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Start With Yes – 2019 thank you print

For the third year running I’ve made a risograph print to thank our donors. This year we took a little phrase we use around the C4AA to share with you.

Why start with yes?

“Start with Yes” is a shared philosophy around collaboration at the C4AA. It means start in agreement, start with acceptance, start with trust. It means saying yes to wild ideas. Yes to the world we want. Yes to love. Yes to working together. Yes to sharing. Yes to successes. Yes to aiming higher. Yes to making it weirder. Yes to the unexpected. Yes to Utopian dreams. Yes to odd combos.

Yes and. Yes to the future. Yes to everyone. Yes to big risks. Yes to possibly, probably looking like a fool. Yes to talking. Yes to listening. Yes to dreaming. Yes to pushing it a step further. Yes to thinking. Yes to feeling. Yes to doing. Yes we will do the impossible. Yes we will win.

We hope a reminder to “Start with Yes” can help your collaborations also!

About the print

11×17 Risograph
Edition of 100

Created in edition of 100 as thank you when you support our end of year fundraising campaign.

The print is made with a Risograph printer. Similar to silkscreening, Riso printing enables a layering technique to produce multi-colored prints. It’s printed on high-quality Speckletone paper, the first-ever recycled sheet with flecks and “shives” created in 1955 by the French Paper Co.

Each print has slight variations. All are signed and editioned by Steve Lambert.

start with yes full view

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Make a contribution of $50 or more and get a Start with Yes print.

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Free Art Presentation to Benefit Climate Action

Babel and Blood Moons, 2015 Painting from the Digging out from the Dirty Decade collection, by Catie Faryl

Babel and Blood Moons, 2015 Painting from the Digging Out from the Dirty Decades collection, by Catie Faryl

Digging Out From the Dirty Decades


Art Presentation to Benefit Climate Action

Featuring an inspiring art slide show with humorous observations by West Coast Artist Catie Faryl.

Sunday November 17th
two free shows – 3 pm & 5 pm
(30 minutes each)
Bellview Grange 1050 Tolman Creek Road in Ashland, Oregon

Artwork will be for sale at discount prices to benefit Southern Oregon Pachamama Alliance & Project Drawdown Climate Actions

On Sunday November 17th, West Coast Artist Catie Faryl will be sharing her recent art collection, “Digging Out from the Dirty Decades,” at Bellview Grange, 1050 Tolman Creek Road in Ashland, Oregon.  There will be two half-hour art slide presentations, one at 3 pm and one at 5 pm, during which Catie will discuss her art and commentary on events beginning with Y2K in 1999 through the past 20 years, ending with our current situations in 2019.
Faryl is launching her Digging out from the Dirty Decades Card Deck, which is 72 art cards in chronological order along with ironic political satire and revealing environmental commentary.
Sales of Catie’s greeting cards, her popular Balance Deck Art Cards, matted prints, framed and matted originals will benefit climate crisis actions and education programs of Southern Oregon Pachamama Alliance. Also Catie will offer a sneak preview of her next project called “2020 – The Year of Living Frugally”.
For more information please contact Catie Faryl at 541 535-1854 or by email.
Catie’s greeting cards and Art Card Decks are for sale locally at Bloomsbury Books.  If you can’t attend, donations can be mailed to Bellview Grange, P.O. Box 3372, Ashland Oregon 97520
For more information contact Catie Faryl at 541 535-1854 or by email at [email protected], and please visit The Gentle Rebellion – a plan to reduce energy use and waste on Facebook


The Revellers, New Years 1999 painting from the Digging out from the Dirty Decades collection by Catie Faryl

The Revellers, New Years 1999 painting from the Digging out from the Dirty Decades collection by Catie Faryl

NAMI SO Announces Poster Contest for annual Mental Health Film Fest

The National Alliance on Mental Illness Southern Oregon (NAMI SO) would like to announce an art contest for our poster for the next annual Mental Health Film Fest:
Dear Artists:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness Southern Oregon (NAMI SO) would like to announce an art contest for our poster for the next annual Mental Health Film Fest:

NAMI SO Film Fest Poster artwork competition: as a fun way to involve the artists in our community, the NAMI SO Film Fest Committee wants to invite you to submit two-dimensional art pieces for consideration for the 2020 film fest poster! The winner will get to see their artwork all over Jackson and Josephine counties and will receive special mention in the programs and two tickets to Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2020 Season!

This is a great way to show how art is relevant to mental health. The composition should be easy-to-identify, somehow connecting with the theme of mental health, and it should be a positive message of hope, help and recovery. A big ask? Maybe. But so very important!

