Listing obstacles to creative community-building can be a scary enterprise. Money is short while bureaucracy is long. Prohibitions proliferate while allowing isn’t even in the official vocabulary.
But the main obstacle isn’t material; it’s a deficit of social imagination. We daunt ourselves by seeing community as a problem defined by challenges that are too large and complex to address. In reality, we have the inexhaustible resource of creativity, if only we know how to access it.
Every community has the capacity to transform a culture of demoralization into a culture of possibility. “We can’t solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them,” Einstein said. I can help you create a culture of possibility in your community.
Imagine a culture of possibility.
Imagine a community where everyone feels at home, where people care about community life and want to contribute, where creativity and imagination infuse local government, public space, neighborhood life, environmental protection, even public safety. Imagine…
- An education system that a school principal describes this way: “ If I could bring someone from my elementary school through time to my school today, they wouldn’t be able to tell me what class they were in: we use music and dance to study math, we make digital stories in science class and write poems about history. There are artists in every classroom, and every child has real opportunity to develop any strength he or she possesses.”
- A business where the old-style boardroom has been replaced by “the best-equipped playroom imaginable, for adults.” There’s a conference table, but it breaks into modules “pulled to opposite corners of the large space. Teams from different parts of the company were huddled together. Some were listening to music, everyone on headphones, evidently moving in time to the same rhythm. Some were assembling samples of music and speech into collages of meaning, shaping a project through a process that’s more sculptural than linear. In the kitchen, four people were quietly constructing arrangements of food from the raw and cooked ingredients on hand. They were working on a new food product, challenging themselves to assemble its essence on plate, handing each other edible messages to experience, discuss, and interpret.”
- A hospital in which the old, alienating intake process has been reversed as “someone from the storyteller corps sat with every family in the waiting room. On the wards, artists were helping people put their experiences and feelings into images, making collages or digital stories that helped to anchor each person in his or her own healing. Writers were finding words for feelings that otherwise threatened to overwhelm patients. Musicians had their heads bent over hospital beds, collaborating on playlists attuned to whatever each person needed. Patients were teaching musicians the lullabies they’d heard as children.
“Hospitals were always busy places: everyone had a job to do, things had to be organized and efficient if there was any hope of responding to the scale of need. But a huge change had taken place: needs were no longer perceived as purely physical, as a simple matter of drawing blood or taking X-rays or palpating organs. To treat disease, everybody knew, they also had to understand it. Disease was a relationship between a human being and an invader, whether that was a virus or bacterium, cells gone haywire, or an oncoming bullet. Healing needed the cooperation of all parties, but they couldn’t even be known unless they were invited and engaged. It was just that simple.”
These quotations come from my book The Wave, in which a young journalist journeys through New York City in 2023, trying to understand the roots and branches of a cultural shift that has transformed commerce, medical care, education, public space, government, and just about every other aspect of community life. She hits on “The Wave” because “No one masterminds a wave, ordering all the drops of water into line. Many independent forces operate simultaneously—wind, gravity, disturbances of all kinds—and somehow, the wave mounts. I think that’s how it happened.”
How do we do it?
Here are some ways we can start together:
- Art-based community planning and design processes, bringing maximum creativity to your community’s future. Let me help you design a civic engagement plan that is exciting, fun, inclusive, and powerfully generative for your community, regardless of the challenges and opportunities it faces.
- Hands-on help for leaders. Let me offer workshops and coaching that align leadership with a new model and teach powerful new skills by engaging leaders deeply with pleasure and purpose, aligned.
- Inspiring public talks and workshops. Let me help you engage the full range of community members in envisioning new and exciting possibilities for their neighborhoods, their institutions, and their public spaces.
- Advice and counsel. In a culture of possibility, there is no boilerplate approach. Let me work with you to respond to community aims, values, opportunities, and circumstances through many modalities from one-on-one work with key individuals to dynamic work with small groups to town halls that embody creativity in the service of community.