It’s important to give your audience more than facts, stats, and stories. While these are essential communication tools, giving your audiences language and imagery to shift consciousness will build power, especially if you are using social media.
The #cancelrent movement successfully linked numerous grassroots local movements together during the pandemic. In general, however, unifying language and imagery for the housing and community development field has not yet emerged. But other movements have discovered the durability and communicative power of strong and/or provocative imagery, slogans, and immersive art.
Favianna Rodriguez’s butterflies, often shown with the tag line “migration is beautiful,” provide a powerful example of a unifying image and message in support of immigrant rights. The butterflies lift the conversation about immigration out of the thicket of harmful stigmas, data, and policy details into a more spacious and visionary place.
The tagline Fight for 15 has become a hook for campaigns to raise the minimum wage. It invites community members to ask, “What does the Fight for 15 look like in my town?”
A local example comes from Troy, Michigan, where a local library nearly shuttered when antitax activists started raising opposition to a small tax increase for its support. On a tiny budget, library supporters used a satirical social media campaign to shift the emphasis of the debate from taxation to investing in the library.
These three campaigns used artistic, social media, and immersive tools to refocus policy conversations on values and vision. Thinking about how to use cultural tools for this kind of discovery moves the conversation about message dissemination beyond press releases and launching reports.
In thinking about resonant cultural mediums, ask yourself:
- What are the places, physical and digital, where your audiences connect and congregate?
- What are the places in your community that hold special resonance for your audiences?
- What are the cultural tools your audiences use to communicate? What kinds of music and art are your audiences drawn to?
- Which local artists are aligned with your vision and values or could represent your work?
In professional housing and community development settings, the cultural tools are white papers, blog posts, op-eds, and conferences. If you are trying to reach young people, music and parties may be more appropriate. If murals are common where you work, hire a mural artist. Use photographers to create visual essays. Bring poets to your panels.
If you and your team are struggling, consider hiring a local artist to help you answer these questions. The Making Waves Guide to Cultural Strategy outlines guidance for working with artists. Use culture to shift culture by using a variety of mediums to reach your audiences.