Art Works

How Organizers and Artists Are Creating a Better World Together

An inside look at the organizers and artists on the front lines of political mobilization and social change

“Ken [Grossinger] is one of the smartest strategists I know.” —John Sweeney, AFL-CIO president, 1995–2009

Named one of the The Progressive magazine’s Favorite Books of the Year

An artist’s mural of George Floyd becomes an emblem of a renewed movement for racial equality. A documentary film injects fuel into a popular mobilization to oust a Central American dictator. Freedom songs course through the American civil rights movement.

When artists and organizers combine forces, new forms of political mobilization follow—which shape lasting social change. And yet few people appreciate how much deliberate strategy often propels this vital social change work. Behind the scenes, artists, organizers, political activists, and philanthropists have worked together to hone powerful strategies for achieving the world we want and the world we need.

In Art Works, noted movement leader Ken Grossinger chronicles these efforts for the first time, distilling lessons and insights from grassroots leaders and luminaries such as Ai Weiwei, Courtland Cox, Jackson Browne, Shepard Fairey, Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Alexander, Bill McKibben, JR, Jose Antonio Vargas, and more.

Drawing from historical and present-day examples—including Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, the Hip Hop Caucus, the Legacy Museum, and the Art for Justice Fund—Grossinger offers a rich tapestry of tactics and successes that speak directly to the challenges and needs of today’s activists and of these political times.

