by James Parks, Jun 20, 2010

For the first time in more than three decades, the Labor Heritage Foundation took the Great Labor Arts Exchange on the road. This year the Exchange brought its special blend of culture and the arts to Detroit June 18-21. AFSCME Local 25 is hosting the Great Labor Arts Exchange at its offices, 600 West Lafayette in Detroit.

For four days, some 100 union and social justice activists are participating in programs that combine union mobilization and outreach with songs, skits, art, poetry, theater, posters, cartoons and film. For three decades, the Great Labor Arts Exchange has celebrated the rich cultural heritage of working people and served as a forum that brings together talented labor artists, activists, cultural workers, educators and students.

Labor Heritage Foundation Chairwoman Elise Bryant says the Great Labor Arts Exchange reflects the important role that art plays in the union movement.

Art displays the heart, soul and passion for equality and justice in the union movement. Union members learned long ago that life is more than work. We not only need bread, we need roses, too. Every successful progressive movement in the United States has been led by song. But we’re not just focusing on the past. We’re also introducing the new artists who are producing art for the union, peace and justice movements.

Participants also are joining workshops that examine strategies for combining art with organizing and taking part in discussions on “Song Writing,” “Business 101 for Artists,” “The Power of the Spoken Word-Theatre, Poetry, and Performance” and “Using YouTube, Internet, and Online Networking Sites to Get Your Message Out.

At the “Links On a Chain = Solidarity Forever! Concert” on June 20, Jerry Gray, founder of The Travellers, a Canadian folk group, will receive the Joe Hill Award, which honors leaders and artists who have contributed to the successful integration of arts and culture in the labor movement.

The Arts Exchange is being held in advance of the U.S. Social Forum, which begins June 22 in Detroit. Many of the artists at the Arts Exchange also will participate in the Social Forum.