Tara Dorabji on the Power of Art and the Art of Power – Transcript
Kirk: [00:00:00] Welcome back. We’re here. It’s another episode of Let’s Hear It, and I’m here with my esteemed colleague, co-host, and the guy who does all the work. Eric Brown. Yeah.
Eric: You’re esteemed colleague. I’m not steamed. I’m perfectly I’m perfectly chrom.
Kirk: Hey, you, what you’re actually are is, you’re delivering another high quality conversation today.
This. You just, it’s rolling out the hits. This is we,
Eric: we try for high quality, at a fair price. So
Kirk: I think the price is fair. I think the price is absolutely fair. Oh, yes. Set this up for us. This is a great conversation and when you’re done, I’m gonna actually dip into the content a little bit before we get to the interview ’cause I think there’s some really important stuff to hit right off the top.
But tell us who we’re about to listen to today. You
Eric: betcha. I had a great conversation with Tara Dorabji, who is the Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at the Center for Cultural Power. So if folks are not seeing a trend in what we’re talking about these days maybe this would put a, a fine [00:01:00] point on it.
So Center for Cultural Power is inspiring artists to imagine a world where power is distributed equitably, and where we all live in harmony with nature. Now, this is a fascinating idea, using art to advance power politics, and I mentioned this to Tara in the interview.
As long as it’s been artists, there’ve been artists who have been using art to advance ideas, power and politics. And frankly, as long as there’s been power and politics, people have been using art, these ideas go together so incredibly well and we don’t think about them nearly as much as we should.
It was just recently released a great report called Building Narratives of Joy, experimenting with transformational narratives and, and basically this is a playbook for anybody who wants to change narratives and shift mindsets through their work.
And that was very exciting. It’s so interesting this report I urge folks to download it. We’ll put a link on the website. Really great. And they did [00:02:00] randomized controlled trials and they tested the bejeebers out of the messaging. So this is not just toss whatever breadcrumbs into the air. This is really disciplined, fascinating, interesting work that is based on this understanding about using art to change minds.
And we’ll get into
Kirk: some of the findings in this report, but I love the title. Building narratives of joy. You can find it on the Center for Cultural Power email@example.com. And a quick shout out to the co-authors of this report, in addition to um,, Tara, it’s Erin Potts and Dr. Melanie Mesner.
And um, it’s just a terrific contribution. So we’ll get into the content of this a little bit after the interview, but as we jump in this note from the top line of the report, and I think this is consistent with what Tara talks about, Eric, with you in the interview. We are not building narratives of trauma.
We are building narratives of joy. [00:03:00] This is for thriving and this is a thriving conversation I would say we’re about to listen to. So let’s listen to Eric and Tara and we’ll come back.
Eric: Welcome to, let’s Hear It. My guest today is Tara Dorabji, a writer, storyteller, mother and filmmaker, and the Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at the Center for Cultural Power.
Tara, thank you so much for coming on. Let’s hear it.
Tara: It’s great to be here. Thanks so much, Eric, for having me.
Eric: I just think this work that you’re doing is so interesting. Can you talk just a little bit about the Center for Cultural Power to get us to kick off this really cool
Tara: conversation? The Center for Cultural Power was um, founded in 2019 and building off the legacy of culture strike and understanding the power of artists to change the world.
And so many artists. Are engaged in social change, but they’ve never really had a home and are often under resourced. So we came together to be a home for artists and activists that are dedicated to [00:04:00] changing the world and really assisting the spheres
Eric: of power. And shout out to Jeff Chang, your board member, our pal, and a guest on this show.
If it’s cultural and it’s powerful. Jeff has got his fingerprint on it somehow, it seems to me. Let’s, and you’re an artist yourself. Let’s talk a little bit about your career. How did you get from
Tara: there to here? I started out as a community organizer in Livermore, California, which is home to one of the world’s primary nuclear weapons lab.
And so I actually started organizing, it was a week before September 11th, 2001, and it was, An incredibly poignant place to be as the world, as the US was on the brink of war and really rallying towards war with Iraq, looking for weapons of mass destruction, and actually being in a town where. They were designed and created.
And so that work was really, really formative. You know, I mean, it, It was so much, I was at the farmer’s market. At one point [00:05:00] I was thrown out for, you get kicked
Eric: outta the farmer’s market. Nice. I
Tara: was, and it was by someone I actually went to college with. So it was like the worst type of censorship ever.
It’s sort of that like, well, I know you, but you have to leave now. So we got a free speech zone established there, you know, I mean, it was a time where whistleblowers would leave us documents, so you would come into work and um, get information about leaks, spills, accidents, all those things. And one of the most powerful moments was shortly.
