For four days next week, the campus of the National Labor College (NLC) in Silver Spring, Md., will reverberate with the sounds of music, poetry and creative chants and art.

From June 20-23, some 100 union and social justice activists will participate in the annual Great Labor Arts Exchange and Conference on Creative Organizing, programs that combine union mobilization and outreach with songs, skits, art, poetry, theater, posters, cartoons and film.

For 31 years, 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.

Last year, the Great Labor Arts Exchange featured a wealth of new, young talent. Some of last year’s featured events included a giant puppet show by two members of the United Steelworkers (USW) who showed participants one way to use street theater to deliver a message. Tayo Aluko, a Nigerian who now lives in Liverpool, England, performed a one-man show on the life of actor and human rights activist Paul Robeson.

Another presentation, by the group “Teaching For Change,” demonstrated strategies for educating children, parents, teachers and the community about social justice by having them work jointly on a quilt depicting different social issues.

The Conference on Creative Organizing trains union staff, organizers and activists to use songs, chants, skits, game shows, costumes, theater and other creative tactics when reaching out to working people. Participants exchange experiences, brainstorm about specific union campaigns, share resources and return home with a battery of new ideas and tools that will make their campaigns more compelling.

On June 23, participants from the two conferences will converge on Washington, D.C., to join in a day of action to focus attention and energy on issues currently facing working people, such as the Employee Free Choice Act, immigration reform, poverty, health care reform and education reform.

At the “Raise Your Voices and Be Heard Concert” that evening, artist Ricardo Levins Morales 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.

Both events are sponsored by the Labor Heritage Foundation and NLC.

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