The Belafonte Initiative

Culture for a Radical New Future

Culture, not politics, is the way we make meaning of the world. We make sense of our own experiences by telling stories; we understand experiences far from our own through the empathy that art can inspire. We need an infrastructure to support this kind of bold imagining—a space and a way of being together to conceptualize, create and engage—shaped by artists and culture-creators who can help unlock our collective imagination and inspire action.

Harry Belafonte’s life points to the generative and transformational potential that lies at the intersection of culture, political work, and social change. A singer, songwriter, activist, and actor, he is heralded globally for both his multifaceted artistic ingenuity and his support for humanitarian ideals. Belafonte was an early, vocal supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, a confidant of Martin Luther King Jr., and financial backer of many forms of protest, including the 1963 March on Washington and Freedom Summer of 1964. Throughout his seventy-year career, he has been an advocate for an array of political and humanitarian causes, including the South African anti-Apartheid Movement, equal rights for women, juvenile justice, climate change, and the decolonization of Africa. 

As a founding Board Member of the Action Lab, Mr. Belafonte’s wisdom and insights shape our commitment to centering cultural change as core to liberation, and to more richly understanding the role cultural change can play in advancing our vision and values in the broader world.

Grounded in his legacy, the Belafonte Initiative builds on the rich American history of artists, creatives, and culture-makers who have helped expand our capacity to imagine a world of freedom, liberation, and justice for all. The Initiative is dedicated to catalyzing and supporting cultural work, and cultural workers whose practice focuses on community engagement, civic practice, and social justice.

Through fellowships, cross-disciplinary gatherings, and longer-term spaces for creation and action, the Initiative supports artists to pursue work that nourishes the intrinsic human capacity for imagination and ingenuity, tells new stories that contrast with dominant cultural narratives and move us to action, and infuses traditional organizing work with a richer understanding of how story and culture drive change. 

Program Highlights: In 2022 and 2023, we will launch the Belafonte Fellowships to support innovative work and partnerships at the nexus of cultural and social change and inspired by artists such as Paul Robeson, James Baldwin, and Audre Lorde. Belafonte Fellows will be charged with creating new works which center the most salient and urgent social justice struggles of our time, and re-imagining their roles as architects and agents of change . Through a combination of political education sessions, master classes in the artistic disciplines assigned to each cohort, and training in the role of cultural and narrative strategy in building power across social movements, Belafonte Fellows will emerge as a cultural corps committed to cultural production and socially engaged practice intentionally and strategically designed as interventions in the broader social justice ecosystem. 

“[Harry] Belafonte’s global popularity and his commitment to our cause is a key ingredient to the global struggle for freedom and a powerful tactical weapon in the Civil Rights movement here in America. We are blessed by his courage and moral integrity.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

Aloe Blacc Named Inaugural Belafonte Fellow

We are thrilled to announce that Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter and producer Aloe Blacc is The Action Lab’s inaugural Belafonte Fellow. The Belafonte Fellowship supports artists to pursue work that nourishes the intrinsic human capacity for imagination and ingenuity and moves us to action.

Aloe’s Freedom Writers Songwriting Lab, to begin this Fall 2022, will be an intensive songwriter’s workshop that gives independent and established artists the opportunity to think deeply and creatively about the stories they want to tell and issues they want to explore, in partnership with musicians and producers, organizers, and activists. Participants will benefit from collaborating with Aloe alongside other experienced music producers, justice leaders, and artists in an environment that focuses on the craft and execution of songwriting through the lens of social justice and movement work.