It was shortly before the 60th anniversary of the us atomic bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and uh, habak sha And that’s um, the term that came for survivors of the atomic bombing. He came as part of a world peace delegation. To Livermore. And we went on a tour of the nuclear weapons lab.
And I just remember he was very quiet the whole time and just wondering [00:06:00] what it must have been like for him in that moment. Of course I was like, Hey, is this where the plutonium is and is that where there’s been a leak of tritium? I was like, asking all of those questions and the PR was deflecting me and at the end of that he said, oh, he asked everyone on the tour.
Was organizers like myself and then the PR from the nuclear weapons lab and the PR person. And he asked us to come in a circle. He said, I wanna thank you all. And so he had us come together and hold hands and he was just like, I wanna thank you. And just talked about how surprising it was for him to see such beautiful land occupied and to be able to see the place that created these weapons that, killed his family and destroyed his community.
And he talked about his hope that this land be used for peaceful purposes, and that he felt a responsibility to share what happened , to him with young people. So that it would never happen again. And in that moment, I looked over and the [00:07:00] woman who ran PR for the nuclear weapons lab was crying.
And it was that first moment I think that I saw a shift like that. You see it in the employees sometimes, but in like the PR machine you usually, they’re pretty. Firm in their stance and just that his lived experience and the impact of what this nuclear weapons lab does every day, he was able to bring that through his story and shift things and shift and bring people together.
And so that was a moment where I really saw that power. And I ended up doing an interview with him right there. Not with very good audio recording material, but I did the best I could and then sliced it together with music. And I think that was one of should in my first moves as an artist activist, where I saw that power of the story and the need to amplify and bring that to different audiences and then like, How do you make it so that you [00:08:00] can reach and engage diverse audiences?
So I, I brought in the music because that’s what humans go to, you know, and, and the power of art to bring us together. I’d say both in the power to grieve, to be in celebration and joy as a community, and then to push us and see and understand new ways. It’s what I come back to and my hardest moments, and also my most beautiful moments.
Eric: great story. And it’s what you’re doing. You’re, it’s called the Center for Cultural Power. So we’re talking about power, and power is in the context of politics and in decision making and who gets to decide. And I think about this. I’ve, I worked in politics a long time ago, and it occurs to me that political,, there’s been political art for as long as there’s been politics.
As long as there’s been art, but it always seems to me that it’s considered almost a fringe approach to power building. Most of what in terms of power building is people speaking. They’re using statistics and logic and the a teeny, tiny part of your brain. Not connecting to [00:09:00] the, that emotional story that you just told in which you were able to persuade somebody, at least to see an issue from a slightly different perspective.
Why do you think that art has been given such a kind of a short shrift in terms of how do we build political power? How do we reach our audiences? What’s, what is it about our animal brains that doesn’t put a priority on that in
Tara: some ways? It’s a deliberate deconstruction of power.
How do you colonize and control people language? We’re speaking in English and we have that acquisition early on, and we’re both in lon land right now. Yes, we are. When I was a kid, we were told that like the native, the Indians, that was the term when I was a child, did not exist other than in my storybook, and there was no.
Right, So that we’ve made some shifts culturally and recognizing. And so I do think that, in different communities when you look at how to control [00:10:00] disinvestment in cultural spheres is gonna be a deliberate tactic. Controlling culture, controlling how communities connect to. Spiritual ways is part of systems of dominations, right?
And so then we live in the fragments of that in very deliberate ways. And you see different, right? So like in Cuba, there’s been major investment in the arts as a form of cultural resistance. But a state controlled then, right? So while there’s deep investment, maybe in some ways the artistic freedom can be very excellent in areas and more challenging others, right?
Because of how it’s funded and how it’s resourced. So I do think that there’s. Some systematic, large scale hegemonic control over arts and culture. Now, within our movements, , I mean, and I’ve done a fair amount of work in deeply militarized zones. Um, you know, I’ve done some storytelling in Kashmir, which is one of the most densely militarized places on earth occupied by [00:11:00] um, India, which is, I’m a, my dad’s a migrant from India.
And so when you’re working under those types of. Conditions. The very existence is resistance, cultural practice, preservation languages, the language, and by not only how you express your community, but how you allow even a space, so the space to exist, practice your own language, those types of things become at the center of, what folks wanna control and take away.
But we, what you’re talking about ultimately is shift in worldviews that allow different type of, more egalitarian political systems um, shifts in economic systems that are more generative and regenerative. But then we have to shift our worldviews, right from domination to ones of more collaboration, empathy, interdependence.
And so it is very strategic. To look at cultural interventions, but how to do it in a way that comes from the roots but can [00:12:00] also have values. Alignment is something that takes rigor, patience, and a lot of humility.
