An amazing group of 14 young adult artists and cultural workers representing communities across the South gathered for the first Zilphia Horton Cultural Organizing Institute at the Highlander Center May 6-12. The institute brought together a creative group of activist-artists to explore the integration of art, culture and organizing. Throughout the week, participants shared ideas and strategies about popular education and organizing, nonviolence, healing and transformation for the long haul. Each participant walked away with a comprehensive cultural organizing work plan, rooted in conversations with members of their home communities and deepened over the course of the week through working with Highlander staff and other Institute participants.

On the last day of the Institute, via Skype, there were learning exchanges with international cultural organizers from South Africa and El Salvador, and a community organizer from the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) to understand about how, internationally, art and organizing have been merged and often cannot be separated.

This project is named after Zilphia Horton, an organizer and musician who lived and worked at Highlander for several decades, and was the person in Highlander’s earliest history who understood the power and necessity of integrating music, culture and art into education and organizing work. She helped people write plays from their experiences, and taught & lead songs, including on picket lines, a life threatening activity in those days.

In the words of two of the Zilphia Institute participants,
“We convened on the Highlander hill
to test and examine our will,
our intentions, our art…
But the very best part
was coming home with a heart that’s been filled.”
– Kim Ruehl, Asheville, NC

“Everywhere I went, I heard voices singing. The love, creativity and inspiration each of us carry within was amplified by the presence of each other. It was stunning to hear that beauty pouring out of us via song – everywhere – the bathroom, the fire circle, the dorm, the dining room, the porch – especially backgrounded with those profoundly spiritual and gorgeous mountains.”
– Jayeesha Dutta, New Orleans, LA

Zilphia Institute Participants

Zilphia Institute Participants

Check out this blog post by one of our participants!