In an interview with Rolling Stone about the musical phenomenon Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda describes his moment of insight that hip-hop and the story of the founding fathers are inextricably linked: When a hurricane destroyed Hamilton’s childhood home, he wrote a poem about the storm that was so good that local business leaders agreed to send him to New York for an education.
“The second he writes a poem to get himself off the island, I was like, ‘Well, that’s very hip-hop,’ “ Miranda said. “To literally write verse that gets you out of your circumstances that’s about how terrible your circumstances are, I mean, that’s everyone from Jay Z and Marcy to Lil Wayne writing about Hurricane Katrina. As I was reading the book, all these hip-hop analogies couldn’t help but pop up.”
For as long as people have worked to drive change, music has amplified their efforts, brought new people in, and inspired others. Films and stories create empathy and present fresh perspectives on stereotypes. When music, books, film and comedy accompany movements, change happens.
Social movements have soundtracks.
On February 25, 2016, we’ll launch Changeville, a film, music, comedy and virtual reality festival that connects artists, storytellers, comedians and movement builders. Set among the coffee shops, music venues and tech companies that define Gainesville, Florida’s downtown, Changeville draws on the energy and innovation of the city’s growing technology and media culture. Screenings, exhibits and shows are open to all moviegoers and music lovers.
This music and storytelling festival is the intersection where passionate filmmakers, digital media innovators and musicians cross paths with professionals who build movements and drive positive social change.
What if people determined to use their art to drive change had a place to connect with others who believe as fervently as they do that their songs and stories can make a difference? And what if they could also connect with funders who invest in these efforts, strategists who focus on calls to action and scholars who invest their efforts in generating new knowledge that can make change happen and bring more people to the table?
In the classes I teach in public interest communications at the University of Florida, I teach my students to focus their communications efforts on the smallest possible audiences, those whose change in behavior or reversal of decision will create the change they seek. Do we need more gender-neutral restrooms for transgendered students? Go to the folks at physical plant who approve building and maintenance plans. That kind of focused thinking is critical to making the most of the always too-meager resources available to drive change.
But in the face of persistent racism, deeply entrenched intolerance of same-sex couples or continued global warming, we require a cultural movement. While policy might make it illegal for a bank to withhold a loan from a family of color moving into a white neighborhood, only cultural change will ensure that that family is welcomed with enough warmth that they encourage other friends to move there too.
There are plenty of successes that show that when pop culture and social change objectives connect, changes move from the fringes of society to the mainstream. For example, the concept of the designated driver quickly gained traction in the 1980s when writers from two popular sit-coms wrote the idea into their script. In a matter of months, the concept was firmly entrenched in Americans’ minds, along with a significant drop in deaths associated with drunken driving.
More recently, Sea World’s stock value plummeted when the compelling stories behind the animals in their parks came to light through the documentary Blackfish.
And just as Billy Holiday’s Strange Fruit shined a light on tragedy of lynchings and Nina Simone’s haunting voice inspired and connected the civil rights movement, Kendrick Lamar has become the soundtrack of Black Lives Matter.
This year’s Changeville is just the beginning of what we hope will become a vibrant creative community among those using their art and storytelling abilities to drive change, while also creating a shared destination for those who create and appreciate this kind of work. We’re hosting it against the backdrop of two conferences that bring together many of the communities instrumental to creating change. The first is frank, a gathering that brings together movement builders from throughout the world to connect and share the best of what they know, the second is Journalism Interactive, which connects the foremost educators in digital journalism and industry leaders.
We’re starting Changeville modestly with a handful of great bands, including the Mountain Goats and Hooray for the Riffraff, and finding Gainesville bands who share their passion for using music to drive change. We’ll bring in films that use stories to drive change, and virtual reality creators who are using this format to create empathy and transport those who experience their work to new environments. And finally, we’ll bring in comedians who use their work to comment on social and racial justice.
It’s our hope that Changeville will grow over the years, and that Gainesville will become as much of a destination for people of purpose as Austin is for the tech world.
Early bird tickets are $25 until January 30. Following, tickets will be $29. The week of Changeville, tickets will be $35.
Changeville is hosted by the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications with support from local businesses.