Eric: We’ve been talking about narrative shift on this show for since.
Forever, and I’m still learning, let’s just say, I’m still getting nuanced understanding about what narrative shift is. But if it is changing mindsets and helping pe and basically changing the default story that your brain goes to when they think about an issue, an obvious way to do it is to use a medium.
That goes around the brain and goes straight to the heart. And art feels to me like that is a, that is the medium that does that. That is what therefore, and it feels to me like that’s such an obvious thing that we forget to do. We often talk about what do you want your audience to know, feel, and do.
For example, in just any kind of communication and we spend so much time talk doing the no, I’m gonna give you tons of information and I’m gonna talk you into doing something that you don’t wanna do, instead of trying to communicate to people’s hearts and their souls. And art is obviously this incredible meaning for doing [00:13:00] that.
So now I wanna get into the power part. So shifting narrative changes your brain’s own way. Understanding what you’re seeing so that we can create a more just society, for example. That’s for some of us that would be the goal. And so for the Center for Cultural Power, do you consider yourself an arts organization that does advocacy and power building or a power building advocacy organization that uses art at it as its medium?
Or is that a stupid question?
Tara: No, we could sit around a table and, and discuss that with a rigor um, enthusiasm and joy. Yeah. Like, So no, the nuance of it is really important. I would say at the heart, we are artists, creators, artists disruptors who believe in the power of art to change the world. Um, And so yes, we will partner in advocacy um,, because that’s a very important tool where we can make systemic change and we [00:14:00] just believe in that creativity to show us new things.
Sometimes I. As artists, we’re gonna create backlash, and that may not be successful in a campaign context in a particular moment that might not be the right time for that type of piece. So there’s a nuance to it in terms of when and how we partner in which ways. But fundamentally, we’re looking at creating and the early adoption and testing of the narratives that we can test in a variety of advocacy situations.
Demonstrating short-term wins and visible ways, learning and laying the foundation for long-term change. And I think too like, I mean, you talk about, which I think is really important, is the power of art and story to change our hearts. And we know that we like the statistics too because it gives us that balance.
Like it’s, that’s how we’re programmed in, in, in our culture. But I think , What’s been really interesting to me is how much I change through the practice and through what I create in the partnerships. And I think [00:15:00] this is really important because we’re a part of these unjust systems with different levels of power, different experiences, right?
And so I think that there is a role in art for communities, like sometimes it’s. Please witness. This is the experience and we need folks to witness, like witness with the art and that’s really important. But when we do that, there is like that neuroplasticity, we change, we evolve, and so right.
To get where we wanna go and this vision that we have for a more just and equitable world, like each of us will have to change some of us more dramatically than others, but we are ultimately interconnected. And so there is this idea of personal transformation, community transformation that can lead to larger scale changes.
In systems, in spheres of
Eric: influence. And you’re not just making this up ’cause you, you wrote this report recent, recently wrote, uh, released a report that you co-wrote that shows how effective this [00:16:00] work can be. And you’re not just saying it to say it. You’ve done really interesting analysis. And evaluation.
And after the break I’d love to dive into this report, which was really interesting. We all see a ton of reports and very few of them go, wow, I just learned a ton from that. So we’re gonna take a very quick break. We’ll be back with Tara Dorabji of the Center for Cultural Power right after this.
And we are back with Tara Dorabji from the Center for Cultural Power. And right before the break we I just started talking about this report that you, Recently released, called Building Narratives of Joy, experimenting with transformational narratives. And as I said, you weren’t just fooling around when you say that you have an approach.
You actually did serious evaluation about whether a variety of campaigns that you were conducting were effective. But not only that, as you went [00:17:00] along, you tested messages, you did randomized control trials, you did all that stuff that frankly, Some of the program officers at foundations would like to see, but not, I’m sure that’s not why you did it, but that kind of, the folk, the analytical sorts will say, yeah, but is this really effective?
You actually did it. And it’s really interesting. I really urge people to, to. Download it. We’ll put a link on our website. Can you talk about what you learned throughout that process and how, I think maybe almost as importantly, how you adapted as you went based on what you were finding through this very rigorous
Yeah, absolutely. And just wanna give a shout out to my co-authors, Dr. Melanie Weiner and Aaron Pots and the whole team at the Center for Cultural Power and our partners in the community and the artists that brought all the work to life. It was a real joy to work on this project and really learn together because we really bring a flexible structure to our work, and at this stage, experimentation [00:18:00] is really key.
Culture changes really fast. And the currency of culture’s relevancy. If you’re not relevant, you’re not shifting minds and moments. So cultural interventions need to be highly adaptive and require, it’s just gonna require a lot of experimentation. And when we stop experimenting, we’re no longer meeting the moment and we’re no longer relevant.
