Create, Re-Create, Recreate

I was reading a piece in CityLab about Repair Cafes which strike me as a good complement to MakerSpaces and creative activities that arts and cultural entities may host.   The concept was started in Amsterdam by Martine Postma who was disturbed by how much repairable equipment was sitting at the curb on trash day.  She sells start up kits that allow you to use the Repair Cafe logo and puts you in touch with the other Repair Cafe’s around the world.

But beyond reducing what is sent to the landfill, personal empowerment plays a large role in the Repair Cafe concept:

What she’s discovered was that it wasn’t that people liked throwing away old stuff. “Often when they don’t know how to repair something, they replace it, but they keep the old one in the cupboard—out of guilt,” she said. “Then at a certain moment, the cupboard is full and you decide this has been lying around [long enough].”

[…]

For the time being, communities are doing what they can to encourage people to fix things. Libraries like the one in Howard County, for example, have started renting out tools and creating “makerspaces” where members learn to both repair and create. Elsewhere, cities have hosted MakerLabs, FabLabs—short for fabrication lab—and Innovation Labs for both adults and children. Bike shops and nonprofits alike have fished scrapped vehicles from the landfill to repair and donate to the underserved community.

The social and personalized elements of the Repair Cafes, makerspaces, etc may be part of the value and appeal. After all, you can watch a YouTube how-to video to fix something that breaks. If you don’t have confidence in your ability to effect the repairs, having someone available to teach you the skills to do so in the process of fixing your stuff might motivate you to act. This despite the fact it is more trouble to haul your broken equipment somewhere versus tossing it in the trash.

It is also easier to toss stuff away rather than hauling it to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, but people donate goods to non-profits all the time because they know it is better not to let things go to waste.

Just as recognizing your capacity to be creative is empowering,  learning to fix items can instill a degree of pride and self-satisfaction which is why I feel it is such a close companion effort to creative activities.

#19NTC Topics-Oh Yeah Do I Got Ideas For You

Last week Drew McManus did a call out to the non-profit arts community to submit proposals for the Nonprofit Technology Conference in March 2019. (Proposal deadline is August 17)

Last year, I was excited by the topic Drew was presenting – “Everything Tech Providers Wished You Knew About Writing A RFP (plus the stuff they want to keep secret)

So in the spirit of getting more stuff I am interested in learning about proposed, I am gonna give you a list of some of the things I think would make good topics in the hope some of you will submit something.

  • Data Privacy and Security From Perspective of Communities of Color – I have already reached out to one of the people who made a presentation for the Hispanic National Bar Assn in NYC, but anyone with an interest should submit on this topic. Given that non-profits serving communities of color often need to establish a relationship of trust, this seems like an important subject to address.
  • Analyzing The True Cost of Programs – favorite topic of mine. Related idea:
  • Using Evidence/Data to Rebutt the Concept of Overhead Ratio As A Measure Of Effectiveness
  • Shared /Online Procurement Goods/Services
  • Effective RFP Generation – both internal & external processes
  • Using Geofencing To Better Understand Target Communities – can geofencing help you better understand a community based on where they travel around the community?
  • Ethics of Using Geofencing For Marketing  – i.e. I can geofence a local theater and target people based on the idea that they enjoy attending performances or with the intent of stealing the audience.
  • In-Person/Conference Based Professional Development vs. Online/Technology Delivery. Are there some subject areas better suited to one format over the other?
  • Shared services/technology arrangements – in terms of both back office and program delivery
  • Delete the Facebook Account? – Communication strategies when faced with a concerted social media assault
  • Conforming with Google’s new criteria for Adwords Grants – i.e. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2018/05/07/nonprofits-can-keep-adwords-grants-following-major-changes-restore-lost-accounts/
  • Energy Saving Performance Contracts
  • Use of technology to provide regular cues to keep strategic plan alive and relevant – i.e. using software/apps to periodically to nag/remind you of milestones in time line, provide encouragement, remind you of ideas you had during the planning session
  • Effective Hiring – from job description to orientation/training  this topic is large enough to be multiple sessions can hit on everything from online job boards/job app apps to new state laws requiring salary range and forbidding asking about salary history

There are plenty more ideas where these came from, but I feel like this is a good broad range of subjects. I have already reached out to a few people encouraging to propose based on topics they are well-qualified to address.

If any of this inspires you in any sort of direction, submit a proposal.  If you got questions, let me know. Like Drew, I am on the conference session committee. Honestly, the conference organizers are really good about providing opportunities for people to ask questions at scheduled office hours and open Q&A sessions, and an online proposal prep group in which you can solicit feedback on proposals you are developing. All these resources are listed on the proposal pages.

When Fantasy Morphs Into Reality

You just have to read this recent piece on the ArtsPlace America website about a fictitious marketing campaign created as a graduate school thesis project that became reality.

Peter Svarzbein’s thesis project had residents of El Paso, TX excited about the return of a trolley system that went defunct about 45 years ago.

….part performance art, part guerrilla marketing, part visual art installation, and part fake advertising campaign. The project began with a series of wheatpaste posters advertising the return of the El Paso-Juárez streetcar, and continued with the deployment of Alex the Trolley Conductor, a new mascot and spokesperson for the alleged new service. Alex appeared at Comic Cons, public parks, conferences, and other public spaces to promote the return of the streetcar, while additional advertisements appeared across El Paso, sparking curiosity and excitement for the assumed real project.