Artists who don’t make it onto the poster will still have the opportunity to display their artwork at the Film Fest event, May 2nd (in Ashland) and 3rd (Grants Pass)! This year, we will display art depicting anything to do with mental health, emotions, or images inspired by our mental health…stay tuned here for more on that as we get closer, but be thinking about what you want to submit…

Bring original artwork submissions for the poster (signed but unframed, as it will need to be scanned if it wins) to the NAMI Library at 140 S. Holly, Medford, Rm 1300 by January 31st, 2020, or contact Meesha Blair at [email protected]. We will notify you of the winner within the week following. All artwork should have your contact information attached, so we can notify you and return your artwork. Contest is not limited to NAMI members (although membership is a great way to support our work in the community. See for more). There is no entry fee.

We look forward to seeing your art!

Good luck!
Meesha Blair, NAMI SO Advocacy Committee


Northwest Mystics 2019: Women of the PNW

Northwest Mystics 2019: Women of the PNW ​presents over 20 women artists for a representation of power found in the feminine mystique and, ultimately, communicates an inspired message that will leave viewers uplifted, hopeful, and with a little joy in their heart.

Center on Contemporary Art Northwest Mystics 2019

From December 5 through 21, Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA) presents, “Northwest Mystics 2019: Women of the PNW.” CoCA will wrap up their 2019 year of amplifying the voices of women and femme-identified artists with an exhibition, not only of women, but also works from select CoCA members. A 2019 Mayor’s Arts Award recipient, CoCA has been an artistic staple in Seattle since 1981 and continues to challenge the status quo while exploring cultural assumptions and highlighting the essential role of art in a global conversation.

“Northwest Mystics 2019: Women of the PNW” will include a wide variety of artists from different backgrounds to include a musical performance, sculpture, painting, and video, as well as lighted animatronic motion-sensitive “flowers” by Sena Clara Creston that engage directly with visitors. Additional artists in the show include Amina Maya, Anya Gudimova, Aramis Hamer, Babs Fulton, Cathy Sarkowsky, Christy Bailey, Eliaichi Kimaro, Jenny Jun Smith, ​Jocelyn Beausire, ​Kree Arvanitas, KT Hancock, Michelle Friars, Minhi Wimplempeck, Ouija Boob, Polly Purvis, Sandi Bransford, Sonya Stockton, Shima Star, ST Rivera, Vian Nguyen, and Victoria Raymond.

This show is inspired in part by the life and work of gallery owner and catalyst for the Northwest School, Zoë Dusanne as she celebrated the ingenuity and unflappable spirit of the Pacific Northwest. Her life, work and dedication to creating and holding space for contemporary art is one that CoCA deeply identifies with. Dusanne was also a trailblazer of her time as the first African-American woman to open her own gallery, a working single mother and, along with her parents, a founding member of the Seattle chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1947, Dusanne built a home in Seattle specifically designed to double as an art space, which she opened to the public in November 1950. Dusanne’s persistence and dedication to presenting artists, who would later be known as the “mystical” painters from Northwest School, resulted in a feature in ​Life ​magazine in 1953 and propelled the Northwest School to national prominence. Unfortunately in 1958, her home and gallery were demolished in order to accommodate the construction of I-5—something Seattleites can still relate to today.

CoCA’s nod to the Northwest School’s history is visible in landscapes such as one with a twist by Jenny Jun Smith or nature-inspired abstracts with a dark misty palette by Cathy Sarkowsky. In contrast to the Northwest School artists, this show displays a visceral sensuality and playfulness of the feminine mystique. Some works speak directly to the current social climate, such as ST Rivera’s ink on paper piece titled “Machismo;” Vian Nguyen’s oil painting, “Torn;” and Victoria Raymond’s 3D mixed media collage, “Grit.” “Northwest Mystics 2019: Women of the PNW” is a visual representation of the beautiful struggle of the feminine and, ultimately, communicates an inspired message that will leave viewers uplifted, hopeful, and with a little joy in their heart.


Exhibition Runs December 5 – 21, 2019.
Opening Reception, on December 5, 2019, 6-9pm, part of Pioneer Square Art Walk and includes a musical performance by Ouija Boob at 7:30pm.
All events at CoCA in Pioneer Square: 114 Third Avenue South, Seattle, 98104
More info: ​

The Copenhagen Experiment: The Report

The past decade has witnessed a surge in “artistic activism,” both in practice and its study. Whether it actually works, however, is still a matter of faith more than fact. What has not been done is an evidence-based, empirical comparative study of the variable impact of creative versus more conventional forms of activism on a public audience in terms of ideas, ideals and actions. Until now.