So I think that having a framework and that can really look at, okay, how, what are the narratives that you wanna change? How is this a participatory process? Process, how are you getting the expertise of directly impacted folks to surface solutions so that those two things are actually informing one another and you have a participatory process for holding narrative power.
That’s really important and. How are folks delivering the messages actually able to participate in power building? So that was one of the questions that really emerged as we started looking [00:19:00] across our different experiments is we saw that those were common things. Helped is we did the power building in different ways.
The participatory processes looked different, but they were common ingredients. So one thing that this really allowed us to do was look at some of the powerful common ingredients, and we found that we were successful at power building. And so what that means is we were able to shift the mindsets of narrative change makers on belonging and leadership.
And this is really important for the long-term change. And transformation that we’re talking about. We also found that some of the arts tested. Statistically significant for a particular action or activity. So we test for different things like intent to vote in the midterm elections amongst likely voters.
One particular campaign was in a very, it was very focused. It was for C O V I D. [00:20:00] Vaccine persuasion amongst unvaccinated folks living in California’s Central Valley and looking primarily at the Latina younger population there. I say younger. Some say youth, right? Sometimes I still shouldn’t do youth
Eric: depending on who you talk to.
Everyone feels younger to me at this by now, but that’s okay. Go on.
Tara: And so that was one where we saw the arts and stories. Being statistically significant for persuasion. And we use a tool called Sway Able, which does the randomized control test that you were speaking about. And the simple way that we frame it is the more points, the more persuasion.
And that had incredibly, that content was incredibly persuasive in the Central Valley. And then when we looked at our campaigns overall, we saw that we were able to reach 25 million diverse audiences across the US and. Do a lot of experimentation. So it was using the Center for Cultural [00:21:00] Powers, social media, influencer campaigns, and also paid media.
And then being able to learn because content that plays well on the Center for Cultural Powers channels is very different than what we test on Sway Able, and we have specific regions and you get. You get more of a broad sector, you’re getting ultra conservatives, very liberals, you can drill down.
And then we also did specific paid media targeted campaigns as well, so you could see the difference in terms of what kind of content worked best with which audiences. And understanding too which narratives move folks to action.
Eric: Was there anything that, an assumption that you made that you realized after this testing was just flat out wrong?
Tara: All the time. So we actually, so I first started using Sway Able as a tool with the Center for Cultural Powers Partner Organization, the Cultural Engagement Lab. And so that was the first time in my per in my career [00:22:00] where I was able to look at content and see how it tested. And it was so good because you fall in love with an idea.
You’re like, this is so clever. I love this. And you believe in it. And it’s not that, and it’s not about something being good or bad or anything like that. It’s what is your intent and how is your intent being conveyed to the audience that you are sharing your story with? And so what you find out is the intent doesn’t always match.
And so that’s, sometimes something that you love. It doesn’t play well with an audience, and so we learn a lot. I think, one of the interesting sort of mythologies that I see the data pushing up against, and I’ve seen this through a lot of different tests on a lot of different issues, is the idea that people respond to.
Themselves so that like I as a, daughter of migrants mixed identity will respond to someone that mirrors me [00:23:00] demographically. And what we find is people respond to diverse characters, , but it doesn’t necessarily mirror their own identity. So sometimes if you have a very strong narrator of one demographic, another demographic really resonates with them.
But we find across the board that a strong, powerful narrator. So where you can see a hero’s journey, that’s where you get a lot of mobilizations. And we have some early learnings across multiple tests. That indicate that superheroes are highly persuasive. So that was when in the C Ovid 19 vaccination campaign, and it was actually, We did get some creative pushback on it.
It was this really amazing piece of creative designed by Brandon Santiago, where we had a Lego superhero Facts man. And so there was like, oh, that’s not gonna work. And it turned out being really highly persuasive. Um, We also have some recent testing around a piece in the border region.
Where it’s a [00:24:00] superhero again in a comic. And that showed high levels of persuasion to support local legislation for citizenship. And so that’s interesting, the sort of taking something that’s real and factual but merging it into like a fun artistic world where we have a superhero seems to be yielding really amazing results.
Eric: So interesting. And we act actually had Alan Jenkins on the show last month, I think, and he. Wrote a, a comic book about uh, January 6th and about its effect, and he, by sending in a comic book, I think he was able to tell that story in a way that is completely different, than the one six commission report could ever be.
So I love that idea. I, I was just, I was going through the report and I counted 44 shout outs and partners throughout the various campaigns that you ran. And then, Over two dozen funders. How do you work with, so how are you able to navigate all those partnerships? Because you say obviously that [00:25:00] you learn a lot from those folks, but that seems tricky.
