Culture Lab

Helping social justice groups harness the power of pop culture.

The Culture Lab serves as an “action tank” (think tank + action center) to help social change groups tap into the power of entertainment to inspire action and move us closer to the just, equitable, and sustainable world we seek.

We take fun seriously.

Recent culture-driven breakthroughs on issues like LGBT equality have prompted social justice groups to pay attention to the evocative power of movies, shows, and music. But for the most part, nonprofits are still attuned to news cycles, not the popular narratives and fan conversations that activate the imaginations of millions.

Culture Lab provides the resources, tools, creative content and relationships to help changemakers listen, meet people where they already are, make the most of pop trends, and inspire action.

Easier, faster, smarter.

Our methods are designed to increase social change groups’ savvy and ability to develop cultural strategies. We do this through:

  • Prototypes and Pilots: We use a learn-design-act cycle to test new tools, content, and events with partners. Our experiments yield insights and solutions that are useful far beyond a single issue or campaign. We share those insights and continue to build on them to push the field forward.
  • Collective Resources: Commercial marketing agencies and their data-trackers are often too expensive–– and not aligned with the goals of justice and equity groups. We lower costs with tools that are designed to be shared across movements and issue areas.
  • Collaborative Activities: We organize and support cohorts of groups with related issue and policy agendas, making it easy for participants to build off each other’s insights and amplify their work.
  • Wide Distribution: We believe in open-source ideas, and aim to scale our tools, content and programs in ways that are low-cost and high-yield for our social justice “customers” and partners.


Cultural Pulse

A service that helps social change nonprofits jiu-jitsu off of pop culture narratives, hot topics, fan energy, and audience conversations. We research and develop new strategies and tools to increase social change organizations’ ability to plug into the people and stories at the heart of creating political and social change. From one-on-one strategy sessions to deep research into how to connect with fan communities, we are expanding how groups can power up with pop culture.

Plug into the Pulse

Sign up for the Cultural Pulse newsletter to be connected to the latest and upcoming shows and movie storylines, entertainment news, fan buzz, and to access tips and tutorials on connecting pop to your work.

Visual Storytelling For Social Change

Visual Storytelling

More and more organizations are producing visual stories--from online videos to snackable micro content on Snapchat. They know that to achieve powerful narrative change they need to be able to both inspire and fill in the gaps left by commercial media. In partnership with Race Forward and JustFilms | Creativity and Free Expression, Ford Foundation, Culture Lab produces workshops, tools,and guides for organizers and communications experts, training them in visual storytelling strategies, creative process, and best methods to build relationships with artists and media makers.

REPORT: Harnessing Documentaries for Social Change: A guide for social justice advocates who want to use the power of visual storytelling to engage new audiences and inspire action.

WONDERLAND Multimedia Series

Cultural Pulse

A podcast and online education project produced in partnership with Bridgit Antoinette Evans, president of FUEL and developer of CULTURE CHANGES US learning system as a fellow at the Nathan Cummings Foundation. Acting as a culture change master class for change makers and creatives alike, WONDERLAND brings social change leaders and creative visionaries together in discussion on breakthrough ideas. WONDERLAND will launch in late 2016.

Funder and Field Education and Consulting

We create case studies, “state of the field” research, presentations, and trainings, as well as producing events and working with foundations to support the use of culture in nonprofit advocacy work.

Spoiler Alert

Spoiler Alert

Produced through a fellowship with Opportunity Agenda, Culture Lab Director Tracy Van Slyke’s guide to “How Progressive Will Breakthrough with Pop Culture” provided the founding research for Culture Lab’s projects and continues to influence cultural strategy initiatives by foundations and other nonprofits.

Tracy Van Slyke headshot

About Tracy Van Slyke

Building off of 15 years working at the intersection of media and movement building, Tracy Van Slyke founded the CEL Culture Lab in 2014 to make it easier for social justice groups to harness the power of music, TV, movies, and entertainment to move hearts and minds.