World Making and Social Emergency

Art, Culture, and Social Justice at the Hemispheric Institute

An Initiative Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation at the Hemispheric Institute at New York University

cover image from #UnpaidLaborDay 2020, by Miao Jiaxin

The COVID-19 pandemic, authoritarian attacks on democratic institutions, the ongoing criminalization of migration, police violence, and the Black Lives Matter movement revealed inequality and social emergencies. These emergencies–steady states of oppression pushed to crisis by systemic racism and inequality, state terror, dispossession and dehumanization–currently define political, cultural, institutional realities. They have forced new forms of resistance and will shape art and everyday life for years to come. The Hemispheric Institute recognizes the creative force of these new forms. They call us to establish new priorities to guide our work.

How do we help artists, thinkers, and activists remake the world in an ongoing social emergency? Our mission to bridge and nurture these broad constituencies has become more urgent in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic, the systemic crises it has forced, and the staggering inequalities it has intensified and revealed. In this time of multiple emergencies, as citizens and social movements work to advance justice and equity, and remake civil society, we are keenly aware of the critical role that the arts, universities, and cultural organizations must play. In such a moment, focused work on Hemispheric Blackness and Hemispheric Migrations and living archival projects like the Hemispheric Institute Digital Video Library acquire a new relevance and urgency for this Mellon Foundation initiative at the Hemispheric Institute. These projects will build on Hemi’s remarkable artist archives and digital media and will drive research and gather community through new collections, pedagogy, and programming.

Over the next three years, World Making and Social Emergency will focus its work and resources around two dynamic projects in culture and the arts: Hemispheric Blackness and Hemispheric Migrations. These projects will emerge from historic and contemporary urgencies in politics, social justice, art, and scholarship across the American hemisphere. They speak to human histories that are closely enmeshed, yet often segregated in the arts and the academy. Each project reflects on race, inequality, institutions, and political and economic geographies. They allow us to coordinate scholarship, art, and activism. They push us to think dynamically and historically across the hemisphere, while tracing the shifting geopolitical and institutional lives of local communities.