Over the course of three days in May of 2018, Stephen Duncombe, Silas Harrebye and their research team mounted activist interventions on a popular and well-traveled bridge in the middle of Copenhagen, Denmark. Each day we paired a conventional activist intervention — public speaking, petitioning, flyering — with a creative way of accomplishing the same task, in a classic A/B experimental model.

After a year of analysis of 108 interviews, 30 observation sheets, petition and pamphlet tallies, hours of film footage of the events, and 25 follow-up survey responses, we are pleased to present our findings. You can read and download the full report, or a short 2 page summary below.

Download pdf Summary: The Copenhagen Experiment (Summary)

Download pdf Full Version: The Copenhagen Experiment

Contact the authors of this report

Watch the video

the C4AA Streaming Soiree

If you donate to the C4AA this month, you’ll get a ticket to the big, live, online meetup we’re calling “The Streaming Soiree”.

C4AA Streaming Soiree

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We’ve been thinking about all of you – our far-flung compatriots, and we want to hang out. We want to gather round a campfire and talk about all of our big adventures, and our weird side projects we never talk about. We want to hear what you have been seeing in your corner of the world. We want to ruminate together and brainstorm to solve the pressing problems – How do we rally people? How do we do something amazing with no budget? How do we make sure the next elections go our way? Who should our main audience be if we want to change things? What crazy intervention will actually get people to stop and think? We want to talk about the things you’re wondering about.

As a ticket holder you can:

-Submit questions in advance we will actually research and give our smartest answers to!

-Ask sensitive questions like “where does your funding come from?” or “have you ever had a workshop that ended in disaster?” or “what’s the story with that rash?” and we will do our best to answer them. And honestly!

-Meet other C4AA supporters and learn about their work

-Make suggestions for future Pop Culture Salvage Expeditions outings!

-Get a sneak preview of our upcoming book, “How to Win: A Practical Guide to Artistic Activism!”

-Weigh in on future program ideas we’re developing at the C4AA!


You’ll also be the first to learn about the next C4AA Soiree – if there ever is one. This may be the only one – don’t miss it!

Why are we doing this?

We want to spend time this year getting cozier with good people. It keeps all of us inspired. So these hangouts are a way to make sure we’re all connected and feel like we’re in a community.

And we are raising funds to support C4AA’s work. Our passionate focus right now is helping new leaders – we’re passing along our experience, skills and contacts to people new to this work, people who don’t have access to training and networks. We care about creating a global community of people who are doing artistic activism really well, and are making significant strides in social and environmental justice.

Your donations are critical because while most of our funding comes from foundations, it is rare to find funders who support the fundamental costs of running an organization. We need your help to keep the servers roaring, pay staff/interns/residents to do the necessary admin tasks, keep communications flowing to broadcast what we do and find partners, and block out time for our directors and board to think about what’s next.  Very few large funders allow us to use their grants in this way.

This is why we need individual donors and small foundations to support us in the invisible work of running the C4AA.

More reasons to support us.

Why support C4AA? Douglas Rushkoff says we don’t suck. And some of our other alumni seem to agree. Check out these short videos they sent.

Why C4AA?

The Center for Artistic Activism has been helping make more creative activists and more effective artists since 2009. For the past few years we’ve helped some of the most vulnerable people under some of the most repressive regimes around the world. Now we turn our attention back home, and use what we’ve seen work elsewhere to help build a vibrant alternative. More about what your support does to help artistic activism.

2019 marks ten years since the C4AA’s first program. Since then we’ve worked with thousands of artistic activists in 14 countries, on 4 continents. We’re excited about what’s ahead and need your support to get there.

Support Artistic Activists Around the World

Your donations allow us to serve communities who normally wouldn’t be able to afford our programs and help us focus on the most important work we can do. Check out some of our alumni stories to see the people we help.

We Believe in Artistic Activism

Negative predictions come easily and the world has enough bitterness. Right now the world needs your vision, your optimism, and your empathy. It needs your drive and motivation. It needs your most compelling stories, your creativity, and it needs your humor. We need new ideas of how the world can work, and new ways to get there.

The Center trains people to use these ideas in effective campaigns through proven methodologies. With your help, the Center for Artistic Activism supports groups and individuals who are looking for creative and effective ways to counteract bigotry, hate, misinformation and fear.

Your donation is tax deductible

Center for Artistic Activism is a not-for-profit, certified 501(c)(3) tax exempt charitable and educational organization.Under IRS 501(c)(3) tax exempt charitable and educational organization code, the full amount of your donation is tax deductible against your income. To fully benefit from this great tax benefit that helps you reduce your taxes, please inform and consult your expert tax specialist in regards to each donation you make.

