Try this! Devour your fear of dying at a Death Cafe

This week’s spotlight: all things death.

Death Cafe is not the title of a new heavy metal LP, nor is it the name of a restaurant where skeletons are served. (Well, maybe it is, but that’s not what we’re writing about today!)

Death Cafe is an idea, a movement, and a series of meetings where, according to its hub website, “people—often strangers—drink tea, eat cake, and discuss death. Our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives.”

Jon Underwood of London got the idea when he read a 2010 newspaper article that mentioned Swiss sociologist and anthropologist Bernard Crettaz, who started hosting the first “cafe mortals” in Switzerland in 2004.

He’d already been at work on a series of projects about death, and decided to try organizing his own “death cafe” with the help of his mother, Sue Barsky Reid. It was a great success. The mother-and-son team began hosting more events and in 2012 published the guide “Holding Your Own Death Cafe“, which quickly spread around the world.

To date, over 3,000 participants have discussed end-of-life issues at 396 Death Cafes in Europe, North America, and Australasia.

shutterstock_67333165

Death Cafes help participants explore all the faces of this universal event.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

How it works

The meetings are run on a purely voluntary basis, with each led by different facilitators and attended by groups of different sizes. Most meetings begin with a facilitator sharing what led them to the group and asking others to share their reasons.

The group might then split into smaller chunks to answer more conversation-starting questions like: What do you want your funeral to be like? Is there such a thing as living too long? What do you most want to accomplish before you die?

And there are a few ground rules that hold the concept together:

  • No one should try to lead participants to any particular conclusion, product, or course of action.
  • Death Cafe should not be treated as a bereavement support or grief counseling setting.
  • The meetings should happen “alongside refreshing drinks and nourishing food—and cake!”

As for what the experience is like, a few Death Cafe leaders and participants sound off:

  • “There was a sense of something profound being shared. A woman living with a life limiting illness who was quite ill but looked very well said, quite firmly and calmly, in response to one comment: ‘I am not JUST going to die! I am going to DIE!’ For her, dying was not a far off theory. It was much closer to home.”  —Josefine, London, UK
  • “Our last Death Cafe was wonderful. We even had a couple who didn’t plan to attend but joined us anyway. The man remained standing the whole time because he ‘wasn’t really interested in the topic’ but he ended up talking the most!”  —Merilynne, Ann Arbor, MI
  • “We often end up with a group interested in discussing more practical things like funeral planning or completing advance directive forms, while other table participants might be dialoguing about the spiritual aspects of death. Every month brings new people and new topics of conversation. There are small cards scattered about on tables and face down just in case the attendees need a question to boost their conversation. Did I mention we had not one, but two cakes?”  —Jo, Austin, TX

Is this piquing your interest? Look for an upcoming cafe taking place near you.

Also, it doesn’t take much to try hosting your own event. DeathCafe.com offers information, instructions, and support for new facilitators, and hosts a a “Death Conversation” section where participants can share experiences and info.

Sue and Jon claim “organising a Death Cafe is enjoyable, easy and life-enhancing.” Who knew death could have such an upside?

Have you hosted or attended a Death Cafe? Did the experience help you deal with your fears?

Tags: , , ,



Mmm, delicious community! New supper club models pair food with camaraderie

This week’s spotlight: all things food.

shutterstock_67879747

Food is love.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

Do you hunger for a deeper connection to new cultures when you travel?

Do you thirst for closer friendships with your neighbors?

Does the thought of eating home-cooked meals away from home make your mouth water?

If so, join the (supper) club!

We may not have full agreement on what to call this trend yet—I’ve come across “meal-sharing platform,” “collaborative gastronomy,” “community-based alternative dining,” and “the social food movement”—but a rose (or rosé) by any other name is still all about eating and drinking with strangers near and far to gain broader cultural understanding, make new friends, and, of course, savor delicious meals.

Here’s how some pioneers are doing it:

Meals with a side of cultural exchange

  • Cookening‘s motto is “Connecting people and cultures through food.” Sign up on their site to attend or host home-cooked meals and meet people from all over the world. Hosts post information about themselves and sample menus they might cook, then state their desired “contribution.” Guests peruse the host profiles (searchable by location, type of meal, languages spoken, maximum number of guests, and more) and send a booking request when they see something they like.

Home cooking

  • Adentro Dinner Club in Argentina is a bit different: a Buenos Aires couple opens their home to travelers every Wednesday night for a traditional asado (Argentine barbecue) for about US$60 per person.
  • An Italian counterpart, Home Food, began in 2004 in conjunction with The Association for the Guardianship and Exploitation of the Traditional Culinary-Gastronomic Heritage of Italy (talk about a mouthful). Guests join the association for €50 and can then sign up for various experiences (“Not only food,” explains the website, “but tradition, territory, love”).
  • And Brooklyn, New York’s “part-time restaurant” Neighbor uses the tagline “What we eat in our house” and serves on the last Saturday of every month. A four-course dinner with drinks is $85, and attendance is capped at eight people, first-RSVP, first-served.

Food party!

  • Still other variations on the theme include NYC’s The Ghetto Gourmet, which organized roughly 400 “underground dinner parties” from 2003 to 2008 and lives on today as “a portal into the world of underground restaurants, speakeasies, supperclubs and other community-based alternatives for dining and entertainment.” On the site, you can start or join a “foodie group,” plan your get-togethers, and post menus and photos from your meals.
  • Chaos Cooking organizes events across the U.S. and promotes ultimate collaboration, describing their model as: “Everyone brings the ingredients to make of dish of their choice. Everyone cooks together and then helps restore the space to its original condition.”
  • UK-based Find a Supper Club offers a hub where visitors can “discover where and when your local underground restaurant/pop up/supper club is!”, both in Europe and elsewhere.

