Telluride Arts & Between The Covers: Ken Grossinger On “Art Works,” 8/22!

On Tuesday, August 22, 5:30 p.m., at Telluride Arts HQ, 220 West Colorado, Telluride Arts and Between the Covers Bookstore host a conversation between Ken Grossinger, author, and Jennie Franks, founder and artistic director of SPARKy Productions, an activist, non-profit now dedicated to supporting Latinx young women into and through college. The subject: Grossinger’s book, “Art Works: How Organizers And Artists Are Creating A Better World Together.” Jennie’s Latinx initiative is an outgrowth of her original play mounted in Telluride in 2017 and titled “The Hispanic Women’s Project.” A case to the point of Grossinger’s work.

Go here for more about Telluride Arts.

Go here for more about SPARKy.

“A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others”- Salvador Dalí.

Historically, when art was made in protest, either on behalf of a particular cause or against a perceived injustice, its unequivocal message generally had an immediate impact. Clearly art has been and can be a powerful tool for social change, giving dignity and a voice to the voiceless and unseen. Socially engaged art can interrogate our circumstances, ignite outrage, and stimulate socio-cultural change – if helmed by the right people, who steer the medium or venue in the right direction.

Recent examples abound:

Harry Belafonte, the first African American to win an Emmy, used his art, his voice, to fight apartheid abroad and at home. And he repeatedly opened his wallet – as well as his heart – to finance social justice.

Actor Jane Fonda has fought for peace and against systemic injustice across diverse spaces, including civil rights, women’s rights, indigenous rights and LGBTQ+ rights.

Ai WeiWei was arrested and detained for 81 days (in 2011) for his critiques of the repressive Chinese government, yet he remains undeterred by attempts to silence him. Ai continues to make art and speak out.

Gloria Steinem, a renowned American feminist, political activist, journalist and spokesperson, helped launch a variety of groups and publications dedicated to promoting civil rights.

Belafonte, Fonda, Ai, Steinem are among the bold-faced names who have cameos in “Art Works: How Organizers And Artists Are Creating A Better World Together.” And they sing in harmony with praise. (Check out the back of the jacket cover of the book for their full-throated endorsements.)

“Arts Works” is nothing if not timely, focussing as it does on recent examples in art for social change in the context of our increasingly divided country. Our world is also experiencing huge demographic twists that impact the Wonder Bread establishment (mostly men), increasingly at risk of falling off their pedestals.


In chapter after chapter, “Art Works” puts the ways and means to heal in high relief – including for those challenged by change, but still in positions of power. The idea is that together we can weaponize art and artists in partnerships with organizers on the ground, major institutions and philanthropists for the greater good. Personal favorites: chapters on Museums, Philanthropy and the Afterward featuring artist activists.

No big surprise since “Art Works” was written by a man who has been a leading strategist in movements for social and economic justice for over three decades, in unions, philanthropic and community organizations.

Find out more by attending a special talk hosted by Telluride Arts and Between the Covers Bookstore on Tuesday, August 22, 5:30 pm, at Telluride Arts Gallery West. Author Ken Grossinger will be in conversation with Jennie Franks, another talented local who turned her playwright and filmmaking skills into a successful nonprofit, SPARKy Productions, now focused on helping regional, young Latina women build their futures through higher education.

‘Ken is one of the smartest strategists I know,” AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney (1995-2009).

Grossinger’s “Art Works” is no finger-wagging polemical. The author/activist eschews any attempt to further reconcile (or even address) the ongoing, high-profile debate about art for art’s sake versus art for social change. Art historians and critics have gone there all too often.

Keen, lean and hyper-focused on the trembling Now, “Art Works” also does not include a history of art as advocacy, a phenom which dates at least as far back in the West as ancient Greece. Instead the book focuses on ground-breaking efforts between activists and artists over the past 20 years.

However, it does remain a matter of historical fact that the vision of the Greek general and politician Pericles helped to transform the world’s view of Athens from a small city-state, just one among others, to a world power embodying the principles of democracy. And he did that by marshaling architecture, sculpture, theatre arts, including music, drama and dance, as well as poetry, in the service of building Athen’s (and yes, his) storied brand. The positive outcome helped shape the history of classical Western arts and remains a benchmark for civilization for all times.

In other words, Pericles’ wildly successful pas de deux between art and social change has shown up again and again throughout history – and now today in countless, cogent examples in Grossinger’s “Art Works.” This fast-paced, pithy, punchy, pragmatic and provocative book is a blueprint for how to get the job done by touching people’s hearts and minds when the need for social justice and connection has rarely, if ever, been greater.

“President Kennedy spoke of the role of art to ’nourish the soul.’ In this new book, Ken Grossinger shows us how the arts can inspire, ennoble, challenge, and sustain the soul of our democracy,” Paul Begala, political commentator.

Grossinger gets the last word:

“(My) stories of seasoned and accomplished activists… illustrate how successful collaborations among artists and organizers have helped to achieve social justice. Each chapter (in “Art Works) serves not as a strict prescriptions for change, but as a strategic guidepost for impact…”

While that impact specifically targets artists, organizers, institutions and philanthropists, “Art Works” is an interesting and informative read for Everyman in the thrall of today’s worrying headlines.

Ken Grossinger, more:

Ken Grossinger, director of Impact Philanthropy and Donor Advising Division, of Democracy Partners, has been a leading strategist in movements for social and economic justice for 35 years, in unions, philanthropic and community organizations.

For two decades, Grossinger was one of the labor movement’s leading strategists. He represented workers in the Service Employees International Union and then directed legislative field operations for the AFL-CIO, running large-scale issue campaigns including against the privatization of Social Security and for health care reform, economic and civil rights.

Grossinger is widely regarded as an expert in pioneering national field strategies for labor and community organizations and is well known for building long-enduring alliances between the two.

Formerly a community organizer, Grossinger co-launched the Human SERVE Fund, a national advocate organization that initiated and led the successful decade-long fight for passage of the National Voter Registration Act, commonly known as Motor Voter.

Grossinger is active on several boards including the University of the District of Columbia (Trustee); Hirshhorn Museum (Trustee); People’s Action Institute (Director); Skylight Pictures (Director); and the CrossCurrents Foundation, (Chair).

Among other cultural projects, he co-executive produced the award-winning Netflix documentaries “Social Dilemma” and “Bleeding Edge” and served as Executive Producer of “Boycott” and “Borderland.”

Ken Grossinger is the author of “ART WORKS: How Organizers and Artists are Creating a Better World Together,” published by the New Press in July 2023.

He lives part-time in Washington, DC., and Telluride, Colorado with his wife Micheline, a renowned painter.

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