Boom & Bust: The Swiss Army Knife Approach to Creative Advocacy

by | November 11, 2022 | News | 0 comments

“This was a great presentation that lends itself to strategic alignment around the work that is already being done in the sector, having some level of specificity as to which groups are being targeted, in this case, the (Creative) Arts. It’s one thing to talk about what is needed from a theoretical perspective, but what’s the metaphysical manifestation? The question becomes how it gets applied. And, not only how does it get applied but how do we move from transactional to transformational? When we talk about iteration, agile organizations, and transformational leadership, these are all terms that are being tossed around but what’s the evidence that it’s actually taking place? The Boom or Bust documentary and the work being done by New Sun Rising and RiverWise is such an example and provides clear evidence through the lens of creative advocacy.”

Fred Brown, President & CEO of The Forbes Funds

New Sun Rising & RiverWise: A Regional, Collaborative Advocacy Approach

We were joined on this week’s Call for Community Solutions by the dynamic advocacy duo of Scott Wolovich, Executive Director of New Sun Rising, and Daniel Rossi-Keen, PhD., Executive Director of RiverWise. Their collaboration, literally, producing a playbook for Creative Advocacy and the riveting Boom & Bust documentary which we teased for our network during our conversation with a showing of the trailer (watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlHoVXRCq04) along with introducing the exclusive opportunity extended to our community by our presenters to host screenings or participate in virtual screenings which you will find detailed in this week’s digest and call for response below.

Indeed, these two organizations have a compelling narrative and story to share. New Sun Rising is committed to being a part of the solution as they help to organize, support, and amplify equitable community development initiatives towards a just society for all people. New Sun Rising acknowledges that our organizational power and privilege have allowed for access to resources that have been created through and enabled by systematic oppression. As such, New Sun Rising is committed to enacting behaviors that involve sharing and redirecting such resources to those who have been denied access, ownership, and dignity. 

RiverWise employs sustainable development practices to create a regional identity around the rivers of Beaver County. At the heart of this work is a concerted effort to organize stakeholders to dream, learn, and collaborate about the future of our rivers.

RiverWise encourages this process in two, primary ways. First, by forming eco-districts in three communities (Aliquippa, Monaca, and Beaver Falls) and, secondly, by engaging with a pipeline of projects aimed at activating community ideas and bringing sustainable development to life throughout Beaver County. Beaver County has been going through some major changes with far-reaching implications for the region. Chief among them, Shell made moves into the region and Beaver County in 2018, building a multi-billion-dollar ethane cracker that proposed using ethane from the region’s natural gas to produce the building blocks of plastic. The plant anticipated 600 jobs in the region, but also air and water pollution. Given this potential breach of community trust, under the auspices of an economic boom, RiverWise was formed, bringing people there together to talk about the issue of sustainability and environmental justice.

Enter New Sun Rising into the conversation.

“Scott and I have been working together for the past seven years, really trying to think about and understand the connections between the work that’s happening in the Greater Pittsburgh region through New Sun Rising and our work that is happening in Beaver County and really trying to understand how those two contexts speak to one another how they inform one another, how they’re similar, how they’re different. And most of all, trying to understand how we can extend learning from one context into another to move beyond some historic and predictable silos that often keep us from the kind of impulse that is behind the work of the GPNP and the greater network of collaboration.”

Daniel Rossi-Keen, Executive Director of RiverWise

The rest, as the saying goes, is now documented in creative advocacy history.

What Do You Do When The Story You’re Told May Not Be The Whole Story: A Documentary & Grass-Roots Movement Is Born

“For me, the trigger was really around the increased regional conversation about the shell plant coming. We needed to understand what other communities had experienced, as it relates to petrochemical development. The best we had here was theory right like, ‘Okay, well this is what we think is gonna happen.’ But we wanted to see for ourselves…to see what is actually happening on the ground. To see what good is there, and what bad is there. So we said let’s just go and see.”

Boom & Bust Documentary

Going and seeing, for the purposes of storytelling and changing the narrative, is exactly what our presenters Daniel and Scott did. Specifically, traveling to the Chemical Corridor along the Gulf Coast Region with a group of concerned residents in search of answers from a power structure supporting the activities of Shell and others based upon the rationale of providing thousands of jobs in the industry. The group boarded a plane armed with a videographer and a host of questions: What does it look like to be a good neighbor? What does it look like to come into a community for a long time? How does power play into this?

These questions were particularly poignant for our region, as provocatively captured in the documentary, “which has spent generations living in the shadow of the steel industry, and by failing to understand the region’s hopeful response to that kind of investment, failing to understand how thoroughly hope has been stripped away from this place, particularly by industry. On one hand, it seems kind of crazy that we would embrace that again but on the other hand, it’s the only thing we’ve ever known.”

What Is Creative Advocacy & Cultural Capital? What’s That Got To Do With You?

