The pandemic and racial justice uprisings of 2020 have made clear that the systems that structure society—from carceral to health to storytelling—produce profoundly different realities for Black, Latinx, indigenous, immigrant, and disabled peoples. Arts, documentary film, and journalism are implicated; they often create and perpetuate narratives that give permission to social, economic, and political marginalization.

These sectors are facing deep reckonings and, since March, have witnessed urgent calls for creating accountability, reconstructing paradigms, and reforging shared commitments to just futures. The thinking and analysis that inform these calls are holistic and intersectional, using economic, ecological, ethical, and justice frameworks, drawing from the past to look to the future. Particularly in this historic moment, the arts and media have both the potential and responsibility to deepen our understanding of human complexity and imagine more expansive and democratic modes of being.

To build on this conversation, our Creativity and Free Expression team invited 44 thinkers across our areas of focus—arts and culture, documentary film, and journalism—to provide short provocations outlining concrete, actionable plans that can carry social and cultural transformation forward. All contributors were provided the same prompt, included below.

What came back is an extraordinary set of ideas that move outside of inherited structures and imagine a more just and equitable path forward. Common themes and connective tissue emerged across disciplines and sectors. The provocations have been assembled into six wide-ranging categories that offer interconnected entry points into the conversation:

  • The Co-op: resource-sharing and collective ownership
  • Place: rootedness and local responsibility
  • New Paradigms: reorganizing systems and power dynamics
  • Artmaking: aesthetic interventions and reformulations
  • The Money: new economies and financial practices
  • New Infrastructures: alternative blueprints and DIY spaces​

The series will unfold over the course of the fall of 2020. We hope that these ideas will spark action to reimagine how the arts, documentary film, and journalism are funded, created, valued, and disseminated.

The Prompt:

This year has forced us to reexamine our shared myths of justice and equity. Laid bare are the lasting wounds of history. Laid bare by COVID-19 and the resulting economic collapse, by the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and many more and the ensuing global protests are the inequities endemic to all of our social systems. We are in widespread crisis, with demands for change across sectors.

What emerges next? A crucial opportunity to implement new states of being, new structures, new practices—including new modes of cultural production, where so much of what counts as justice and equity is constructed and contested. Culture
can be central in fueling and shaping transformative social possibilities. But the sectors of arts and culture, documentary film, and journalism, like our larger society, have never been equitable or sustainable. This is a moment to reshape these
fields, an opportunity to rethink how culture is created and pinpoint the specific levers for producing change.

We invite you to craft a written provocation as part of CREATIVE FUTURES, a new project from the Ford Foundation’s Creativity and Free Expression program to reimagine arts and culture, documentary film, and journalism. We ask that your provocation be brief and as concrete and actionable as possible, drawn from your particular experience and transforming a particular element, practice, contour, or context of your field, whether aesthetic, ethical, procedural, infrastructural, business, innovative, communal, or otherwise.

Thank you for joining us in this vital work to build more just futures.

Three geometric faces project beams of color into the center in pinks, purples, greens and yellows, overlapping with clouds and birds.

This essay is part of CREATIVE FUTURES, a series of provocations by thinkers across the arts, documentary, and journalism on the future of the creative industry.