Make a donation through your employer

You can ask your company to add us to their Matching Gifts Campaign. Supportive employees at Google and Netflix have already done this.

You can also check if your employer is registered through Benevity.

OAC Update on grant awards, Art in Public Places Roster now open and the first-ever tour of our State Capitol’s art collection!

August 2019

News & Updates

Update on grant awards, Art in Public Places Roster now open and the first-ever tour of our State Capitol’s art collection!

Grant award timeline update

OSG, ALG awards to be announced in September

Due to the new biennium budget process, the announcement of grant awards for the Operating Support and Arts Learning programs is delayed until September.
The Arts Commission is awaiting a final approved budget from the Legislative Fiscal Office and the Business Oregon fiscal office, as well as action by the Arts Commission board, so that grant awards can be finalized and distributed.
Final approval of grant awards is expected at the Arts Commission board meeting in early September. Official notification of application status and funding awards will happen after the Arts Commission board meets.
In recognition of the challenge presented by awards being announced after activity starts, the staff is developing a new timeline for the next funding cycle and may move the activity start period to Oct. 1.

Eric Asakawa plays the role made famous by Kevin Bacon in Broadway Rose Theatre Company’s current production of“Footloose” running through Sept. 1. Broadway Rose received a FY2019 Operating Supporting Grant award. Photo by Craig Mitchelldy.

Call to artists

Oregon Art in Public Places Roster now accepting applications

Regional, national and international artists are invited to submit qualifications for the Oregon Art in Public Places Roster for 2020-2022. Applications will be accepted until 11:59 p.m., MDT (Mountain Daylight Time), on Tuesday, Sept. 10. All materials must be submitted through CaFE™.
The Oregon Arts Commission manages the Percent for Art program for the State of Oregon. The Oregon Art in Public Places Roster serves as a resource for Percent for Art selection panels to identify artists most suitable for specific project needs.
The Roster is completely refreshed every three years. Artist who were selected for a previous Oregon Art in Public Places Roster must reapply to be considered for the 2020-2022 Roster.

George Johanson, “Day and Night,” 2012. Acrylic and oil on canvas. Oregon Department of Transportation.

Corvallis artist Greg Pfarr exhibits in Governor’s Office

Corvallis artist Greg Pfarr will exhibit “A Sense of Place: Time, Memory and Imagination in the Pacific Northwest” in the Governor’s Office of the Capitol Building in Salem through Sept. 26. A “meet the artist” reception is scheduled from 2 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 5.
Place has always been a central focus of Greg’s art. He grew up roaming the woods and creeks of southern Ohio, where he found his first inspiration. Early backpacking experiences in the Smokey and Rocky Mountains convinced him that he had to live near wilderness. A move to Oregon in 1980 made it possible.
An exhibit in the Governor’s office is a “once in a lifetime” honor for selected Oregon artists.

Greg Pfarr, “Three Glaciers, Prince William Sound, Alaska,” 2014. Etching and woodcut. 24 x 36 inches (image). Courtesy the artist.

American Artist Appreciation Month

First-ever tours of State Capitol art offered in August

Explore the vast art collection inside the Oregon State Capitol during American Artist Appreciation Month in August. For the first time, State Capitol visitor services will provide guided tours of the Art of the Time Collection, publicly displayed throughout the building.
Tours will depart from the state seal in the rotunda at noon Monday through Friday,
Aug. 19-30. The collection includes more than 175 American (and many regional) artists, featured on the Percent for Art Collection website.
For a schedule of upcoming events and exhibits at the Capitol, visit

Sally Haley, “Camellias,” before 1979. Acrylic on canvas. Photo: Frank Miller.

At Liberty honors Royal Nebeker

Former Arts Commissioner and beloved Oregon artist Royal Nebeker (1945-2014) is being celebrated in a retrospective of his work on exhibit at At Liberty in Bend through September.
A prominent teacher, Nebeker left a tremendous legacy of work. A broad representation of his life’s work assembled for the tribute show.
Royal once said, “This process of painting resembles looking through a night window. I peer out, observing and at the same time see the reflection of the interior conditions of my own reality. It is my intent that as the viewer peers into my painting, he will not only see a visual record of meaning in my life, but will discover the reflection of meaning in their own, as in a night window.”

