Framing the Discourse, Advancing the Work Philanthropy at the Nexus of Peace and Social Justice and Arts and Culture

‘Where overt protest is repressed, arts and culture are a subversive way to give people voice…unfortunately from a philanthropic perspective, this has not been a place where resources for change have flowed…,’ said Barbara Ibrahim (John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement, Cairo) at a convening of social justice philanthropy practitioners in February 2009 in Cairo. On the one hand, foundations from across the world, working in societies with deep-rooted structural and systemic injustices, are embracing the value of arts and culture as a powerful and uncontested space to regenerate broken societies, to give voice to people and to challenge and address discriminatory structures. On the other hand, there is still little organized information and knowledge about the links between such initiatives and social justice and peace building and the opportunities and challenges in funding this work.

In order to close this gap, in March 2013 the Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace embarked on a journey to explore these areas. We looked into existing practice, reviewing the information that had been gathered about philanthropy at the nexus of social justice and peace, and arts and culture and the tools that existed to promote it. At the same time, through interviews and a convening held in August 2013 in Ontario, Canada, facilitated by the author of this report, Moukhtar Kocache, we heard both from philanthropy practitioners and from artists and cultural producers who are working on social, political and peace-building issues about their experience with philanthropy.

The attached report,‘Framing the Discourse, Advancing the Work Philanthropy at the Nexus of Peace and Social Justice and Arts and Culture’ is based on the author’s research and his experience in this field of work and the consultations mentioned above. It presents an overview of the relationship between progressive social change work and the arts, explores the role of philanthropy in supporting this work and sets out recommendations for how philanthropy might further its engagement with work at this nexus. The objective of the report is to stimulate further reflection and exchange of lessons and opportunities for inculcating practices in philanthropy for supporting arts and culture work as a means to advance social justice and peace.

We invite you to join this conversation and share your experience, perspectives and stories. If you would like to do so, feel free to send an e-mail to

The purpose of this report has been to survey and to map existing terrain, not to formulate hypotheses or draw conclusions. However, we described the process of compiling this report as a journey and, like all journeys, it has involved changes of perspective and, like some journeys, a revision of ideas. During its course, it has become clear to us that arts and culture are not just a matter of better tools for supporting change; they are often central to personal and social transformation. The arts often reach us – and influence us – in ways that direct explanation cannot. The call to philanthropy that seeks to support progressive social change is to recognize this transformational power of arts and culture and to engage with it as a holistic strategy. This argument will be presented more extensively in a brief paper (to be published in August 2014) entitled, ‘Making the Case for the Arts to Social Justice Funders’.

We would like to express our deep gratitude to all those who have contributed to the report especially the author and facilitator Moukhtar Kocache, and to Filiz Bikman and Cynthia Madansky for their assistance with research and writing. We are very thankful to all the philanthropy practitioners, artists and cultural producers who participated in the interviews and convening in Ontario, Canada. We also wish to thank Todd Lester of freeDimensional, the co-organiser of the convening, and Volker Hann and Helga Breuninger of the Breuninger Foundation for being our very gracious and generous hosts at Wasan Island in Ontario. We are grateful to the Ford Foundation (Cairo) for providing travel support for a part of the convening. Finally, we would like to thank Andrew Milner for giving the report its final shape, by editing it and incorporating into it the key themes and recommendations from the interviews and convening.

The Working Group on Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace