Utne Blogs > Arts and Culture

New Arts Organization Envisions a Fresh Model for Activism

by Katie Leo 

Tags: Arts, Music, Performance, social activism, Manifestation, Substance,

SubstanceShakespeare wrote that music is the food of love, but for new booking and promotions group Substance, music is also the food of protest. This ambitious new organization envisions a fresh model of activism, one which utilizes multidisciplinary arts events as a means for drawing new audiences to political and social causes. Think of it as music with a heaping side of activism.

Substance member Jim Forrey describes their work in this way: “[The concert] brings someone to a political event, and they don’t even know it’s a political event.” This “build it and they will come” belief was realized at the organization’s inaugural event, Manifestation, which took place at the historic First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis this past weekend.

Manifestation brought together a diverse blend of local and national music acts, as well as community-based political and social activist organizations. New York hip-hop and spoken word artist Sage Francis headlined, while Building Better Bombs, B. Dolan, and the God Damn Doo Wop Band also performed. A capacity crowd of young people swelled the building and looked to be having a great time.

Lining the main floor were tables plying various social and environmental causes, from Oxfam America and United Students Against Sweatshops to Planned Parenthood and Alaska Wilderness League. Underneath the bars stood “Zero Waste” stations, with separate trash and recycling receptacles. Near the back corner, visual artists were painting large-scale works of art on the spot.

It all made tangible Substance’s vision of “rethinking what has become a standard preacher-and-congregation model of art and music as activism” in order to “engage, inspire, and involve concertgoers in urgent movements for tangible change.”          

Looking out over the impressive turnout, Substance organizer Nolan Morice seemed pleased and encouraged. When asked if the evening had brought any unforeseen problems, he replied, “The only thing unexpected has been that nothing unexpected has happened.”

Manifestation builds on the energy and enthusiasm that Substance created with the Ripple Effect event at last year’s Republican National Convention, which featured Rage Against the Machine.

“I never would’ve dreamed we could pull something like that off,” Forrey says in reference to the Ripple Effect. “We learned that if you stay focused and don’t listen to the naysayers, you can achieve anything.”