Belafonte Initiative

The musician Ana Tijoux on stage holding a microphone

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 bold imagining—a space and a way of being together to conceptualize, create and engage—shaped by artists and culture-creators who can 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 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 have, since our founding, shaped our commitment to centering cultural change as core to liberation, and to valuing the role cultural change can play in advancing our vision in the world. Although Mr. Belafonte left us in 2023, his wisdom, vision, and insights continue to inspire our commitment to centering cultural change in our struggle for liberation.

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, and realize,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 and tells new stories that contrast with dominant cultural narratives and move us to action.