Partnering collaboration is hard. It’s maybe the only good way to do things, but it’s almost impossible. Can you talk a little bit about your partnering strategy?
Tara: Yeah, collaboration is like one of our core working values at the Center for Cultural Power, and we’ve grown, so we are a large, diverse, talented team and multiple members of our.
Staff hold relationships. So the only way that we’re able to hold this many relationships is by having relationships that are managed and maintained by multiple people across the organization. And so some of the things that really support. Our collaboration. I’d say one of them is the shared values, being really clear on that and our narrative system.
So that’s a new tool that we’ve rolled out at the Center for Cultural Power. But as a narrative change organization, we have to be clear on [00:26:00] what we stand for. So we’ve created our own narrative system that guides our work and it’s really narratives as values. And then as we work in different partnerships, we can adapt these.
So we don’t believe that there’s a. One narrative system that’s gonna save us all, or we almost use the abundance narrative and our role is to grab this and disseminate it. It’s more like, this is the world we wanna create. This is the legacy of the ancestors and the wisdom that we’ve been honored to hold and transmit, and the sort of our responsibility to steward.
So what does that mean for what we stand for? And so being able to articulate that collectively and have a practice of doing that and a practice with our partners that looks really different. But allows entry points through values because we know that issues divide folks. You’re either foreign an issue or you’re against it, and you can like tug a war on that.
But the value is where you have an open point and values and action can look really different. And so that’s why. It’s [00:27:00] important to test. We learn a lot. Sometimes it could be that we’re not asking the right question, so the tool isn’t always right. Sometimes it can be the way the art was created, right?
That’s doing something. Sometimes it’s the cultural conditions and the testing data alone doesn’t get at it. Unless we’re also looking at mindset ships and like the creators themselves and the conditions. Of that collaboration. So we actually use collaboration as a key indicator of success with our partners, with our artists.
How have the work and methodologies that we created fostered collaboration. In your own work, how are you collaborating? How do you look at that? Because the Center for Cultural Power isn’t gonna hold all the relationships that are gonna transform the world, but we can offer methodologies, partners, ways of being Other communities can respond to and use in ways that are meaningful for them to make some of that big transformation that we’re talking about in WorldShip to really shift our cultural, economic, and political
It makes a ton of [00:28:00] sense and it just, in the couple minutes that we have left for people who are trying to figure out how to shift narratives in their fields.
Do you have one or two pieces of advice to give to them to get started
Tara: on that? Yeah, definitely. The first question is, who holds the power and why? So when you’re identifying a narrative shift, who’s ident? Who is identifying what the right, like what the narrative is that you want to shift to, and why is that body the one.
To hold that power. I think that’s really important. I think authenticity is really important and integrity. If you’re doing narrative change and the stories you’re telling don’t align with your own personal integrity, then you know, I think it’s a real it’s a good check for anybody. And then I think it’s a how, like how are those most directed by the challenge or the issue?
Informing the stories that [00:29:00] we’re telling. So that gets at the, who holds the power, and then I think it’s, I think you have to ask one more question is how am I changing in the act of telling the story and how are those who are rooted in the communities, where the challenges or solutions are aligned?
How are the processes that we’re engaging in creating pathways for deeper autonomy, self-determination, resourcing growth? That community. So I think that’s really important to look at. ’cause that’s where we want to cycle and how we want power to distribute and cycle within communities is in really like ways with a lot of reciprocity.
But that are locally rooted.
Eric: And I think that set of ideas and thoughts and approaches that you just mentioned, are many of them are found in this report This is kind of your case study for that. It’s really interesting work. I so appreciate you coming on. Tara Dorabji, vice President, chief Strategy [00:30:00] Officer at the Center for Cultural Power.
Thank you so much for your time today and thank you for teaching us. Thank
Tara: you so much. It was just a real honor to be in conversation with you and thank you for holding these conversations because I learned so much from being in them and hearing from you and your guests as well.
Eric: Same here, and I hope to see you again soon.
Kirk: And we’re back. So the first question I have for you, Mr. Brown, is where do you hang out that you get to meet such cool people? Because go to the cultural power.org website. Check out the team at the Center for Cultural Power, and tell me whether or not you’d love to spend a day, a week, a month, your career with these folks.
This looks like a really interesting, engaging group of. Folks, and clearly Tara’s right in the center of it as the vice President and chief strategy officer of the organization. So how did you come across Tara, this work, the Center for Cultural Power?
Eric: This is just one of those things where something interesting catches your eye and because you’re a goofball who has a podcast, you call them up and say, can I talk to you about this?[00:31:00]
And they say, yes. However, let me just say that throughout my career I have gotten calls from people who said, Hey, I’m curious about something that you’re doing. Would you mind talking about it? And they don’t have a podcast. They just have a phone. And I’m always eager to hear from people who are interested in things that I’m doing.