Pictured at the Royal Nebeker exhibit opening: (left to right) Kaari Vaughn, a founding partner of At Liberty; Sarah Nebeker, Royal’s widow and a Clatsop County Commissioner; Hannah Nebeker, Royal’s daughter; Rene Mitchell, a founding partner of At Liberty; Jenny Green, a founding partner of At Liberty; and Brian Wagner, Arts Commission community development coordinator. .

Florence public mural celebrates local culture

“Stitching Time, Weaving Cultures,” a public mural celebrating local culture and heritage, was recently dedicated in Florence. Commissioned by The City of Florence and the City’s Public Arts Committee, the mural was created by Portland artist-team Marino-Heidel Studios.
Almost three years in the making, the mural showcases folk arts and speaks to cultural interchange. It also “stitches” together ideas that represent the Florence area. The design incorporates the iconic Siuslaw Bridge and native flora and fauna of our region and pays homage to the Siuslaw people.
The project was a partnership between enthusiastic citizens, members of the PUD, Tribal leaders and City of Florence staff.

(Left to right) Harlan Springer of the Florence Public Arts Committee, Catherine Rickbone of the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts and Michal Dalton, Oregon Arts Commissioner.

Upcoming grant deadlines

Oregon Arts Commission | Phone 503-986-0082 |


508 at Seattle City Hall

508 is the number of people who have died from overdose in the city of Seattle since the county’s Opioid and Heroine Task Force, unanimously, made a series of recommendations to stem the crisis in the county. These included opening a supervised consumption site (which we’d been working on with the Yes to SCS campaign). Since then the city has $1.4 million dollars unspent for over a year and earmarked for drug user health – specifically opening an SCS.

This installation was designed by the Center for Artistic Activism with Seattle’s Public Defender Association. The tubes are for people to leave behind memorials, notes, flowers. We tried to plan it well, but the day the numbers went up they were already behind the actual death count. We’re hoping as the politicians who have made promises walk by this, they may have a renewed sense of urgency.

The director of Real Change News Real wrote a short piece about the work. Director’s Corner: A successful approach to addiction demands political courage and compassion.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer also has a story by Becca Savransky.

508 image
8 foot tall numbers that read "508". In the face of the numbers are flowers.

Legal Challenges

The Public Defender Association had to fight City Hall on several fronts to have this placed. You can follow some of this on Here’s some excerpts:

The “508” art installation was intended to be installed inside the City Hall lobby, in the same location where city officials and many others regularly conduct political speech. The City refused permission for this, saying (counter-factually) that only City officials can hold speech events inside. While objecting on several grounds, we tried to compromise in a space where the City acknowledges others’ speech can be permitted—in the wide covered area near the 5th Avenue entrance. No success.

So late yesterday afternoon we were told “508” would have to move along. Ironically like drug users facing continuous displacement, the art installation was packed up and shuffled down to the Plaza below City Hall, on the Cherry Street side. The numbers now face inclement weather with poor protection. They await today’s rain wrapped in plastic sheets. Perhaps their new vulnerability and exposure more appropriately stand for the situation of many drug users in our community. In any event, this is our new home until September 19, which overlaps with International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31.

And a few days later:

Refusing permission inside the City Hall Lobby and in the original location at the City Hall 5th Avenue entrance, the City is forcing us to re-apply for a permit every three days until September 1st for its current location on the City Hall Plaza beside Cherry Street.

The City is requiring all-day attendance to “508” to satisfy our permit. So, please attend, interact, and record your attendance. Our staff is providing this the best we can for the time being, and have organized impacted communities who are members of Yes to Drug User Health to assist during the day and at night. To record your attendance, you can fill out the form below, or send an email or picture to [email protected] time stamping your attendance. In this way, we will “attend” the memorial with people power, organizing to collectively commemorate all people impacted by overdose and the drug epidemic.

The work has definitely touched a nerve with the City.

How it’s made

We designed this to happen on a timeline, hit a certain budget, be temporary and indoors. Each letter is 8ft by 4ft so they could be laser cut from a single MDF panel. The tubes are a variety of pre-made cardboard shipping tubes along with 8, 10, and 12 inch concrete form tubes you can buy at a local hardware store. We were hoping that cutting so many holes into MDF and using cardboard would keep it light, but the numbers are not light.

We originally designed the numbers for indoors – they were supposed to be located in the lobby of City Hall. If we were to do it again:

  • Outdoors, but not permanent, and slightly higher budget: Outdoor treated plywood and PVC pipe tubing
  • Outdoors, and permanent, and way higher budget: welded aluminum

Fabrication by Boomslang in Seattle.

