Culture Convos: Building Irresistible Movements with Artist Micah Bazant

July 9, 2024

The power of movement art rests in the power of the people, relationships, and histories that create it. As we face surging white nationalism, healthcare crises, genocide, fascism, and climate collapse, the possibilities of transformation through law are and have always been limited! Forward Together’s new guide, Building Irresistible Movements (BIM), is integral to the shift we need between organizers and artists in order to harness the power of culture and create a more just world.

ChaKiara Tucker sat down with Micah Bazant, co-creator of the BIM tool to learn how organizations can use this guide to create more equitable spaces for artists. 

Q: What inspired you to create this BIM tool? 

I imagined this guide five years ago, as I realized how many things I’d learned in over 15 years working as an artist in social justice movements. I didn’t have a guide – I learned a lot from other movement artists, and from years of mistakes and successes. For over a decade I worked on beautiful cultural organizing projects with Forward Together, like Trans Day of Resilience and Mamas Day. I pitched the idea of a guide to Forward Together and brought in other brilliant cultural organizers, like Monica Trinidad, Kate DeCiccio, Kemi Alabi, Amir Khadar and Kah Yangni, who contributed their own learnings and expertise as beloved and experienced movement artists. I wrote the bulk of the guide along with Monica and Kate, with invaluable editing by Kemi. 

Q: Who was BIM written for and how do you see creators using the tool?

The guide is written for organizations who are looking to collaborate with visual artists. But it is also incredibly useful to artists trying to work with organizers, and for funders looking to support cultural organizing work. There are so many essential best practices in the tool that we hope organizations will adopt. For example, a pricing guide and sample timelines and contracts. These are fundamental issues that artists face over and over. Most nonprofits don’t realize how predatory their contracts are, and that they could easily change the terms of their agreements. Even things like contests— we constantly see groups putting out calls for contests, not realizing how exploitative they are, and how they demand free labor of artists. We offer alternative ways to find artists and generate powerful collaborative art together. 

Q: What are some common misconceptions or challenges that organizations face when it comes to engaging in cultural strategy, artist collaborations, and impactful relationship-building with culture workers?

A fundamental challenge is that capitalism devalues artists’ labor. So many artists’ work is deeply beloved and makes a huge impact in the movement, but those artists are paid very little and forced to work in ways that are unsustainable. Many nonprofits will pay fair rates to skilled consultants in all kinds of other fields, like communications, grant writing, facilitation, etc, but when it comes to the art that is the face of a campaign, all over the streets,  making our movement look and feel powerful and irresistible, those artists may be getting a few hundred dollars. It is a real paradigm shift to commit to valuing artists’ labor. And artists are also part of the equation, because we are taught to devalue our own work, and often forced to accept unfair wages. We all have experienced how art can transform a campaign. How it can help us heal and repair harm. How it can help us WIN. Art is invaluable to our movements, and we hope this guide gives readers concrete practices to put our values into practice.

Another fundamental challenge for many organizations is thinking through the cultural strategy for your projects at the start. The guide includes a planning worksheet and a chapter on key questions about your goals, audience, distribution strategy, points of impact, and who needs to tell the story. The meaning and impact of art is inextricable from its context: who made it, how, when and with who. Who the artist is changes what the work does. Its crucial to hire talented  artists from the communities you are trying to reach and/or include that community in a collaborative creative process. And then make sure all parties benefit from and share ownership of the work they create together.

Q: The guide says “We use art to keep each other alive, organize, live with joy and imagine freedom.” How can organizers and artists best work together to harness the power of culture and create a more just world?

Forward Together’s Trans Day of Resilience (TDOR) art project was a beautiful example of how organizers and artists can work more harmoniously. Actually, we include the TDOR art project and  many case studies from the project throughout the guide. For example, through national open calls we were able to connect with emerging trans BIPOC artists. The TDOR art project was a transformative experience for many of them – creating a supportive, well compensated space where many people were fully valued as artists for the first time. The project created a nationwide platform for their art, launching many successful careers and setting a standard for ethical collaboration and impact. Through partnerships with literally hundreds of grassroots trans organizations, the artwork was printed and distributed to community groups, families, schools, places of worship, clinics, etc. across the country. At a time when the rates of suicide among trans youth were skyrocketing as was the rate of violence and oppression of trans youth, having gorgeous art by us and for us literally saved lives. In 2020, Forward Together collaborated with GSA Network, using the art to expand their national membership. There are thousands of small LGBTQ+ student-run clubs in high schools and middle schools across the country, but many operate in isolation. The TDOR art project connected these groups to GSA Network so they could receive organizing support, training and resources. After offering free posters to clubs that joined the GSA Network, their membership doubled. A couple years ago I spoke in a friend’s community college course, and one of the students had been in one of those GSA clubs. When I presented about the TDOR art project, they said to me: “How did you know that art was what we needed?”


Q: In what ways do artists help organizations shift power and cultural narratives?

All art materializes out of particular historical conditions and relationships of power that may not appear in the artwork, but are responsible for why it exists. Movement artists like the authors of this guide are trying to transform not only the relationships of power depicted in the art, but the relationships of power that bring the art into existence. The guide offers tangible ways to shift power through the ways we work together.


Thirsty for more? Check out the Building Irresistible Movements tool here.