Obviously it’s flattering. But I encourage people out there, if you see something that’s interesting and you see someone who wrote something interesting, give ’em a call. Yeah. And ask ’em about, interview them. Learn what they, what inspired them. Try to figure out what makes them tick. Understand what they learned from things.
This is how we all learn, and I don’t think that we need to be limited by whether or not we say have a podcast. So this is just our excuse, I think, to have these conversations with incredibly smart, interesting, creative people who will teach us how to do things better and how to make a difference.
Kirk: And that’s a really important point because we’re all willing to talk about our work. I, as much as we make our work popular and mainstream and we change policy, I [00:32:00] still feel many of us work in the shadows, work in the corners of our general understanding. I. And so you’re right.
Anybody who gets that itch to say, this is really interesting, you’ll be surprised, at least in my experience, not just willing, but how generous people are to talk about what they’re doing, how they’re doing it. As we heard from Tara too, that this story, this sort of origin story for most of us and getting into the work, it’s always quite humble.
It’s always, some very unlikely path to get into this work. Certainly. I loved,
Eric: were you gonna say getting. Kicked out of the farmer’s market. Yes, exactly. You, farmer’s markets, you go to the left of them, you fall off the earth and she got kicked out. I love that
Kirk: you were doing the real work.
But then she tells the story, she’s doing this work around a nuclear weapons lab and bringing somebody to, to do a site tour that had been at the effect of that horrific destructive capacity that comes out of that lab and seeing how that. First person [00:33:00] experience changed minds, changed mindsets.
What a terrific way to get started into the work. , wow, what a thoughtful contributor to this whole conversation. Yeah,
Eric: I, oh, I was blown away. So I just love I love our. Our field. Yeah, Kirk, because it takes all kinds and it takes all approaches. And the idea about using art, we’ve been talking about this for since the very beginning, which is that, yeah, fine data can be useful to you.
But being able to affect somebody through stories and art and going around their normal kind of, whatever you wanna call it, brain computing capacity, and it’s going straight to their heart, is this incredible way of changing how we look at things. And I think that at the, at its core is what they’re trying to do.
They’re using art to change the way we look at things so that we look at them. From a different perspective. And as Traian Shorter says, it changes your brain, chemistry . I think it even changes your brain shape , then [00:34:00] that has long-term effects because once you look at it in a different way, it’s very difficult to un look at it .
And I think we are seeing. All sorts of issues from a new perspective in the last several years. Certainly issues on race, on privilege, on, I don’t know who we are as a culture and what we’re gonna do about it. And I think that’s fabulous. And she , is helping to unlock some of that for folks.
And not only that, and I said in the open the way that they went about. This project and how they’re doing message testing and how they’re a, applying a rigor. It’s not just tell a better story and hope that the world will beat a path to your door. It’s understanding what a better story does, understanding how people hear it, , which kind of people hear it, and if it’s not heard.
I’ve always said, it’s not your audience’s fault if they go uncommunicated with, we have to speak to people in ways that they’re gonna understand, that they’re gonna hear, they’re gonna [00:35:00] respond to. And then once you have that attention, then you take advantage of it and you tell important stories.
You engage with them in areas of common interest. You find , where you hold values in common in you. You speak in that place it’s not enough just to yell at people and preach at them. It’s another way entirely, or it’s just another thing entirely to engage at that level so that we are truly able to communicate.
So we are able to be heard, we’re able to share the things that we care about. And that story about the. Japanese man who made the nuclear lady cry, is a perfect example. So that’s, that work is so interesting. Really cool. And
Kirk: let’s reflect on how new this organization really is.
So the Center for Culture of Power gets born in 2020, and as we talk about this, let’s also do a shout out to Fabiana Rodriguez, who leads this whole effort and to think about the amount of work that they’ve completed over the last three years. We’re talking about. In the building narratives of Joe Report.
This is their look [00:36:00] back on the impact of campaigns, right? And within three years, they already can assemble this evidence-based approach to understanding the impact of the campaigns. And we definitely have to talk about some of the findings of the report. But one of the things that I saw in terms of I.
The Center for Cultural Power, reflecting back on their impact, what are the data points they pull forward that I thought was so interesting? Among all the things that they’re doing, they’ve actually generated stipends for people to work at the border and to do the, in terms of their border narrative project.
And this is always something I’ve thought about, the field of communication, support, capacity building, the assistance we’re trying to provide the both and required, so you have to. Provide this expert resource. So you have to be a service provider. So people wanna work with you because you have to do that the right way.
