New leadership announced to bridge America’s divides through entertainment
Steven Olikara named president of Bridge Entertainment Labs (BEL) to elevate “new stories of us”
BEL harnesses popular entertainment to humanize Americans across difference
LOS ANGELES – Bridge Entertainment Labs, a non-profit organization dedicated to leveraging the power of entertainment to reduce America’s divisions and strengthen democracy, announced today the appointment of Steven Olikara as president. Olikara brings two decades of experience in transformative media, political, and nonprofit leadership roles to the organization as it launches a suite of new programs this fall convening key entertainment industry leaders.
“The question of how we bridge widening gaps in our democracy is the foremost challenge of our time,” Olikara said. “Essential to this mission is telling better stories of the U.S. and us. Those stories are happening across America, and I’ve seen them firsthand through my prior work. With BEL, I’m excited to elevate new narratives in creative and fun ways — popular entertainment is the strongest lever we have to change culture.”
Steven’s appointment marks a major ramp up of BEL’s work to affect culture change. BEL’s September 28 event “Creating New American Stories of Us,” will coincide with the American Democracy Summit in LA and feature major Hollywood studios as well as notable producers and writers, such as Baratunde Thurston (How To Citizen, America Outdoors, PBS), Joel Fields (The Americans, The Patient, Fosse/Verdon), and Dr. Dave Caplan (The Conners, Anger Management, George Lopez) exploring how the entertainment industry can flip the script on narratives of division and strengthen our democracy.
Olikara, as the founder and CEO of Millennial Action Project, the largest nonpartisan organization of young legislators in the country, showed a history of successfully building diverse coalitions to advance forward-looking bipartisan legislation on issues such as technology, gun violence prevention, entrepreneurship, criminal justice reform and more. His story is featured in the documentary film, The Reunited States, on Amazon Prime and PBS.
Olikara ran for U.S. Senate in his home state of Wisconsin in 2022 and currently works as an on-air political commentator and a sought-after keynote speaker with the Washington Speaker’s Bureau. No stranger to working with entertainment leaders, he has advised two multi-platinum recording artists, including Akon’s Lighting Africa initiative, which electrified over 1 million homes in Africa with solar power. A Wisconsin native, he also hosted the Meeting in Middle America podcast, featuring guests such as Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley, former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, and Emmy-winning comedian Charlie Berens.
“As a head writer and executive producer on The Conners, among other shows, I have seen the large-scale impact of popular entertainment in humanizing Americans across our divides,” said Dr. Dave Caplan, a member of BEL’s Advisory Council. “With Steven’s leadership and national presence, as well as his bridge-building experience and creative ability, we will launch a new chapter for Bridge Entertainment Labs. Steven has activated audiences across the country to seize their agency for change and strengthen our democracy—I cannot wait to see him elevate this mission with some of the largest platforms in American culture.”
“Hollywood and the broader entertainment industry urgently needs a center of gravity like Bridge Entertainment Labs, and Steven Olikara is the perfect person to lead this effort,” states Ann Reidy, Director of Strategic Initiatives with Civic Health Project, the funding organization that incubated Bridge Entertainment Labs. “No one is better suited to help flip the script on our pervasive “us versus them” narratives, and we’re confident that fellow funders will see the extraordinary opportunity for impact that BEL represents.”
About Bridge Entertainment Labs: Bridge Entertainment Labs (BEL) is dedicated to transforming the way Americans see and engage with each other across our differences. We are a resource to the entertainment industry designed to ignite compelling narratives that bridge political and social divides and generate new stories of “us” as Americans. Bridge Entertainment Labs is a nonpartisan, fiscally sponsored project of Mediators Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. To learn more please visit www.bridgeentertainmentlabs.org.