If you've visited Art in Praxis in the last three months you know I'm obsessed with connecting organizations to artists. I believe that collaborations between organizations and artists expand the depth and breadth of an organizations' impact; the social practice of the artist and; the economic outlook of all involved.

Art imitates and re-imagines. Social good organizations have stories to tell about the generative, transformative work they set out to do. These stories – the why, how and what- attract employees, stakeholders, and funders. Many Organization Development practitioners (myself included) believe that storytelling is inherently a part of any organizations business strategy and to be even more dramatic, their survival. Think about it: What is the last cause you supported? What story resonated with you?

Switching gears, the savviest social good organizations apply market-based strategies to achieve their missions. A market–based strategy aligns drive, reputation, opportunity and capacity. It’s about long-term goals and objectives, implementation and evaluation.  I purport that if art, specifically hip-hop, isn’t consciously embedded in those market-based strategies, these organizations loose. Mission #fail.

By looking at hip-hop artists as capacity builders, organizations and institutions can create a new framework and context for engaging with them. I use the term "Capacity building" to describe activities that strengthen an organization and help it better fulfill its mission (Connolly, Lucas, 2002).

When an organization or institution recognizes the power that comes with integrating an aesthetic into their strategy and chooses to build a body of work – literary, performance, visual art - alongside a trusted, skilled artist – it’s an intervention. In fully owning how they want to tell the story about themselves, it’s a sure bet they will increase their impact. When an artist comes to understand the many dimensions of an organization before designing interactive media, graphics, devising a performance or writing a song, it’s reflected in the authenticity and quality of the work. Mission #win.

But why Hip-Hop Artists Though?

When hip-hop artists take residence in an organization it provides space for assessment, deeper relationship building, collaborative project design and multi-sensory social practice – the things formal capacity builders do. Hip-Hop is storytelling, it is market-strategy personified. It's a "dolla and a dream" (Notorious B.I.G., 1995). The obvious outputs from any collaboration with an artist are products that can be shared, reproduced and sold. But there are also intangible benefits including creative intellectual content and a hip-hop ethos that could potentially deepen connections to supporters, constituents, staff and the mission.

In visioning the optimal creative collaborator for a social good organization, I think about “Social Practice” as a framework “Social Practice” is a bridge; it’s an emerging Art and Design methodology that involves inquiry and community engagement. Foundations get it. In “From Creative Economy to Creative Society” the Rockefeller Foundation supports the powerful role the arts play in engagement, “Cultural engagement contributes to the quality of  community life by reflecting and reinforcing social diversity" (Seifert, Stern).

Hip-hop as an art form, aesthetic and cultural framework lends itself to Social Practice principles. Many are threaded in the fabric of the genre and are core competencies hip-hop artists bring to their work:  Art strategies as interventions, guerrilla art, public art, social sculpture, project-based community practice, interactive media, and street performance (Jackson, 2008).  Hip-Hop artists are Social Practice experts by design – a skill set that is complementary to social good organizations. Translated into hip-hop - visual art, cyphers, music created in collaboration with a social good organization benefits everyone who "chips in" (Snoop Doggy Dog, 1994).

We know that the creative economy is a permeable engine of growth and community vitality. From Corporations to Mom and Pop shops, people are producing and distributing cultural goods and services that generate jobs and revenue. The question that haunts me is “How do we cultivate environments where artists and social good organizations meet, identify shared values and begin producing together over time?

Right now, I'm answering this question through curation. I produce events that celebrate and strengthen the networks that already exists between social sector influencers and dynamic artists. I'm on an ever-unfolding journey to point out the common ground between artists and organizations, hip-hop and social good.  Every time I produce an event that celebrates the intersections of art and change and it is at capacity with artists, change agents and those on the spectrum, my claims are affirmed. In the future, I will answer this question through philanthropy, investing in the sustainability of social good organizations that integrate social practice arts into their business strategies. At that point, I hope that longer-term relationships between artists and organizations has shifted from being a "great idea" into a recognized pillar in the development of those artists and organizations.

Jess Solomon, Mad Scientist @ Art in Praxis



Connolly, Paul and Lukas, Carol. Strengthening Nonprofit Performance: A Funder's Guide to Capacity Building.2002: Wilder Publishing Center, Saint Paul, MN

Davis, Tracy, Ed. Jackson, Stacy.The Cambridge Companion to Performance Studies (Cambridge Companions to Literature). "What is the 'social' in social practice?: comparing experiments in performance". 2008: Cambridge Literary Press

Seifert, Susan and Stern, Mark. "From Creative Economy to Creative Society”. 2008: Rockefeller Foundation. Link: http://www.sp2.upenn.edu/siap/docs/cultural_and_community_revitalization/creative_economy.p