Our presenters defined Creative Advocacy as strengthening community movement by challenging prevailing narratives. In the case of the Boom or Bust documentary, the question was, is industry good for the community?

As Scott pointed out during our call, neither New Sun Rising nor RiverWise is by nature an advocacy organization. As non-profits, we recognize advocacy is important and it’s a necessary part of systems change but we’re not primarily advocacy organizations so much of the work we’re seeing such as this Boom & Bust documentary and collaboration, as well as exploration around Creative Advocacy as an emerging discipline, is new and experiential. With that in mind, look at the 8 million stories around you, inside your community, and the lives of those you are serving and look to experiment. We give voice to the voiceless and personal agency to those lacking mobility.

As our speakers highlighted, using the arts, telling stories and the emerging approach to creative advocacy effectively moves the needle forward in one or more key areas of Community Capital (natural, human, cultural, financial, political, social, or built). The more we advocate, the more capital comes into the community. Further, as the Boom & Bust documentary and partnership reveal, the more eyeballs we get on our story and the impressions we create, leveraging digital media and platforms, the richer our narrative and reserve of Cultural Capital get. Cultural capital consists of the values, norms, beliefs, and traditions that make up a community. As non-profits, we are the bond that holds (glues) the community’s identity together. So, who better to tell the story of community development, convey the deeper meaning and make sense of what is happening to us, and around us? In this case, you might legitimately say, “no screens, no environmental justice.”

Lastly, leveraging Cultural Capital and proximity to the cultural district also forges connections to artists, creatives and innovators within the community. As a result, these disruptive innovators leaned into (leveling up) culture, making culture a central feature of their work and partnership. Literally, at the heart (and mind) of this collaboration is a theory of change and capacity building which espouses that by centering cultural capital and advocacy efforts, non-profit organizations can engage a wider section of the public, shift community mindset, help communities to envision more equitable, sustainable futures and ultimately be better positioned to bring about positive change.

Also, an environmental scan of your area will undoubtedly reveal several creative shops, entities, and collaborative artist movements such as the Genesis Collective www.gcollective.org whom RiverWise partnered with. These avant-gardes, sub-cultures, and community fixtures view art as a deliberate tool for community change and are actively looking to engage with non-profits to tell their stories.

Creative Advocacy Playbook: Put Me In, Coach!

To build upon their success path and assist others in this regard, and “de-risking the investment in advocacy,” New Sun Rising and RiverWise have teamed up with a local and international team of creatives to produce a first-of-its-kind playbook and proprietary Brand ID around Creative Advocacy. The goal was to create something tangible to disrupt prevailing narratives, and strengthen community movement toward an identified goal by guiding the creative advocacy process and knowledge transfer, leveraging their key learnings along the way. The result is a playbook consisting of the main ingredients for effective creative advocacy “as a public and intentional form of engagement.”

Stay tuned for more information on this exciting, groundbreaking development and specific ways our network can leverage this tool for collective impact and transformational leadership as the Creative Advocacy Playbook is officially released in the coming weeks this November.

Call For Community Response: Boom & Bust Screenings Coming To A Community Near You

Here are your handles and next steps in response to this week’s Call For Community Solutions. In order to jump-start your Creative Advocacy efforts and take an immediate page out of the Creative Advocacy Playbook, let us know if you would like to host a screening of the Boom & Bust Documentary in your community or by contacting Daniel Rossi-Keen

at daniel@getriverwise.com and Scott Wolovich at scott@newsunrising.org for more specifics on arranging a screening.

Finally, we will be announcing both virtual and live screening opportunities for our network with a potential follow-up conversation with Daniel and Scott planned in the near future as we’ve barely scratched the surface of Creative Advocacy!

As always, reach out, share feedback or schedule a one-on-one discussion to go deeper:

  • erin@forbesfunds.org
  • emily@forbesfunds.org

This Week’s Call For Community Solutions UN Sustainable Development Goals & Social Determinants of Health Framework Alignment

This week’s Call For Community Solutions demonstrated broad alignment with our UN Sustainable Development Goals, most specifically #16 (Peace, Justice & Strong Institutions), #17 (Partnership For The Goals). As it relates to the Boom & Bust Documentary, Goals #7 (Affordable & Clean Energy); #8 (Decent Work & Economic Growth); #9 (Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure); #10 (Reduced Inequalities); #11 (Sustainable Cities & Communities); and #13 (Climate Action) were also relevant to the discussion.

As for the Social Determinants of Health, Neighborhood & Built Environment, Social & Community Context and Economic Stability were all prevalent themes.

During our call, our presenters also referenced and highlighted our core frameworks and shared values around the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Social Determinants of Health to align and organize creative advocacy efforts, unlocking vertical integration to create more power for systems change while looking across vertically integrated systems where grass roots organizations and institutional partners who may not typically be in the same room can come together for cross-sector collaboration and broad-based organizing around issues and “de-siloing” of advocacy efforts such as Environmental Justice.

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