This year has been the era of pairings and partnerships. Some of the most innovative tastemakers are thinking beyond the traditional food and drink pairing and considering how visual art and wine, beer and spirits can intersect in ways that call attention to important societal issues. As I prep for my own wine and painting event this week for Telesomm, I’ve come across two other companies that are using big art projects to inspire creativity and drive social change.
Don Papa Rum and Filipino American History
For Filipino American History Month, Don Papa Rum partnered with a few different people to celebrate Filipino culture and highlight the history of rum in the Philippines. They connected with bars in New York City and Los Angeles for bar takeovers and even helped develop an Ube Colada ice cream with Aubi & Ramsa.
But their most impactful and artistic collaboration was with Filipino-born street artist Bodeck Luna. With inspiration from Don Papa’s rye-aged rum, Luna created a wallscape representing the indigineous Island of Negros where the rum originates from.
I reached out to Luna for insight on his creative process. When Don Papa approached him for a mural collaboration, he was very excited to partner with a community-oriented Filipino rum:
“I was roped in once I found out that they have a wildlife preservation collaboration with the Talarak Foundation, who champions protection of endangered species in Negros Island in Visayas. Don Papa also embraces originality and artists’ perspective and interpretations, and it seems like this collaboration was written in the stars for me.”
Luna’s creative process involves figuring out how best to tell a story. Storytelling is at the heart of these collaborations, as both Don Papa and Luna are using their talents and platform to introduce audiences to new stories about Filipino culture. Luna’s goal is to inspire new perspectives focused on conservation and education:
“Hopefully, this platform allows me to educate FilAm youth about these animals they most likely have never heard of. Don Papa is loosely based on Papa Isio, a Babaylan farmer and freedom fighter who opposed the Spanish colonization. In this scene we could see his spirit still very much involved with protecting the land and the creatures thriving symbiotically within the fauna. Once I got the narrative honed in, the rest is just exploration on how I could further tell the story.”
Don Papa sees this and all their collaborations as their way of “creatively giving back for the sake of doing good,” says West Coast Brand Ambassador Tomas Delos Reyes. Going forward, Reyes says Don Papa would like to “expand [their] footprint in the art space in the U.S.” by partnering with more FilAm individuals to advance and strengthen the community.
Prisoner Wine and U.S. Prison Reform
This year, Prisoner Wine Company launched its Corrections collection, a project with a goal of using the power of fine art to amplify the need for change in the U.S. prison system.
It’s no secret that Prisoner has a mixed reputation in the wine community. Their widespread popularity has caused some to view them as prosaic and mainstream. But Prisoner has become increasingly aware of the power of their platform, and Vice President and General Manager Bukky Ekundayo is committed to using the company’s platform to influence social change.
I was happily surprised by the powerful initiatives Prisoner is taking to increase awareness around U.S. prison reform, and I was incredibly excited to meet virtually with Ekundayo and have a conversation about the Corrections collection:
“Our name has always stood out and made us a memorable brand. That provocation gives us a responsibility to use it for good and to use the attention through such an evocative name and label to shine a spotlight on something positive and progressive. We are spreading awareness of the need for prison reform—specifically the ways that Black and Brown people, Black males especially, are overly penalized and harmed unfairly and unjustifiably by our justice system.”
The goal of this collection is to “systematically change the narrative around what it means to have been incarcerated,” says Ekundayo. The food and drink industry is desperate for workers, and Ekundayo believes that businesses should “interrogate the filters and practices people have used in the past to eliminate certain candidates.” She is happy to contribute to a future that progressively accelerates revolutionary cultural movements.
For the Corrections collection, Prisoner partnered with artist Chris Burnett to create wine labels that strike an emotional tone with audiences. Burnett was looking for work that would allow him to flex his artistic skills, and he saw a Prisoner collaboration as a dream project:
“This year has been a huge year of growth for me. One of the things I’ve learned about is my emotions: how to communicate them, how to express them and feel through them. It’s not something that’s taught—I just turned 30 and I’m just starting to figure out my process.”
This is Burnett’s first art collaboration, and it has inspired him to seek out more opportunities to “champion initiative outside of [his] practice.” He is especially interested in live creative events where the process itself is the focus of the experience. Creating meaningful art with “a bunch of creative people orbiting around” is what Burnett deems one of the best parts of being a community-engaged artist.
For up-and-coming artists interested in using their talents for social impact, Burnett’s main tips are displaying patience, gratitude, and diligence. Most importantly, he encourages creatives to cultivate relationships within their community: “If you maintain healthy relationships with the people in your life, as they become successful, you’ll become successful. Inspire people, and they will inspire you.”
Burnett’s philosophy reflects a movement in the food and beverage industry to embrace creativity and amplify community voices. I’m excited to see how these companies and other organizations continue to use their platforms to call attention to societal issues.