April 30, 2008
At the end of a two hour conversation addressing the question, “What does the ‘movement’ in ‘All-Ages Movement Project’ (AMP) mean?” Gavin Leonard, one of the founders of Elementz: The Hip Hop Youth Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, and an AMP member, stated, “So, it’s black and it’s white and it’s rich and it’s poor and it’s rural and it’s urban … that’s the reality of what we’re working to reach.” He goes on to explain that the movement is made up of young people in every town coming together to experience and create new music, and to connect their cultural expression to activism, social justice, and community change.
Restating this sentiment in different words, Lori Roddy from the Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor, Michigan, added that the purpose of the movement is for young people to build power and “impact culture” instead of culture always being “impacted onto them.”
Aside from Lori and Gavin, this conversation included the other writers of the nine-part series “Turn the Beat Around” by the All-Ages Movement Project that ran from October to February in WireTap magazine. The authors ranged from college students to 30-something executive directors–all playing critical roles in engaging, organizing, and transforming young communities through punk, hip-hop, rock, and all of their subsidiary genres. The individual articles focused on documenting and disseminating best practices of existing youth music organizations. We wanted to encourage the start-up and strengthening of youth-driven music in every ‘hood, because we believe it is a uniquely powerful way to connect cultural expression to community activism, especially because the energy for music already exists everywhere.
But what is at the heart of this youth-driven cultural organizing trend? Is it a focused movement? Does it have tangible social change outcomes? Is it an entry point for thinking about social change, or a tool for doing social work? Must underground music and art be kept separate from social or political renovation in order to uphold some sort of artistic purity, or are music and art an underutilized means of resistance and struggle?
We decided to come together and jointly explore some of the larger theoretical questions, including: “In our respective organizations, do we see ourselves as doing cultural change or social change work, and what’s the difference?” We each addressed this question.
“My personal take is that artists–their role in society–is that they can see things kind of before it happens,” responded Chris Wiltsee, the executive director and founder of Youth Movement Records in Oakland, California, “their role in producing art is to try to alert the rest of the community or society to ‘wake up! Look at this!’ and hopefully create some action. I think that cultural change by definition preempts social change, and social change happens as a reflection of [changes] in cultural values.”