Knowing Who is Here ::a public brainstorm::

I’d like to try an experiment.  I’m going to call it a public brainstorm, and tag it as such for future reference.  So often I have ideas that I get excited about, let roll around in my head, and once in a while jot down on paper via scraps in the office or one journal or the other, but I rarely share them in any public way that would encourage accountability.  So here’s the first; I would appreciate any comments, criticisms, brilliant ideas for follow through, or public brainstorms on your own blog linked in a comment here.

Now to the subject of the title.  Data frustrates me.  Numbers and measurements certainly have their place, particularly to establish importance or relevance on the scale of a country or continent.  But when it comes to the neighborhood organizing level (and my line of work), statistical data leaves me not only cold, but bored and unmotivated.  While census information may tell the viewer of the income, education level, and racial breakdown of a particular neighborhood, it and similar purely quantitative studies lack one essential aspect of what makes a neighborhood vital and vibrant: stories.  Thus I return to my collegiate honors thesis (a phenomenological study of student activism) and the haven of qualitative information for a community organizing brainstorm on how to collect, connect, share and persuade with the colorful stories I am certain exist in my workplace neighborhood.

I should first explain that there are two exciting community building movements of sorts occurring in the ‘hood that up until my brainstorm this morning were entirely distinct projects, both in practice and in the minds of the participants.  The first I am only peripherally involved in, though it was the original impetus for my desire for qualitative research and creation.  This is the establishment of a Creative Enterprise Zone in the neighborhood, a place both material and abstract that will foster artists, artisans, and other creative entrepreneurs in the neighborhood.  The recently formed steering committee for this project is releasing their action document at a celebration event next week, which will hopefully blossom into enthusiasm and support across the neighborhood.  The biggest obstacle to this project, however, is not knowing who is here (ie. what artists and artisans are presently working in the n’hood) and what they want/need.  Several strategies for ‘outing’ these creative types have been suggested, usually orbiting around a quantitative (and sometimes web-based) survey, which I think is the wrong strategy entirely, or at the very least is merely a piece of a larger puzzle, but I’ll get to that.

The second movement is hope and action for a neighborhood Transition Town, spearheaded by our very own Energy Resilience Group (ERG).  Though they like to spend quite a bit of (and I would venture to say, sometimes excessive amount of) time thinking and discussing before taking action, ERG recently passed a resolution through the board of the community council supporting a community-based inventory and action plan to move toward becoming a full-fledged Transition Town.  For those of you who haven’t heard from me or read in past posts, the basic gist of Transition Towns is relocalization of everything to create more resilient communities and prepare for the inevitable effects of climate change and peak oil.  Serious stuff indeed, and inevitable too, which is why I’m excited that the neighborhoods in which I live and work have groups to discuss and implement the Transition Town ideas and action plans.

So, in summary: the Creative Enterprise Zone movement is too qualitative and the Energy Resilience Group is too methodical.  What can both connect and usher the two movements along?  Stories.  Stories elicited and shared in a way that is compelling to local residents, business owners, and other community members, as well as to politicians and grants organizations.  This is where my qualitative-research-based brainstorm comes in, inspired by the stories in Spark: How Creativity Works and the interviews and structure of the International News Station program Studio 360.

For those not familiar with Studio 360 (I wasn’t before reading Spark), host Kurt Anderson interviews various artists, from Kevin Bacon to Yo Yo Ma, on their craft and creativity. Spark is a compilation of essays distilled from those interviews and organized into various themes on how one finds and retains creativity.  These essays are brilliant not only in their insight into the minds of some of the most interesting creators of our era, but also in their simple authenticity.  The artists talk about what they love, why they do it, and what keeps them coming back, and sometimes even how they see their work existing in the larger creative sphere of present day culture.

I want to replicate the wonderful experiment that was and is Studio 360, because I am certain that we have similarly passionate artists and artisans in our own community that would be just as enthusiastic in sharing their story of their art and their lives.  But maybe instead of a radio show the product of similar interviews is a series of videos (we have filmmakers) or a zine (we have printmakers and bookbinders), or at the very least a monthly column in our wonderful local newspaper (that is actually read by a majority of the residents, mind you).  These interviews would not only highlight artists for the sake of inventorying the local Creative Enterprises, but would build a foundation of local creation and production that would be the basic of a community Transition Town.  Any movement must be built beginning with what already exists, and we are lucky enough to have an abundance of creative and intelligent individuals and enterprises in our community.  Now all we have to do is collect and share their stories to show everyone else what we can and will do.

What needs to happen to make my brainstorm reality?  I need to find people to interview, and come up with basic interview questions and/or interest-peaking conversation topics. I probably need someone to help me conduct the interviews as I am only at the Community Council for 23 hours a week.  I need to decide on a way to record said interviews, whether it is video (in which case I would need to find a videographer, preferably within the community) or print.  And, arguably most importantly, I need an audience for the end product that will sign on to creating the Creative Enterprise Zone and Transition Town community that the interviewees envision.  This audience must include community members, but need not be limited to people who live and work in the neighborhood.  In fact, it should be the City, likely the County, and possibly the state.  Heck, let’s send it on to the country while we’re at it, assuming there’s a venue to do so.

So there you have it, my first public brainstorm.  It harkens back to the Dreams Accountability Collaborative in a way, though this particular idea is work related and much more concrete than many of my dreams.  Now it’s up to me to follow up on my vision, and you, dear bloggers and internet browsers of the world, to give your feedback and share public brainstorms of your own.  The virtual podium is yours.

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