Here at the Archives, we recently unearthed a couple boxes that have now turned into a new collection! This collection provides material about the Cultural Workers Movement in California in the 1970s. This was a movement of visual artists, writers, musicians, theater people, and other cultural workers to form a committed revolutionary and anti-imperialist cultural front, the Cultural Workers’ Front of Our America. The Front had several goals: to rediscover and build peoples’ culture, to use culture as a form of political education, and to produce work that reflected the struggles of the Third World and working people in the U.S. Much of the collection’s materials relate to the Frente Conference of 1975, which the Front organized to bring together cultural workers across the Bay Area, including largely Latino-Chicano artists, poets, and writers.
As an artist myself, this collection makes me think not only about how the arts can do radical and revolutionary work, but about the power of collective mobilization. The collection prompts some key questions about today’s cultural landscape: what are the differences between individual artists creating revolutionary-themed work, versus a collective, organized movement? What does revolutionary cultural work look like today—especially in our digital, more globalized world? Is there any equivalent modern movement to the 1970s Cultural Workers Front? What are our responsibilities as cultural workers and artists?
Working on the collection, I was also particularly struck by the importance of internationalism for the Cultural Workers Movement. Materials from the collection reveal how the Front actually began in Quito, Ecuador and then decided to expand to North America to include like-minded cultural workers in the U.S. This is a great example of how a movement not only values international solidarity, but is actually founded by and committed to Third World and international leadership.
The materials in the collection provide a fascinating window into the inner workings of a political movement. You can trace the organization’s formation, evolution, methods of organizing, and even internal politics through its records. For me, one of the most unique parts of the collection is its folder of internal documents, meeting notes, and memos that span more than a year of the Front’s activity. Flipping through this collection, you’ll also find beautiful artwork, cultural publications, drafts of speeches, and more. Check out the collection here.