Praise

“Throughout history, art has played a key role in social movements. Art Works is the first book that gives us an insightful, behind-the-scenes look at the tactics and strategies that have allowed this marriage of art and organizing to turn fledgling movements into forces of lasting social change.”
—Jane Fonda, Academy Award–winning actress, activist, and bestselling author
“My life as an activist and my life as an artist are inseparable. Ken Grossinger reveals the power generated when these two strands intertwine. The stories and strategies he illuminates cast light on a path to social justice.”
—Harry Belafonte, singer, activist, and actor
Art Works will help all readers see art as a medium for social justice, and that understanding will advance both how we create and how we live.”
—Gloria Steinem, journalist, activist, and bestselling author
“Grossinger’s arguments are a corrective to the cliché of ‘art for art’s sake.’ It is a rare manual for those who devote themselves to social change in times of crises, a reference book about our political reality, and an insightful signpost.”
—Ai Weiwei, artist and activist
“Ken Grossinger’s new book offers proof of what teachers instinctively know—ideas and information gain power when they tap into culture to touch hearts as well as minds. This book is essential reading for organizers and activists who work every day to create a better world.”
—Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers
“We all know that driving change requires touching people’s minds and hearts, changing both policy and culture—and now, finally, we have a guidebook on how to do just that. Art Works is my new required reading for everyone working for a better world.”
—Annie Leonard, co-executive director, Greenpeace USA
Art Works tells the complicated and fascinating story of the recent history of activism and the arts and points to new ways in which the arts, pop culture, and institutions are aligning themselves to address issues of violence, beauty, capitalism, and justice. Challenging and inspiring, the book raises many fundamental questions about the purpose of art and its relationship to societal change.”
—Laurie Anderson, artist and activist
Art Works, or it can with the right allies, the right audiences, and the right amounts of love and anger. Coming from outside the mainstream art world, Ken Grossinger’s book is an invaluable source for activist artists looking to increase their social impact.”
—Lucy R. Lippard, author of Get the Message? A Decade of Art for Social Change
“President Kennedy spoke of the role of art to ‘nourish the soul.’ In this new book, Ken Grossinger shows us how the arts can inspire, ennoble, challenge, and sustain the soul of our democracy.”
—Paul Begala, political commentator
“This is a book of my own heart, a road map celebrating the explosive fusion of art and activism. Art Works is transforming consciousness and inspiring the highest good.”
—V (formerly Eve Ensler), playwright, author, and activist
“Ken Grossinger has written an important and too-often-overlooked history for those who seek to understand cultural expression and for those who seek to understand movements for social justice. This is required reading.”
—Eddie Torres, president and CEO, Grantmakers in the Arts
“Hiring an experienced community organizer was a transformative moment for us at the Queens Museum, as the organizer enabled us to engage fully in the life of our community. In Art Works, Ken Grossinger makes a strong case for the past success and future potential of partnerships between organizers and art groups.”
—Tom Finkelpearl, former director of the Queens Museum and commissioner of Cultural Affairs, NYC
“Compelling and thoroughly researched . . . an informative analysis of the times we are living in.”
—Farah Nayeri, author of Takedown: Art and Power in the Digital Age
“This is the book I’ve been waiting for, a rare primer to guide how we integrate art and organizing in our work for justice.”
—Si Kahn, artist, organizer, and author of Creative Community Organizing
“Ken Grossinger invites readers to explore the symbiotic relationship between art and cultural organizing in creating lasting political change. Each chapter reflects upon the past, present, and future of cultural organizing to suggest best practices moving forward. This book is essential reading for understanding how art can help foster the solidarity and connection sometimes missing from social movements.”
—Dorian Warren, president, Community Change
“Our movement for freedom, justice, and dignity needs to reflect cultural roots. In Art Works, Ken Grossinger makes the powerful case for fusing art and organizing strategies. This is a terrific book. I’m giving it to many friends and savoring its message.”
—Heather Booth, founder, Midwest Academy Training Center
“Ken Grossinger chronicles the combined power of artists and activists across history and how these collaborations have advanced social movements. I applaud Ken for bringing this important history to life. The Art For Justice Fund is grateful to be cited as an example of this significant tradition.”
—Agnes Gund, founder and board chair, Art for Justice Fund
“Anyone who’s organizing and working for environmental justice should read this book! Art Works demonstrates how art can elevate our educational and organizing work, while extending our reach beyond the choir.”
—Lois Gibbs, founder, Center for Health Environment and Justice
“Whether it’s music, visual arts, theater, or beyond, human connection is central to making this world a fair and just place. Ken Grossinger not only illuminates this critical point, he invites us to sing a new future by calling on all parts of ourselves. A must-read for civil and human rights activists who aim to break through the noise.”
—Maya Wiley, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
“I have always known that the sounds and rhythms of music course through our movements for justice in America. But Ken Grossinger reveals the deeper connections between art and social change. Art Works gets at the heart of the matter—it is essential reading for all justice-seekers.”
—Michael Eric Dyson, bestselling author of Tears We Cannot Stop
“Focusing on stories of artists and organizers collaborating over a wide range of movements, in Art Works Ken Grossinger establishes the key principle for success when using art for social change: the effect of the arts and the effect of activism work better when working together.”
—Stephen Duncombe, co-founder of the Center for Artistic Activism
“Poignant, enlightening insights from artists and activists. . . . Art Works is an inspiring overview of the growing power of cultural organizing.”
Foreword Reviews
“[Art Works] truly illustrates how art can be a weapon, an organizing tool, and a mirror for activists and organizers to view their own work.”
The Progressive
“A motivating read. Ken Grossinger’s examination of the many mediums and methods artists, storytellers, organizers, museums, and funders have experimented with to engage the imaginations of an often disengaged public, and the resulting historical reference, inspires courage to a new generation of justice-oriented artists.”
—Jose Antonio Vargas, founder, Define American
“The creativity and beauty of art are essential ingredients for powerful movements. Grossinger’s new book reminds us of this truth and offers a guide to harnessing it.”
—Ai-jen Poo, president, National Domestic Workers Alliance
“I’m so excited about the possibilities this book creates—the possibility to infuse our movements with joy and meaning through art, and thus make them more effective and impactful; the possibility to visualize a different future our movements seek to create. May every organizer be inspired to expand our ‘repertoire of contention’ through art.”
—Saru Jayaraman, president, One Fair Wage, director of the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley, and author of One Fair Wage

News and Reviews

Social Policy

Read a review of Art Works in Social Policy.

The Forge

Read an interview with Art Works author Ken Grossinger in The Forge about how organizers and artists are creating a better world.

Goodreads Reviews