You have to show the right competency. But I’ve always felt like the, and there is, and if you could come with actual, not just human resources, not just the talent, the skillset, but if you could actually bring dollars to the conversation to help people get [00:37:00] stuff done. It feels like that rounds out the story of the capacity you’re trying to provide, and it seems like the Center for Cultural Power is actually embedding that in terms of how they approach the work.
And again, for an organization that’s three years old now, granted they come out of culture strike. I. Jeff Chang is in the background. Jeff
Eric: is everywhere. Is like
Kirk: Elvis. Yeah. But what do you think about that piece? That, that both end in terms of the work, like they’re clearly, they’re studying the work they’re creating impactful and interesting work.
They’re serving in the field as supporters, but they’re actually also bringing dollars to the equation. They’re actually able to leverage, support others in the work that they’re trying to do. And this
Eric: is also I don’t know whether it’s a challenge to funders, but it’s a challenge to funders that if you’re funding, you wanna fund narrative shift.
You have to fund it. You actually have to ensure that there’s people out there that can do it, . So that’s one of these things that it’s not enough, again, it’s not enough just to put the messages out there.
You have to have. Folks who are doing it on a regular basis, who are [00:38:00] doing it in the places where your audiences are , you have to have fully fund.
The operation and they’re able to do that. That’s a great start. And so they’re obviously well, funded, but it’s a very important lesson for funders don’t skimp on the actual doing of
Kirk: the work. So they do their research, they do their analysis. And I love Tara’s reflection. You asked, have you learned stuff that kind of challenged your thinking?
She’s absolutely. All the time. And this notion of working within the cultural context, it requires it to be relevant. And that’s changing all the time. And how nimble you have to be to respond to that. It’s just, and by the way, whenever we have somebody on the podcast that’s gonna say neuroplasticity, I’m there.
I can’t stop listening. It’s so you like that? It’s so good. So good.
Eric: You’re pro neuroplasticity.
Kirk: So think about some of the ingredients. It, and this is interesting they talk about this performance relative to bipo audiences, but as I list these ingredients, they’ve found, [00:39:00] just ask yourselves how you think this helps perform.
With all audiences, including bipo, starting with the solution rather than a problem, right? One of the great challenges, I think, at our field for decades, let’s focus on the solutions, not the problem. Let’s express urgency, hope, and even humor as we talk about this work.
Eric: I can’t stand humor, right? My least favorite thing.
Kirk: Unique perspectives, strong artistic voices, authentic personal narratives, focusing on a better future and getting there together, and then show action and then reflect the diversity of the audiences that we’re speaking to, and that we actually reflect who mirroring who we are. That set of findings now evidence-based through the analysis they’ve done.
Man, wouldn’t it be great to insert that as like the magic pill into all social change communications everywhere? Yeah. Wouldn’t it?
Eric: It would yeah. It’s interesting. We have to get out of this mode of problem solving. And again, philanthropy is very guilty of it. They identify a problem and then they come riding in to [00:40:00] solve it, and then they go away and go find some other problem somewhere else instead of continuing to build and bridge.
If you wanna think about John Powell a new better. Opportunity for everybody. And that’s a mode, it’s in our brain. And we need more neuroplasticity to get out of that mode as well, which is that we’re a building, we’re not breaking and solving necessarily puts you in the position of the problem solver and that’s not fair and it’s not right.
And it’s based on all kinds of stuff. And I think those tenets that you just articulated are exactly. , what we all need to be doing more of. And to the credit of lots of folks out there, th this is happening and it’s exciting and we are seeing the effects of it. We are seeing a different kind of way of communicating.
It’s going to take time because it took time to get us in the position that we were in. And it’s gonna take time to get us in a better one. But I totally agree that, joy is a great [00:41:00] motivator if somebody comes in and paints a picture. Of joy and hopefulness and happiness. That’s exciting.
And we always have known this, that dividing and breaking and comparing is a great way to get people to feel sad and to feel defeated and to feel hopeless. And that’s what the other side with a big O and a big T is good at. Because that’s their strategy, right? Is to make you feel hopeless and confused and oh, there’s nothing we can do about climate change.
And Oh, all those, those homeless people, forget about them. They’re, they’re not useful, so don’t worry or don’t think about it. Or it’s the Democrat’s fault for the fact that they’re there. That kind of stuff. It’s very easy to break. It’s very hard to build, and that’s why it’s so much harder to come out with these positive messages.
But I do believe they work, and I do believe that over time they will be successful.
Kirk: And even leveraging art is the intervention. One of the findings from the report, again, we’re talking about building narratives of joy. They talk [00:42:00] about focusing on intersectional identities and issues.
That’s a powerful organizing tool. And because it mirrors people’s lived experiences. And I was even thinking about intersectionality and kind of an interesting way. Because like back in the day you’d say I work on climate change. You work on art. This is this. I’m working on an issue, I’m solving an engineering problem.
