I am interested in the role that time passing plays in the process of creativity, and in particular the time to take an internal vision, idea, experience, into an external place where it can be pondered, seen, experienced by others.
Time...and doing something to learn from.
A bookraising...June 2018
I look back and the justus cafe seeds have been germinating since November 2018. In June of 2018, inspired by a request from our friends, John O’Brien and Beth Mount to host a collective “book raising”, Patti Scott (my partner in life) and I hosted a group of friends and colleagues here in New Jersey, to explore ideas emerging from our experiences that could shape and influence John and Beth's book writing.
Where do I stand? ...2018
Out of that meeting came an idea to host a gathering that would invite people to explore “where do I stand?”, in this tumultuous time, personally, and in our work. People were invited and came to New Jersey in November 2018. It was in this experience that I began imagining “doing something” that would make visible the journey to justice and social change. No clarity of what this would become, just an urge to explore, inspired by a variety of factors.
The question of how online spaces be used to connect people across communities, states, and countries emerged. Beth Mount had some shared interest in this exploration, so we began conversations.
By late 2019, for me, the idea of creating a podcast sparked my interest -- interviews with people who practice the “arts of social change”. I spent time messing around with the technical elements of audio and video production of a podcast. I prototyped a few interviews, to see what could emerge. Our friend, and teacher, DeAmon Harges, alone and in conversation with Patti, and Beth Mount became the focus of these early prototypes. I recorded them, began editing. I never brought them into public view. They were prototypes to learn from.
The big learning was that I could see potential in the idea, bumping up against skills required that I had not yet developed. Technical skills for filming and recording/editing, and online interview skills. I learned that doing it alone was both undesirable and impractical. The amount of time that it would take to learn and become proficient in all aspects of the process was daunting. The idea remained vital...I would just need other people to join me.
Conversations, collaborations, and support ...2020
Each time I had an idea I would seek out people to have a conversation about it. Always, I would talk with Patti about what I was thinking, and always she supported and affirmed my interest. Patti is so practical. Every idea automatically shifts to what can be done about it. In 2019, in order to validate time that I would need to devote, Patti brought the idea to the Board of Neighbours International. The Board was, is, and always has been, affirming and supportive.
I have always been drawn to conversations with my friend Beth Mount, for many reasons, but two stand out: Her supportive enthusiasm. Her vision and practice in the “arts of social change”. She remains as a "go to" person when thinking about making the invisible visible.
Pathfinding Outfitters...exploring online learning community...2020
In late 2019, Patti and I were exploring a “where do I stand?” follow up experience with dear friends and collaborators, Jack Pearpoint, Lynda Kahn, Beth Mount, and John O'Brien. It was to be a gathering in Toronto in April 2020. The pandemic hit. By March we had already done a fair bit of planning. We were left with “what now?”.
We decided to take the experience into a prototype of an online learning community, in pursuit of “what might be possible”. None of us really liked the idea of meeting with people from a distance.
I created a closed website prototype for Pathfinding Outfitters participants in co-designing an online learning community experience. It was to be a place to inform, communicate, harvest, and store artifacts of learning that emerge in the co-designing process.
We dove head first into a Zoom learning immersion, using it as a video conferencing vehicle.
We learned a lot from this prototype experience, most importantly that more meaningful engagement was possible than any of us imagined, enough to spur us on to design and create a Cohort One of Pathfinding Outfitters in 2021.
Pathfinding Outfitters 2021 was a year of constant exploration, prototyping online gathering and learning, reflecting and learning from the experience, and then prototyping again.
JustUs Cafe Website...2021
My reading about Cafe con Libros, and owner Kalima DeSuze inspired the idea of creating a welcoming, interactive, reflective, and beautiful online cafe space, where people could come with their time, and refreshing beverage of choice, to immerse themselves in the arts of social change. To step away from the toxic culture of dismemberment, and breathe in the experience of people in local communities, who artfully dare to make the invisible visible, raising consciousness, and engaging people in changing the state of our relationships between people, and with the earth.
The website development learning from Pathfinding Outfitters experience made it possible to develop a prototype of a website container for the future multi-channel experiences of the JustUs Cafe in early 2021.