Here’s some early sketches:

Seattle 845 sketch
844 Tube Sketch

The C4AA Reading List

These texts helped influence our perspectives, curriculum, and approach. We share them with you so you can dig deeper into some of the concepts, histories, and theories we draw from. At the C4AA we’ve examined a wide range of fields so please note: some of these books we adore from cover to cover, while others we disagree with entirely. With some we admire the ideas, but not the subject matter or the author. However all the research material we seek out has challenged us to make better work and we found these texts to be a useful starting point.

If you have suggestions you’d like us to consider adding to the list, contact us.

sister outsider audre lorde book cover

Poetry is Not a Luxury

from Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

A non-poem by the great poet about the importance of culture and creativity in allowing us to reach places that our socialized minds tell us we can’t.


Resistance Through Rituals cover

Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain

Edited by Tony Jefferson and Jamaican sociologist Stuart Hall. Looking for rebellion in unlikely places: punk rock, reggae, skinhead culture.


Beyond a Boundary Book Cover

Beyond a Boundary

by C.L.R. James

Memoir of the great Caribbean intellectual on his love for cricket: an Imperialist game that, ironically, made James an anti-Imperialist.


prison notebooks book cover

Prison Notebooks

by Antonio Gramsci

Stuck in a fascist prison, Gramsci thought and wrote about organizing and the role of culture in politics. A bit cryptic, but full of invaluable insights.


politics of aesthetics book cover

The Politics of Aesthetics

by Jacques Ranciere

Useful discussion from a contemporary philosopher on the different ways that art can be political, from reflecting the world to rearranging our very sense of it.


Lucy Lippard portrait

Trojan Horses: Activist Art and Power

by Lucy Lippard.

Now more than 3o years old, this is still the most concise and articulate argument for what activist art can do and why it matters. free PDF

Cultural Resistance Reader

The Cultural Resistance Reader

Edited by C4AA’s Stephen Duncombe

All you’ll ever want to read about Cultural Resistance in one convenient place.

free PDF

brecht on theater cover

Emphasis on Sport

by Bertolt Brecht

from Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic.

The radical playwright’s advice to his fellow artists that if they want to have an impact they they need to make their art more fun… like soccer.

free PDF

“Introduction” from Rabelais and His World

by Mikhail Bakhtin.

What does a Soviet literary scholar writing about a medieval French writer have to do with activism? One word: Carnival! A great meditation on the subversive quality of laughter and spectacle.


combahee river collective portriat

Combahee River Collective Statement

A manifesto written by a black feminist collective in the mid-1970s. Classic articulation of the specificity of ones opression and identity. Useful to remind us that we are always dealing with particular people in particular contexts, not abstractions.


A People's History of the United States book cover

A People’s History of the United States

by Howard Zinn.

Classic overview of US history from the perspective of those fighting the powers-that-be.


PR! Stuart Ewen book cover

PR! A Social History of Spin

by Stuart Ewen.

Ewen, an historian of advertising and Duncombe’s mentor, looks at how story, spectacle, and performance was used by corporations and marketers, as well as progressives, in the early 20th centrury. We can learn from them all.


Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970

by Doug McAdam.

A great history of the Civil Rights movement, making the point, among many others, that the movement understood the power of performance.


Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics Book Cover

Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics

by Frederic Spotts.

A sobering reminder that arguably the most successful artistic activists of the 20th Century were the Nazis. Arts and activism is a powerful combination, and ethics are always important.


Re/Search: Pranks Book Cover

Re/Search: Pranks

Edited by V. Vale and Andrea Juno

Entertaining, and often inspiring even if the examples don’t apply directly or are… let’s just say unethical.


Only Joking  by Jimmy Carr and Lucy Greeves Book cover

Only Joking

by Jimmy Carr and Lucy Greeves

If there is a book on comedy theory (that you’d actually want to read) this might be it. Analysis of the history of comedy, different theories about what makes us laugh, and lots of jokes.


Sataristas Book Cover


Edited by Paul Provenza and Dan Dion

First hand interviews with comedians of all kinds. Many valuable insights that, with a little creativity, you can apply to your practice.

Truth in Comedy: The Manual of Improvisation Book cover

Truth in Comedy: The Manual of Improvisation

by Charna Halpern, Del Close, et al

If you take a class in improv, they’ll probably tell you to read this. Or they should. Covers some key ideas that can be helpful: agreement, building a scene, working at the top of your intelligence, and “truth in comedy” – a grounding in the truth is more conducive to comedy than entirely fabricated material.


Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler’s Germany Book Cover

Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler’s Germany

by Rudolph Herzog

There were jokes in Hitler’s Germany – Nazi jokes, resister jokes, Jewish jokes. This book provokes us with the question; as many subversive jokes as there were in Nazi Germany, what impact did they have?


