders Fellow, suggests that orchestras should connect with youth at a very early age so that musicians grow out of the community.