Midwest Culture Lab
Using a "story platform" to build power and win!

Our passion for cultural organizing springs from understanding that politics is where SOME of the people are SOME of the time, but culture is where ALL of the people are ALL of the time.

The Midwest Culture Lab is a nonprofit, nonpartisan project of the Alliance for Youth Organizing in collaboration with Chicago Votes, Ohio Student Association, and We The People (Michigan). Our goal to increase the civic and political participation of young people in the Midwest by integrating locally-rooted cultural organizing and story-driven content strategy with grassroots, youth organizing. 

Our first priority was to develop a story platform. A story platform is not a tagline or advertising copy, but rather the key underlying narrative that powerfully connects our audience with our goals and forms the basis of creative communications and content.

We’re sharing our story platform here with a friendly warning: Do not use it without authentic connection to young people and grassroots organizing. This is our voice, not the political establishment’s.

The story platform of the Midwest Culture Lab is:

Co-created by us, real, with joy: the world we need.

It is a declaration from young people of what we want and intend to do: collaboratively, without any bullshit, and joyously, we will build the future our families and communities need.

We gotta vote. Yes. And we have to show up everyday to make sure we get what we need. Voting is part of something bigger. Learn more about our story platform and the Midwest Culture Lab here.

Using the story platform to win campaigns & shift culture
  1. 1

    Set Strategy

    • GETTING STARTED. Like all strategic practices, our approach requires goal-setting, a theory of change, an understanding of audience, and a commitment to meaningful evaluation and learning.
    • IDENTIFY YOUR AUDIENCE. Be specific about where they live, their demographics, their values, and cultural habits.
    • DETERMINE YOUR GOALS. Goals can be short-term campaigns (like Broke AF! Or Democracy Done Right or National Voter Registration Day) and/or long-term culture change. Our story platform covers both!
    • SET CALLS-TO-ACTION FOR CAMPAIGN CONTENT. Turn your goals into clear and specific things you want folks to do.
    • IDENTIFY RESOURCES. Yes, we always need $$ to cover expenses, but other key resources include human talent and expertise, physical space, and more.
    • ESTABLISH SUCCESS METRICS. Figure out what you want to track that will let you know if what you’re doing is working.
  2. 2

    Cultural Organizing

    • OUTREACH BEGINS AT HOME. There are nationally-known artists and cultural influencers that have roots in your community. And there are those who are only known locally and those who will only be known tomorrow. And there is creativity in all of us.
    • BUILD AND NOURISH YOUR NETWORK. Invite artists as strategist partners from the beginning of campaign efforts. Provide training and community.
    • LEARN MORE: Making Waves: A Guide to Cultural Strategy (The Culture Group, 2014). This easy-to-read guidebook is intended to help grassroots and advocacy organizations understand how to work with artists and intentionally and wisely integrate arts, culture, and media into their work.
  3. 3

    Story-driven Creative Content

    • THE POWER OF STORY. To capture attention in a competitive environment, content must be story-driven. Stories engage people emotionally. Issues, policy points, and argumentation do not. Use the story platform!
    • STORYTELLERS NEED TO BE AUTHENTIC. They need to be members of the audience themselves or artists, media makers and cultural influencers that have genuine standing or relevance with the audience.
    • PRODUCE CONTENT. Set a “creative brief” and go for it. Content can take the form of media (digital and print), experiences (like events), or products and merch. Content must be strategic and purposeful, which is why we start with strategy. (Pro tip: the closer to home, the more relevant your content.)
    • DISTRIBUTE CONTENT. Spread those stories through artists’ fandoms, bump it through paid social media, spread it through your emails and social media channels, and encourage local media, partners, and influencers to spread your content far and wide.
    • MONITOR, MEASURE & OPTIMIZE. Find out what works! And do that again. And again.

How We’re Making It Happen

In partnership with Chicago Votes, Ohio Student Association, and We The People (Michigan), the Midwest Culture Lab is in full swing. Contact us at midwestculturelab@gmail.com if you want to learn more and get involved!

Learn About the Midwest Culture Lab


Building Capacity

In addition to experimenting ourselves, we want to make the learning and methodology available to our partners. We have compiled a set of resources about cultural organizing, creative process, story platforms and more in our resource library. Please email midwestculturelab@gmail.com to request access. Topics include:

  • Understanding how to create story platforms
  • Training and resources around cultural organizing
  • Training and resources around creative process and digital distribution strategy