Open Utopia Book Cover

Open Utopia

by Thomas More, edited and introduced by Stephen Duncombe.

The book that named the practice — much more interesting and politically useful than you might remember from High School.

free pdf

companion website


Hope In The Dark, Solnit book cover

Hope in the Dark

by Rebecca Solnit

Keep handy for when you’re feeling negative about your work. This got Steve Lambert through the disappointment of the 2004 election.

free PDF

Promoting Nutrition and Physical Activity Through Social Marketing cover page

Promoting Nutrition and Physical Activity Through Social Marketing

by Rina Alcalay and Robert A. Bell

Dry, but loaded with information.

free pdf

Getting Things Done by David Allen book cover

Getting Things Done

by David Allen

Yes, it’s aimed at a business demographic. Yes it’s a sort of self-help book. But damn are there ever good ideas in it.


The Now Habit by Neal Fiore book cover

The Now Habit

by Neal Fiore

If you have even the slightest tendencies of a perfectionism or procrastination (and who doesn’t?) the insights in this book are incredibly helpful.


Oblique Strategies  by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt box

Oblique Strategies

by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt.

A deck of cards, each card offering an aphorism intended to help artists (particularly musicians) break creative blocks by encouraging lateral think

view them online

Dream or Nightmare by Stephen Duncombe book cover

Dream or nightmare: reimagining politics in an age of fantasy

by C4AA’s Stephen Duncombe

What can artistic activists learn from Las Vegas, video games, celebrity magazines and advertising? A lot. C4AA’s co-founder teaches how to create an “ethical spectacle”


free PDF

How to Be an Explorer of the World Keri Smith book cover

How to Be an Explorer of the World

by C4AA board member, Keri Smith

Written to help cultivate creativity in people of all ages. No pretenses and a low barrier to entry.

Image of David Raney's "You are now less dumb" book cover.

You Are Not So Smart -and- You Are Now Less Dumb

by David McRaney

David McRaney’s books on self-delusion called “You Are Not So Smart” and “You Are Now Less Dumb” both offer a very accessible introduction to “discover the wonderful ways you delude yourself every day and enjoy a healthy dose of humility.”


Thinking fast and slow book cover

Thinking Fast and Slow

by Daniel Kahneman

An international best seller and winner of several awards, this book helps get clarity on how humans think, make decisions, and evaluate change. Kahneman is the scientist behind the research, and does a great job at explaining the concepts and staying engaging.


Don’t Think Of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate: The Essential Guide for Progressives book cover

Don’t Think Of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate: The Essential Guide for Progressives

by George Lakoff

How morals and values guide even our most “rational” political decisions. An accessible introduction to this important field.


Holland book cover

The Conservative Psyche: How Ordinary People Come to Embrace Paul Ryan’s Cruelty

by Joshua Holland

A good, quick interview of cognitive theory and its importance in understanding why people hold the political ideas that they do.

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Will Storr book cover

The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science

by Will Storr

Very readable overview on why facts don’t work. Storr covers how “the stories we tell ourselves about the world invisibly shape our beliefs, and how the neurological ‘hero maker’ inside us all can so easily lead to self-deception, toxic partisanship and science denial.”


Westen Book Cover

The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of a Nation

by Drew Westen

A psychologists look into how emotions guide our political beliefs and decisions. Useful in thinking about and directing the affective power of creative activism.


Friere book cover

Pedagogy of the Oppressed 

by Paulo Freire.

A book that changed the game by insisting that educators (and organizers) need to meet people where they are.


Fran Peavey Cover

The Strategic Questioning Manual 

by Fran Peavey

A great shift in perspective on how we approach audiences, and how we can use respect and questions (instead of providing answers or challenges) to be more effective.

free PDF

Boal book cover

Theatre of the Oppressed

by Augusto Boal.

  Translating Freire’s ideas to theatre, and using performance for social change.


William James book cover

The Moral Equivalent of War

 by William James

Classic essay by the great philosopher and psychologist on how we must understand and respect — and appropriate — the good desires that motivate people to do bad stuff.


Electoral Guerilla cover

Electoral Guerilla Theatre: Radical Ridicule and Social Movements

by L.M. Bogad

From our own West Coast branch director, an important book on how activists have hijacked the electoral system as a stage to perform their own of politics.


Rules for radicals cover

Rules for Radicals

by Saul Alinsky

Almost 50 years old but still the great guide to organizing. And a fun read too.


Bible cover

“The Gospels” and “Acts,” from the Bible.