The structure of the site envisions creating channels and space for: interview podcasts; profiles of artists of social change; a gathering space for interactive engagement; a blog reflection space; and a library of videos making the invisible visible in artful ways.
Expanding circles of conversation
The confidence that came from affirmation in conversations with Patti and Beth, led to further conversations with a widening circle. Each conversation generated a sense that we were onto something here, even though there was not much to show. It was piquing the imagination of people, and it would lead to holding onto the thread to see where it would go next.
Artists of Social Change Profile Prototype ...Wildstyle Paschall
The website prototype was largely a container for future development. There was a need to find people and experiences that would embody what I was talking about. Friend and artist, Wildstyle Paschall (hip hop producer, photographer, writer) in Indianapolis, embodies an artist of social change. I reached out to Wildstyle, asking if he would be willing to participate in the early stages of development of the JustUs Cafe. Two questions for him were would he be willing to: to curate a selection of his photographs capturing street activism in Indianapolis, hip hop community, and the people of his neighborhood; have a conversation about his selection with me and my niece Samantha, who would join us in imagining how we could enter the world of social media.
We used our interview with Wildstyle as the text to accompany his images on the “artists of social change” profile page. Later in the year we prototyped a Zoom “gathering with the artist” event at the Virtual Toronto Summer Institute 2021.
Patti reached out to the Board of Neighbours International to get approval and support for us to contract with a grant writer. We established a contract with Derona King in Atlanta, and shortly thereafter Derona brought forward a grant application opportunity with the Borealis Philanthropy Foundation. Derona guided me through crafting the content to submit in the grant. We submitted the proposal in August 2021.
The key focus of the proposal was twofold: to hire a “next generation” creative production team for the JustUs Cafe, to cultivate and support growing leadership; funds to compensate artists and activists who contribute their work to the JustUs Cafe.
We found out in December 2021 that we were not awarded the grant. But it was a totally worthwhile experience. The grant application
The grant writing process inspired the idea of establishing an Advisory group (web page to come soon). We did not require establishing a new organization with a Board, since Neighbours International is a non-profit - 501(c)3 organization willing to host the JustUs Cafe as one of its initiatives.
This enabled a more narrowly defined commitment from the people we asked. They could just advise on direction.
An incredibly powerful group of individuals listened to the request, and said yes. They are powerfully active and engaged people from across USA/Canada, with full schedules. Finding an initial date to gather before the holiday season was a challenge.
In the first week of January 2022, we gathered, to get to know each other, and begin co-initiating a sense of direction. Two ideas emerged: learning journeys into local practice of the art of social change; festivals that can make the pursuit of justus/justice visible, connecting across communities through the channels of the JustUs Cafe.
The focus provided by the Advisor group charted a direction for my own effort to initiate, probe, and prototype. Beginning with exploring learning journeys, some of which were identified in the Advisor meeting: NYC Women fabric artists collective; DeAmon’s Indianapolis neighborhood; Savannah’s 10th anniversary of the Journey to Beloved Community; an inclusive youth theater company in Louisa Kentucky; an “Unconference” exploring “shared work” among black and indigenous communities of creatives; Sketch, community arts enterprise engaging youth on the margins.
Learning journeys could be “sensing” experiences, generating ideas for festivals that could mobilize and connect communities engaging in the arts of social change. The process of reflection built into a learning journey, can enable us to begin harvesting stories and experience that can be curated and shared in the various channels of the JustUs Cafe.
At this point the idea of exploring festivals remains in the background as we begin exploring opportunities for sensing and co-initiating emerging in learning journeys.
“Who Not How”
In my mind I can see a beautiful grand vision for what can occur through the collaborations in the JustUs Cafe. I have limited ideas about how this could all come together. Following the Advisor group conversation, I read a book called “Who Not How” (D. Sullivan, B.Hardy 2020), largely about not getting trapped in "how" something can be done, instead growing clarity about the vision, enough to be able to know "who" can be invited to engage in collaboration of something bigger than one person could create.
This is where I am now, probing what's next, and exploring “whos” for each step: for learning journeys; investors; technical production; design; social media engagement, and so much more.
This current blog version is one of the things emerging from following this vision, an attempt to be vigilant and aware of where things lead...building trust to follow the threads.