Eventually, Svarzbein admitted that the project was a graduate thesis masquerading as a streetcar launch,…

But when Svarzbein heard the city of El Paso was preparing to sell the art deco trolley cars, he rallied community support for the restoration of the trolley cars and passenger service. His initiative gained the support of both the city and state department of transportation, garnering a $97 million grant to help get the cars running again.

I love what happened next,

In one of the most surprising twists in this long tale, shortly after this funding was awarded, he rode the wave of public support for the once-fictional project to win a seat on El Paso’s City Council. He is now the City Representative for District 1, and an artist is now at the table.

In his remarks about the creativity he employed to rally support for the restoration, Svarzbein reflected on the role of an artist in the community,

“there is a sort of responsibility that artists have to imagine and speak about a future that may not be able to be voiced by a large amount of people in the present. I felt that sort of responsibility. If I couldn’t change the debate, at least I could sort of write a love letter to the place that raised me.”

Varied Advice & Insights On Creative Placemaking, Economic Impact

As a follow up to yesterday’s post on the Creative Placemaking conference I attended, I wanted to share some general thoughts and ideas I had picked up.

Regardless of whether the setting is urban, suburban or rural, there are a number of communities experiencing really difficult times. A number of panelists discussed the need to address the community trauma before you ever talk about economic stimulus. You can’t just walk in and position something as a solution to the problems in the community until those problems are aired and people have a sense that they can move forward from there. Otherwise the issues will likely continue to fester and undermine the foundation of what you are trying to accomplish.

When it comes to investment and grant making in rural communities, it probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that one of the factors contributing to the low level of investment is geographic remoteness. David Stocks of the Educational Foundation of America (which ironically is not involved in education) talked about how program officers will need to invest a lot more effort into bringing support to rural communities.

They might need to take a plane to a regional airport and then drive 2-3 hours before they reach a community. There is also the issue of trying to identify what organizations would make good anchor partners for the work they do.  There is a need for both funders and community organizations to work at expanding their relationship networks to increase the chances that their orbits will intersect.

Marie Mascherin who works for New Jersey Community Capital, characterized her organization primarily as a lender. She talked about how lenders viewed placemaking activities which was a perspective you rarely get. All the same, she warned those in attendance that her organization was atypical in that they got a lot more involved with the community and projects they were working on than most similar lending organizations.

John Davis who was involved with bringing vitality to both New York Mills, MN and Lanesboro, MN passed on a piece of advice he had received from a college professor – don’t make excuses, even about money, for not finding a creative solution. Basically, don’t let lack of money (or other things)  become default excuses about why things can’t be accomplished. In a rural setting where resources are scarce, you pretty much have to try harder to find creative solutions.

(Honestly, “work even harder and don’t make excuses,” wasn’t something I wanted to hear, but wasn’t exactly news.)

Davis also talked about an argument he made to a local government that was balking at renovating a building. He noted it would cost them $35,000 to demolish the building or they could invest $35,000 into renovating the building and have a more valuable property they could sell later if his project failed.

His project didn’t fail, but that concept dovetailed in an interesting way with a comment Ben Fink of Appalshop made about a prison project being proposed near Whitesburg, KY. He said that the $300,000,000 prison was being sold to the community as, at best, creating 300 new jobs. He noted that was $1,000,000 a job–compare that to how much benefit $1 investment in arts and culture has for a community.

It occurred to me that is something to look into and leverage proactively with governments and decision makers. Rather than waiting until it comes time to ask for funding to be renewed, when a discussion comes up about providing tax breaks or subsidies for companies, it might be useful to mention that $1 invested in creative placemaking/arts/culture/education in the community is more efficient.

While I am on the subject of economic activity, in one session I bluntly asked Jeremy Liu of PolicyLink about the veracity of economic impact claims being made by organizations and communities. He said if they are using analytic tools like those offered by Implan, the numbers are dependable.

In the past I have mentioned my concern with arts and culture organizations arguing for funding or policy changes citing the benefits of art and music on learning and test scores when such benefits are only weakly supported or have been debunked.

What has worried me is that decision and policy makers will learn about the lack of evidence for these claims and perhaps actively wield it against the arts community. By the same token, I have often wondered at the rigor behind claims of economic impact of creative activity in communities and feared what might result if they are debunked.¥

A few other tidbits people offered-

Don’t become hyperfocused on placemaking. Don’t value place or a project over the community. Even if you are in a group, no project is completed in isolation.

If you recall in the very beginning of my post yesterday I mentioned that I gained an appreciation and broader perspective on the different roles that contributed to a placemaking project from governments to funding/loan group to community members to the people executing the work, placemaking is a function of many entities working together.

I feel like I am citing him a lot in these last two posts, but I appreciated Ben Fink’s insights about establishing relationships with people in the community. He said the first real shared connection you will make with someone is rarely associated with the project you are trying to accomplish. As an example, your aim may be to solicit participation in a building renovation for a maker space but the initial basis of your relationship is a shared interest in 19th century steam engines.

He said that building community support and participation happened in the same way friendships develop. It is heavily dependent on the dynamics at the formation of the project. If participation is by invitation only, one person ends up being in charge. If you form a clique of interested parties, it becomes insular. But if the project begins with the intention of leaving the door open, interested people will start to gravitate toward the project as they see work happening.

¥- None of this compromises my assertion that while arts and cultural activity may generate economic activity, steady employment, positive social outcomes and quality of life, the none of this is a measure of the value of arts and culture.

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