Dec. 23, 2020  /  View this email in your browser
Banner with the Arts+Culture logo
Illustration showing woman playing guitar
Image: Kate Morales @crowcamino, commissioned by Southwest Folklife Alliance, 2020

Dear <<First Name>>,

On behalf of all of us at the Othering and Belonging Institute (OBI), I send you warm wishes this season. I’m also very happy to share with you our first monthly Arts & Cultural Strategy newsletter, which contains some gifts including an end-of-year music playlist.

Here at OBI, we believe in the essential role that art and culture play in creating lasting and authentic belonging.

And this year we have leaned heavily on the wisdom, connection, joy and vulnerability that art and culture can bring. We have seen how stories, art and cultural strategy can expand belonging, disrupt harmful narratives of othering, and build long-lasting power. And we have also seen culture mobilized to fortify othering and violence for political power and economic gain.

We know that this will continue to be a pivotal arena of work and I am happy to share that in the past year we increased our capacity to grow cultural strategy across our programs at the Institute. The next year will bring much more. As a start, this new monthly newsletter will offer you gifts of inspiring art, opportunities and resources about bringing arts and culture into your work and reflections on what is sustaining us at the Institute.

No matter what road brought you to the OBI community, I am glad you are here. We look forward to hearing from you.

With gratitude and in partnership,

Evan Bissell
Arts & Cultural Strategy Coordinator


Moses Sumney reminds us that a global pandemic can’t stop a liberated performance. Treat yourself to 20 minutes of beauty. Created for Live from Planet Afropunk.


The Toward Belonging program at OBI is seeking an inaugural Creative Fellow to explore and develop innovative ideas that use a design and systems approach to challenges which present barriers to belonging in Europe. We are looking for ideas that help further belonging by analyzing its challenges, displaying empathy and connection with all , and offering creative and achievable solutions. The fellow will receive a $15,000 honorarium. 

Read the full announcement here.

illustration of two hands holding

Image: Monica Trinidad, @itsmonicatrinidad, available via For the People Artists Collective

Looking to connect or need assistance? During the pandemic, mutual aid has reemerged as an essential practice in caring for each other when public and private systems won’t or can’t. If the term is new to you, mutual aid is about a culture shift in how we care for each other while pushing for transformative change. In Dean Spade’s new book Mutual Aid, Spade writes that, “At its best, mutual aid actually produces new ways of living where people get to create systems of care and generosity that address harm and foster well-being.” Check out the Mutual Aid Disaster Relief or Mutual Aid Hub for opportunities or listen to Veralucia Mendoza talk about Decolonizing Mutual Aid on the La Cura podcast.


photo of two young woman in masks standing with one looking into a notebook and another holding a tablet in front of a mural of a young boy

Image: Maya and Lily, two members of Alphabet Rockers, take notes on murals created during the 2020 uprising in downtown Oakland, this one by muralist Pancho Pescador. The mural walk was part of their research for a new album supported by OBI. November 2020. Photo credit: Nico Opper.

We are thrilled to host 2021 artist-in-residence Alphabet Rockers, an intergenerational group of artists dedicated to creating music and experiences for children and families that embraces Black liberation, Queer liberation, Indigenous rights, immigrant rights, and intersectionality. The crew has been busy in their first two months, including a segment on CBS and the release of a new anti-racist curriculum for parents, We Got Work To Do. For their residency, Alphabet Rockers are engaging in a collective research process about power and alternative models of justice in schools and society at large. Their process will include public conversations with organizers, online learning spaces for young people and families, and the creation of a new album. Follow @alphabetrockers to stay engaged with their process and catch events in the spring. You can read the full announcement about their residency here.   


