Looking Back to Move Forward

Place & Rhythms of Change Detroit, Memphis, and New Orleans

This report is designed to inform strategies and identify opportunities to center racial equity in recovery and renewal efforts for creative practitioners and communities.

Looking Back to Move Forward engaged BIPOC artists and culture bearers working at the intersection of social justice, racial equity, and community development endeavors. The aim was to provide funders and other intermediaries with information that could lead to new and reimagined programs and investments.

In January 2021, rootoftwo began the participatory, mixed-methods research project called Looking Back to Move Forward to understand the catalysts, foundations, and scaffolds needed to support artists and culture bearers involved in social justice and community development endeavors in Detroit, Memphis, and New Orleans. Funded by The Kresge Foundation, this study explores the support systems necessary for BIPOC artists and cultural bearers to thrive. 

Looking Back to Move Forward was designed to elicit insights and evidence that provide rich storytelling, case-making, and recommendations for new and or strengthened interventions, programs, funding, and other strategic supports for artists and culture bearers in their roles as:

  • Creative practitioners – Making a life and, at times, a living through
    their work and practice
  • Activists, advocates, and translators – Working at the intersections of social justice and social transformation on a broad range of issues
  • Neighbors, community members, and residents – Working at the intersection of city building, community development, economies of solidarity, and mutual aid


Looking Back to Move Forward engaged with artists and culture bearers from Detroit, Memphis, and New Orleans, emphasizing social justice, racial equity, and community development. Our aim was to provide critical insights to funders and intermediaries, highlighting transformative opportunities for programming and investment in these cities.

Originally designed as an on-the-ground, highly participatory study, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic required us to adopt more facilitative, adaptive, and trauma-informed methodologies. This shift involved rethinking our in-person engagement strategies to accommodate virtual and remote interactions while maintaining a deep connection to the lived experiences of our participants.

The project’s approach centered around a participatory action research framework that facilitated ongoing critical dialogues between our research team and the participants. Weekly meetings helped us navigate emerging issues and collaboratively design research tools and processes. We adopted a mixed-methods strategy, combining qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis to capture both broad and in-depth insights into the specific conditions and nuanced daily experiences of artists and culture bearers.


We are eternally grateful to each of the individuals who joined us and shared their insights, experiences, and feedback throughout Looking Back to Move Forward. Their contributions have helped us design, conduct, and present fair and equitable research at every step of the process. This project has been inspired by each of them and wouldn’t be possible without their vital work and the numerous ways they show up in their communities. Their perspective has been invaluable to what we have learned about the creative ecosystems in Detroit, Memphis, and New Orleans.

Looking Back to Move Forward was undertaken with the hope that its learnings and recommendations would positively impact the support systems for BIPOC artists and culture bearers, fostering deeper understanding and advocacy for their roles within communities. The project provided platforms for BIPOC artists and culture bearers to express their concerns and aspirations, thereby enhancing important cultural narratives. The report explores their perspectives and other qualitative and quantitative data through five dimensions: Access + Opportunities; Assets + Infrastructure; Education + Tools; Health + Wellbeing; and Money + Legal. For each of these, there are three core recommendations resulting in 15 recommendations. 

Through this project we have documented the experiences and challenges faced by BIPOC artists and culture bearers. With the release of the report, we plan to continue the work with artists, researchers, funders, and intermediaries to catalyze the critical changes needed to support and elevate their invaluable contributions to society.



Date: 2024

Location: Detroit, MI; Memphis, TN, and New Orleans, LA

Principal Research: February 2021 – March 2022
Analysis and Reporting: April 2022 – May 2024
Completed/Launched: May 2024

The Kresge Foundation

The Kresge Foundation

Data Partners: Data Driven Detroit, a worker-owned cooperative

Peer Reviewers:
David Holland, Deputy Director WESTAF
Judilee Reed, CEO United States Artists
Omari Rush, Executive Director CultureSource
Caitlin Strokosch, President and CEO National
Performance Network
Nathaniel Wallace, Head of Civic Partnerships
Michigan Central

Cézanne Charles (rootoftwo –  Partner and Research Co-lead)
John Marshall (rootoftwo –  Partner and Research Co-lead)
Ash Arder, Research Associate
Lauren Rossi, Research Associate
Elizabeth Vander Veen, Design Strategist & Researcher

Branding + Book Design: Middlecott Design
Copy Editor: Eva Munz

Dimensions: 8.5″ (L) x 11″ (W); 131 pages

Media: Print and Digital Publication

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