Art and Social Justice with Alternate ROOTS

November 11, 2019

By: ArtPlace America

Alternate ROOTS supports the creation and presentation of original art that is rooted in community, place, tradition or spirit. They are a group of artists and cultural organizers based in the South creating a better world together. Alternate ROOTS calls for social and economic justice and are working to dismantle all forms of oppression – everywhere.


Arts • Community • Activism

Alternate ROOTS is a regional* arts service organization with 43 years of history. As a member-driven national resource for artists and cultural organizers, they seek to champion social and economic justice and the work of people in the field.

Alternate ROOTS provides the connective tissue for a distinct segment of the arts and culture field – artists who have a commitment to making work in, with, by, for and about their communities, and those whose cultural work strives for social justice. The nature of this work spreads far and wide, so collaboration, peer-sharing and combined impact can be a challenge. Alternate ROOTS helps us sustain artistic development, increased visibility, and stability as activist artists and cultural organizers.

Alternate ROOTS was founded in 1976 at the Highlander Center in New Market, Tennessee in order to meet the distinct needs of artists who work for social justice, and artists who create work by, for, about and within communities of place, tradition, affiliation, and spirit. Originally an acronym for “Regional Organization of Theaters South”, ROOTS quickly established itself as a thought leader in the field of community-based arts and the only regional collective of artists committed to social and economic justice. In response to the needs of the growing field of community-based arts, ROOTS evolved to a multidisciplinary member-based and artist-driven organization. Member artists develop programs, and ROOTS provides resources for the needs of these socially conscious artists.

As a progressive arts organization, ROOTS is at the forefront of establishing model programs for regional cultural organizing in the US. ROOTS is an incubator for participatory democracy, and through the practice of our guiding principles as created by Resources for Social Change – Equitable Partnership, Shared Power, Open Dialogue, Individual and Community Transformation, and an Aesthetic of transparent processes – we model regional organizing that is responsive to and reflective of the needs of this unique artistic community.


*The ROOTS Region covers the Southern area of the United States: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.


Resources for Social Change

Resources for Social Change (RSC) was a training program developed by ROOTS from the early 1990s to 2013 that taught ideas and techniques to create social change through art. The program began in recognition of the need to institutionalize ROOTS’ knowledge in the field. RSC trainers were artists experienced and schooled in the methods of using and bringing art into communities that traditionally may not have considered the important role that the arts can play in addressing oppressions and effecting social change. RSC taught methods for initiating and building partnerships between cultural workers and their community partners, and ways of using the arts as “search engines” in community work. The RSC program provided training, mentorship and peer education to artists, cultural workers, arts administrators, students, and community activists from diverse cultures and disciplines, using local community artists to present case studies of model projects taking place within their communities.

The program developed as a part of its core curriculum the following five principles of working in community:

  • Shared Power
  • Partnership
  • Open Dialogue
  • Individual and Community Transformation
  • Aesthetics of Transparent Processes


Two notable publications by members of Resources for Social Change are valuable contributions to the field :

The RSC Workbook

The Partnerships Work Kit