Illustration of women I think putting together some time of quilt

Image: Kate Morales, @crowcamino, commissioned by Southwest Folklife Alliance, 2020

Over the next two years, OBI staff are supporting participatory action research fellows to work with ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab and Native American) artists and cultural workers around the country. Participatory action research (PAR) is a methodology that reflects the principle of, “nothing about us without us,” (see page 3 here for more on this phrase) the use of a wide range of methods often-rooted in place or culturally specific practice, and the application of research towards meaningful change. The initiative, funded by the Surdna foundation, will support over 200 new artist-led projects that mobilize radical imagination for racial justice. We are grateful to be collaborating with incredible teams at the Highlander Research and Education Center and Southwest Folklife Alliance to support the participatory action research component. For those interested in digging deeper on PAR, we recently hosted a workshop series on the background of PAR, question development, and documentation. Selina Morales, Lead Folklorist at Southwest Folklife Alliance shares the following about the image above:  "When introducing community members to Participatory Action Research and Folklife Research, we have used these images to illustrate an asset-based approach to community knowledge gathering and to communicate the variety of forms that "research" can take. We have found that these images open up rich conversations about community-embedded knowledge and help community members see a path to learning with one another to make change."

+from the archives

OBI has had the great pleasure of working with Senior Fellow Mina Girgis over the last year, who is also part of our Arts & Cultural Strategy committee. Mina is co-founder of the Nile Project, which bridges political and cultural divides of the Nile region through music, in order to address water justice. Check out this performance of the Nile Project and dig in deeper from a talk by Mina presented in our summer fellow program about music and bridging.


screenshot of the institutes holiday mix
screenshot of the artists included in the holiday mix

A warm playlist for the short winter days, created by Nilo Amiri. In addition to making sure everything runs smoothly at OBI, you can find Nilo competing in a popping battle near you (after the pandemic of course). 


How being raised by artists changed everything
By Cecilie Surasky, communications director

I wouldn't trade growing up in a family of artists for anything. And that's not because I know how to draw or paint or sculpt. I don’t.

It's because more than anything else, my parents taught me how to observe, to notice, and how to move through the world not as a passive recipient of what is, but as a co-creator of what could be.

black and white photo of Cecilie Surasky as a baby wearing a pilot's outfitLet’s call this having Artist’s Insight, something that all of us naturally have, but which we often suppress over time.

First, about my parents. Growing up, everything, and I mean everything, was a surface awaiting transformation. An old jeans shirt, a pillow, an old radiator, a canvas or an unexposed negative. By the time my parents got done with it, it was unrecognizable.

My father taught himself to renovate old houses, and when we were kids, he turned our tiny South Philly 3rd-floor closet into a bathroom/submarine complete with a walkie talkie, a porthole, a steering wheel, and a ladder up to the roof—all objects he had retrieved from a demolished hospital. Over the door he put an old elevator floor indicator, thus adding to the wonderment of gullible friends and delight especially of my sister who could tell a tall tale with a straight face.  

So when I was in high school, and returned from working with migrant farmworkers and Haitian refugees and realized my own community was rife with the same racism and inequality, I announced that my lifetime mission would be to work for freedom movements.

You’d think I had chosen a different family business. But I hadn’t.

Because in a world that reduces everything to its value in the marketplace, my parents’ gave me something so much more valuable and revolutionary—the capacity to take virtually any situation, no matter how unjust, and to imagine what it could be. And even more important, because I had seen my parents regularly and astonishingly transform the old and forgotten into beautiful objects filled with life, I could approach anything from a building, a personal dynamic or an unjust system and believe with all my heart and soul that it could—eventually— be changed.

Whether it be organizing for LGBT rights in Rhode Island, renters rights in Oakland or Palestinian freedom and equality inside my own Jewish community, I have worked in movements to build institutions and change laws that people said were impossible.  Most of us are so deeply limited by the “reality police”, that we don’t realize how much we simply accept in our world. But our Artist’s Insights have no such restraints.

Every day, artists imagine the impossible and speak to our deepest yearning for belonging, and thus light the way forward for our movements to build a world built on interdependence, love and care for all, not just some. Without artists in the lead, and without our capacity to imagine, we are in the dark.

(Image: A young Cecilie Surasky dressed as a pilot)
Subscribe to our enewsletter
Donate Today!
Copyright © 2020 Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley. All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
University of California, Berkeley
460 Stephens Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-2330
Tel: 510-642-3326

You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.