You don’t need to be a believer or even approve of religion to appreciate that Jesus was a master creative activist and his apostle Paul was an effective — if opportunistic — organizer. See also Moses, Muhammad, Buddha, et al.


Demanding the impossible cover

A User’s Guide to (Demanding) the Impossible

by Gavin Grindon and John Jordan

This guide is not a road map or instruction manual. It’s a match struck in the dark, a homemade multi-tool to help you carve out your own path through the ruins of the present, warmed by the stories and strategies of those who took Bertolt Brecht’s words to heart: ‘Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.’

free PDF


beautiful trouble cover

Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution

edited by Andrew Boyd and David Oswald Mitchel

An invaluable collection of examples, theories and case studies for those interested in creative activism.


Re:Imagining Change cover

Re:Imagining Change: How to Use Story-based Strategy to Win Campaigns, Build Movements, and Change the World

by Doyle Canning and Patrick Reinsborough

People like stories. They help us make sense of our world and our place in it. This book shows you how you can use this in your work.


Making waves cover

Making Waves: A Guide to Cultural Strategy

by The Culture Group

A smart and simple guide to using culture as part of an organizing strategy for social change, by some really experienced artistic activists, and friends of C4AA like Favianna Rodriguez,  Gan Golan, Jeff Chang, and others.

Free PDF

Continuum of impact cover

Continuum of Impact

by Pam Korza and Barbara Schaffer Bacon

Super useful tool set for thinking through and assessing the impact of your artistic activist projects from the folks at Animating Democracy

Free PDF

Carol Lloyd book cover

Creating A Life Worth Living

by Carol Lloyd

A practical course in career design for artists, innovators, and others aspiring to a creative life.


Art & Fear cover

Art & Fear

by David Bayles and Ted Orland

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Politics of Humor in an Age of Fools

Notes from Stephen Duncombe’s presentation Politics of Humor in an Age of Fools

HEMI Encuentro at UNAM, Mexico City, 10 June 2019

I’ve been thinking a lot about the politics of humor in these very dire and serious times.

So what do I think?

A great deal of humor points out the absurdity of the normal, the taken for granted, the everyday  — this is true for political humor as it is for a political humor.

But what if the everyday is absurd? How does humor work then? Or should I say now.

Take Satire, for instance. It is a politically potent form of humor.  An example we are probably all familiar with is  Jonathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal, in which he proposed that the problem of the Irish rural poor might be solved by selling their babies to the rich for food.

Swift’s satire “works” politically because:

Extends the logic of the British Empire’s policies regarding their colonies.

The solution is so absurd — “eat the poor” — that it casts the normal as absurd as well.

Assumes that the audience will see the absurdity, and with their “awareness raised” will resist these absurd policies of Empire.

But can satire work the same way today? When the absurdity of the policies of the National-Fascists, and the leaders who propose them, is so obvious?

What is there to satirize? They satirize themselves.

Take another form of humor: that of the fool, the jester, the clown…the Heyoka. The politics of their humor often lies in their ability to use their foolishness to make a fool of those in power.

But again: what if our leaders — and I speak as a US Citizen here — are openly fools? Does the clown have the same power?

I don’t think so.

My analyses so far could lead to despair. Lo ciento. But I want to end with hope.

For what I have described above is not all that humor does: it doesn’t just function as critique, it can also provide vision.

The clown doesn’t just show the leader up to be a fool, they perform a vision of a world that operates according to radically different norms and hierarchies and values of the “normal’ one we inhabit today.  That is to say: they “turn the world upside down.”

And there is another face to satire as well.  The model of satire we are most used to is  one of negation — critiquing power as it is, that is: critical satire. But there is another form, which we might call prophetic satire, which challenges the logic of power by envisioning power as it should be.

For example, when our friends here at the Encuentro, the Yes Men, appeared on the BBC as spokespeople for  Dow chemical to take full financial and moral responsibility for the Bhopal disaster, they were at one and the same time critiquing the “normal” behavior of corporations and imagining a world turned upside down where corporations care for people and take responsibility for their actions.

This is not to say that “critical satire” doesn’t have an implied positive ideal. It wouldn’t work as satire if it didn’t. But that implied positive is dependent upon a knowing audience that can imagine, or has a memory of, an alternative to the present. And I’m not sure we possess this any longer.  So we may need to make the implicit explicit.

So, I want to end my comments here with a challenge:

To move from a humor that merely critiques, or ridicules or “raises awareness” of the problems of today.

To forms of humor that inspire us to imagine the worlds we want to build for tomorrow.

Muchos gracias.