This is just art, and to have analysis behind. What the work here is that says, actually this is how you bring people forward to vote in a midterm, right? This is how you actually bring people into action, real action in their lives. This is the intersection of art, policy and power, and having a clear definition for what that looks like at the Center for Cultural Power.
I love the way that all of this fits together as a real cohesive strategy that actually creates real change in the world.
Eric: Yeah. Funders will say, oh, we don’t fund communications. We fund issues. Yeah. So it’s, I think all of it is of a piece that we have to be very creative.
And it’s true. Art makes you feel. It’s what it does. And how do we connect with people’s emotions, their feelings [00:43:00] that go around the brain and go straight to the heart. That stuff is so important. You can’t just do the brain things. And again, I think they do some of the brain things just , to feel confident or to be able to show how valuable it is when we know it’s valuable anyway.
It’s good to know and as Tara said, that they learned a lot in the testing. About. About how to communicate. So I’m really excited about that. And oh, by the way, I’m excited about trying to figure out more about Sway Able. Yeah. So like you, they do randomized control trials. They take their audiences, they split ’em into a, control and a, and the whatever the test group and see who does, which messages do better and stuff like that. Anybody can do it. And I think that we have to do a lot more testing as well, because I’ve always said to people, what makes you so sure that whatever fabulous thing you just thought up works?
And they go, ah, I know it works. It’s how do you know? Because I [00:44:00] know okay, fine, that was a great conversation. Have a nice day. This idea of testing is great. We need to do more of it.
Kirk: Oh man. Seeing this data collection become more and more democratized, more and more organizations having access to actually doing this kind of research so they have evidence behind what they’re trying to do.
It’s so exciting to see tools like this out there and seeing organizations putting it into such good use.
Eric: Yep. It’s fabulous. This is great. It’s just a great, really interesting stuff. God, I love this stuff. This is
Kirk: fun. So a couple notes before we go. So Tara said something that I thought was so interesting.
Of course reflecting the sensibility of this very thoughtful person in this thoughtful organization as she was again providing us another really good description of what narrative is, how they think of that concept, how it flows into the work in, in, in terms of what the Center for Cultural Power is doing.
I loved her notion about how am I changing in the act of the telling the story. How am I as the storyteller, right? Interacting with this story. And I don’t think we’ve had folks talk about that [00:45:00] part of it before but that piece of it, that self-reflection, that immediate mirror, it’s almost like that focus group of one feedback we get, of okay, how does this story feel to be in the, in, in our bones?
I thought that was really great. And I also thought that Tara talking about narrative as central to how they build relationships within their organization. I. Yeah, was also so great. Amazing. And reflecting that, yeah, they’re growing. They’re a larger organization. No one person could hold all the relationships that they need to assemble to do.
And I love that you asked her to talk about the collaboration work they’re doing and how challenging that is, but how they’re approaching it and for Tara’s reflecting, be like, yeah, there’s a lot of us here. We have to hold many relationships to get the work done we’re trying to do. And then last before we go, can we please do a shout out to VAX Man?
Kirk: if only for Vax Man. Grab this report, building Narratives of Joy. But to see that intervention, alle based superhero helping address vaccine [00:46:00] hesitancy and the evidence behind how that had an impact on people’s willingness to get vaccinated. And again, I always go back to the famous question, how would it feel walking into a foundation office for the very first time and saying, let me pitch you on vax Man.
Eric: Sure. VAX man. No, it was great. It was, that was really fun. So clever and super cool.
Kirk: And then one last shout out because they, this is a beloved tool over here and I love to actually see them pull this forward. The power of the creative brief. It’s funny, like we, we we really have learned.
Yeah, there’s, you have to have some bridge, you have to have some tool that takes you from the plan to the tactic that, brings the strategy into implementation. That creative brief process so is so important. And then I love the question that the Center for Cultural Power asks, can we make art from this?
So whatever the creative brief is, can we make art? And again, just so exciting to see how these tools are being folded into this really thorough strategic framework for how you support change. [00:47:00] Totally agree.
Eric: That was a really great conversation and I’m so excited about their work.
Kirk: I. This is the Center for Cultural Power.
Again, you can find them and don’t you wonder how it’s possible that the URL cultural power.org was still available in 2020. It’s a funny world, but grab the report. It’s building narratives of joy. And Tara Dorabji, thank you so much for joining us on, let’s Hear. It’s such exciting work. Thank you for being so generous and talking about it.
And Eric. Once again, well done. Thank you for bringing us into this journey. This is really exciting work to see anytime my friend. Okay, until next time, we’ll see you and let’s hear it.