Image Story

Beautiful Trouble Toolbox

Nadine Bloch and Andrew Boyd

The blending of art and protest is nothing new: tactical pranks go back at least as far as the Trojan Horse. Fools, clowns, and carnivals have always played a subversive role, while art, culture, and creative protest have for centuries served as fuel and foundation for successful social movements.

Contemporary global campaigns, such as Black Lives Matter (advocating for racial equity and justice) and Extinction Rebellion (reckoning with the climate emergency), are taking protest to another level. Creativity and possibilities for reframing social action are amplified by internet connection and fed by the urgency of multiple existence-level crises. From memes and virtual sit-ins to media pranks and viral campaigns, the need to mobilize and the will to do so have increased exponentially.

The Beautiful Trouble toolbox is a direct response to these social movements, and one that is designed to evolve in tandem with their needs. Assembled collaboratively in 2011 by more than seventy artists and activists, the toolbox lays out the core tactics, principles, and theoretical concepts that drive creative activism, providing analytical tools by which change makers can learn from their own successes and failures.

Creative activism offers no one-size-fits-all solution, and neither does the Beautiful Trouble toolbox. It’s less a cookbook than a pattern language—a network of patterns that call upon one another, each providing a timeless solution to a recurring design problem, according to architect Christopher Alexander, originator of the concept.[1] Rather than dictating a strict course of action, the Beautiful Trouble toolbox offers a matrix of flexible, interlinked tools that practitioners can pick and choose among and apply in unique ways, varying with each situation they may face.

Millions around the world have awoken not only to the need to take action against deepening inequality and ecological devastation, but also to our own creative power to do so. The Beautiful Trouble toolbox can help. Please use it.

A graphic of a black hammer with the words “BEAUTIFUL TROUBLE” superimposed upon it in a gradient from yellow to blue.

Methodologies

Strategic frameworks and hands-on exercises to help you assess your situation and plan your campaign. The Spectrum of Allies exercise helped civil rights activists in the United States expand their struggle for universal voting rights to sympathetic white citizens in the North.

Side by side graphic cards, containing text and graphics, with purple headers reading “BARAZA” and “SPECTRUM OF ALLIES” and footers reading “METHODOLOGY”.

Principles

Hard-won insights that can guide or inform creative action design.

Side by side graphic cards, containing text and graphics, with blue headers reading “MAINTAIN NONVIOLENT DISCIPLINE” and “MAKE THE INVISIBLE VISIBLE” and footers reading “PRINCIPLE”.
A group of eleven nurses—wearing red scrubs, face masks, and other PPE and holding signs—stand in the street in front of the White House amidst rows of 88 pairs of white shoes.

National Nurses United lined up pairs of white shoes in front of the White House to memorialize eighty-eight nurses who had died of Covid-19, 2020. Alyssa Schukar for National Nurses United.

Stories

Accounts of memorable actions and campaigns—analyzing what worked (or didn’t) and why. Useful for illustrating how principles, tactics, theories, and methodologies can be successfully applied in practice.

Side by side graphic cards, containing text and graphics, with green headers reading “SCHOOLS OF STRUGGLE” and “GEZI PARK IFTAR” and footers reading “STORY”.

Theories

Big-picture concepts and ideas that help us understand how the world works and how we might go about changing it.

Side by side graphic cards, containing text and graphics, with red headers reading “PREFIGURATIVE POLITICS” and “THE COMMONS” and footers reading “THEORY”.
A large group of people sit outside in rural environment on a cloudless day in front of a wooden building structure.

Bold Nebraska, a citizen group, put the theory of prefigurative politics into action in 2013, erecting a solar- and wind-powered barn on the proposed path of the Keystone XL oil pipeline to both block its construction and model an alternative vision of the future. Credit: Mary Anne Andrei / Bold Nebraska.

Tactics

Forms of creative action that result in a flash mob, blockade, or guerrilla projection.

Side by side graphic cards, containing text and graphics, with orange headers reading “GUERRILLA PROJECTION” and “HUMAN BANNER” and footers reading “TACTIC”.

Debates

Eternal questions (such as, change the world or change yourself?) that must be constantly wrestled with.

Side by side graphic cards, containing text and graphics, with brown headers reading “BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE” and “BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY” and footers reading “DEBATE 2: SIDE A” and “DEBATE 2: SIDE B”.

NADINE BLOCH

Nadine Bloch is the training director of Beautiful Trouble, working as an activist artist and strategic nonviolent organizer.

ANDREW BOYD

Andrew Boyd founded Beautiful Trouble in 2011 after a career of working on creative campaigns for social change.

 

NOTES

[1] See Christopher Alexander, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1977).

A graphic of a black hammer with the words “BEAUTIFUL TROUBLE” superimposed upon it in a gradient from yellow to blue.
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