Exploring Creative Media Making and the Conditions for Change

Molly de Aguiar
4 min readDec 18, 2019


Through media production, training and advocacy, Media Mobilizing Project builds relationships of solidarity and mutual support to build movements with communities fighting for justice, equity and human rights. Image courtesy Media Mobilizing Project.

The Independence Public Media Foundation announced its second round of grants today, totaling $4.3 million in support of its goal to establish the Philadelphia region as a “hotbed for creative media makers.”

What does that mean? What might that look like? I will admit that when I joined the foundation, I was equal parts excited and overwhelmed by this goal. It is more aspirational, but less concrete or solutions-oriented than our other three stated goals which support: 1) community-centered local journalism; 2) digital literacy and inclusion; and 3) media that represents the diverse demographics of the region in their governance, employee base, content creation, and audience reach.

As our foundation has explored the boundaries of creative media making through this grants cycle, I’ve come to realize that it is, by itself, not the goal. The goal is what is made possible through creative media making: community connections, a sense of belonging and agency, civic engagement, preserving history and memory, change, and justice.

Our role is not to focus on what kind of media to support — filmmaking, animation, video, audio — yes to all of that and more — but rather what media can do. For people, for communities, for the region.

My colleague Lauren Pabst at the MacArthur Foundation wrote an essay this past summer, “The Space for Change,” which arrived at just the right time to help me see this. She wrote:

Journalism works to hold the powerful accountable, whether it is public officials or private corporations, provoking a public reckoning with wrongdoing and forcing change.

Documentary films, especially in recent years, have also been held up as drivers of social change; presenting untold or long-forgotten stories in a cinematic format can generate new levels of awareness.

But documentaries and journalism do not, by themselves, create change. They present evidence and the building blocks for the levers of accountability by exposing wrongdoing or telling stories misrepresented by the larger media anew. They can provide context where before there were only soundbites.

Journalism and documentary can create the space for change.

For social change to take place, that space must be claimed by engaged civic actors and organizations, whether they be public servants in a position to act or grassroots activists who work to force action where it did not seem previously possible.

By bringing new information and new stories to light, journalism and documentary present a choice to the public: Will we act on these revelations? Will we use our civic power to take this information and run with it? And, importantly, are mediamakers willing to be in dialogue with the activism their work relies on?

In her essay, I found a roadmap for the kind of organizations and work we supported in this round of grants and expect to support in the future:

  • Is the intent of the organization and the proposed work to create the space for change?
  • Are the organization and the proposed work rooted in the community, such that engaged civic actors can claim that space?
  • Does the work bring new information and stories to light, particularly untold, unheard, or long-forgotten stories?
  • Does the work present a choice or solutions to the public about using their civic power to act on the information presented?
  • Will the media makers be in dialogue with the activism on which their work relies?

Fundamentally, these questions can reveal to us an organization’s values and the clarity of its goals, and whether it’s well-positioned to work in solidarity with its community, or if it operates on its own, disconnected from the community.

Beyond these questions, though — beyond how we might discover which routes to take — there is a central point in Lauren’s essay that represents what I think is the heart of our opportunity in supporting media and media making across the region: change happens when a network is working together, when media makers and engaged civic actors are working toward that change.

As a funder, we have the power, and I argue an obligation, to build and strengthen networks that power movements for change. IPMF can and will do this by making grants— you can see this particularly with the grants we’ve made in this round to Media Mobilizing Project, Free Press, and the Media, Inequality, Change Center. But we have many other tools at our disposal to support network building, too: convening and encouraging collaboration among our grantees, fostering partnerships with funding colleagues and others, investing in compelling storytelling, and sharing our work and lessons with others, to name a few.

As Lauren points out, we need “an entire society of people with the courage to act and the courage to learn” in order to create the conditions for meaningful change.

A Note About Our Processes

Independence Public Media is a start-up foundation with very limited staff capacity. As a result, we are in an experimental mode, and we have not yet established grantmaking processes for those seeking funding. We look forward to 2020 when we will have more staff and more capacity to build clear, transparent, and equitable guidelines.

Read about our first round of grants here.

To learn more about IPM, its guiding principles and four overarching goals, see the background paper (PDF) on our website. We are committed to sharing our processes, decisions, and learning publicly.