Learn how to find great “closed-door restaurants” and get acquainted with new foods and people while traveling, or get inspired with tips to start your own right at home.

No matter how you slice it, supper clubs’ resurging popularity is testament to our deep desire for community, conversation, and sharing. And food. Definitely food.

Tell us how an alternative dining experience has been a positive influence on you or in your community.

Tags: , , ,



One man’s trash: creative reuse centers help make recycling fabulous

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right? So how do millions of tons of waste end up in landfills every year?

Among other obstacles (like marketing, consumerism, and labyrinthine municipal recycling systems), one likely reason is the stigma reuse has long held in many communities—a feeling that only poor people should need to buy something secondhand and, concurrently, that being poor is shameful.

But thankfully this fallacy is fading and creative recycling is starting to see a new heyday—thanks in part to a continuously unstable economy that encourages frugality, an increased awareness of the environmental mandate to reuse instead of buying new, and some “it’s okay!” role modeling from musicians like Macklemore, publications like MAKE Magazine, and fine artists like Kathleen Miller.

The recycling boom can be seen in the proliferation of initiatives like city composting programs, better e-waste recycling by retailers, and one of my favorites: creative reuse centers.

Samantha

Savannah Cox made these pretty purses out of scrap fabric. What will you make?
(photo courtesy Fort Lauderdale’s Trash to Treasure Creative Reuse Center)

These stores (often times large open spaces, like former warehouses) sell previously owned, usually donated bulk material that’s perfectly reusable but would otherwise end up getting trashed.

Generally the inventory is made up of crafty materials that appeal to artists, teachers, and parents—balls of yarn, bags of buttons, old coffee table photo books, carpet samples, chalkboards, telephones—the list goes on.

Every creative reuse center operates differently. Check out these all-stars for a general idea and some inspiration:

  • Since its earliest days in the 1970s, Queens, New York’s Materials for the Arts has provided companies and individuals with an easy way to turn over their unneeded supplies free of charge to nonprofit arts organizations and public schools. They also hold events, workshops, and classes about creative reuse.
  • Lancaster Creative Reuse proclaims, “Your box of miscellaneous stuff you no longer use is our Christmas morning.” They offer residents of South Central Pennsylvania “business overstock, scraps, samples and seconds, excess from individual craft closets, art studio cleanouts, and sewing room stashes” at low prices. Plus they have an Open Craft Table, where for $2 per crafter, you can “make as much as you want for as long as you want.”
  • St. Paul, Minnesota’s ArtScraps Reuse Store makes a variety of material available to teachers, parents, artists, scout leaders, and day care providers, and has “an artist available on-site to talk about project ideas.” They also offer creative programs for children and adults.

There are tons more. Art of Recycle maintains a list of creative reuse centers worldwide—including plenty of operations in and around the UK, Australia, Brazil, Canada, and New Zealand.

If you’re decorating your nonprofit’s office, making swag for an upcoming fundraiser, helping the kids in your classroom develop their art skills, or are otherwise in the market for fabulous creative materials, it’s never been easier to get your hands on them for next to nothing—while participating in some top-notch recycling.

So make like Leslie Hall and get to crafting something great!

Are you an artist or educator who’s benefited from the uptick in creative reuse options? Have you started your own creative reuse initiative? Tell us about it in the comments!

Tags: , , ,



What Humans of New York can teach us about not caring what people think

 

There’s been a lot press a lately about Brandon Stanton, founder of the Humans of New York photojournalism project.

If you’ve been following the HONY story as religiously as I have, you’ll know that last week Brandon released a book of his 400 best portraits since beginning the project in 2010.

I love HONY for a myriad of reasons. I love how he captures beauty in all its diverse forms amidst the chaos and congestion of the city. I love how his subjects are so unbelievably raw and wise. I love how he connects me to a place where I once lived.

And finally I love Brandon’s chutzpah, not least because he approaches random strangers all the time, but because he took a chance on his passion. Before millions of people started following his blog, Brandon was a bond trader in Chicago. Then he quit his job, picked up, and moved to NYC with a camera in hand to try and make it.

People thought he was crazy.

This is a common fear that we hear from you, our Idealist community. Brandon’s story is a great example of preserving, despite the people around you thinking you’re cuckoo.

Here’s a snippet from Huffington Post on how HONY came to be:

My initial plan was to take 10,000 street portraits to plot on an interactive map, creating a photographic census of the city.

But I was completely broke. My friends and family thought I was crazy. I’d only had six months of photography experience, yet I was moving across the country to be a photographer. Despite the absurdity of the decision, I felt confident. I knew that my photography skills left a lot to be desired. But I also knew that I had the best idea of my life, and that everything else could be figured out as I went along.

I made that move about 2.5 years ago. There were a lot of lonely times. That first year was tough. I knew nobody in New York. I never knew where rent was coming from. All I did was take photographs. I never took a day off. I worked every single holiday. I took thousands of portraits before anyone paid attention. But even though I didn’t have much to show for it, I knew that I was getting better, and I knew the photographs were special.

Have you ever taken a chance on a seemingly crazy idea, only to have it be more successful than you ever could’ve imagined?

Tags: , , , ,



Bronx Reentry: Life after prison, from the grassroots up

Each day, people like you have ideas about how to make the world a better place, but don’t know how to put them into action. To help you take the first step, we’re profiling social entrepreneurs tackling issues that are important to them, one step at a time.

This week’s spotlight: all things prison.

The idea

Pamela Valera grew up in South Los Angeles, where she witnessed friends, family members, and neighbors face tremendous difficulties after they had served time in prison and attempted to reintegrate with their home communities.

Ramon Semorile grew up in the Bronx in the 1970s and knows firsthand the barriers returning citizens come up against when they leave incarceration and try to get back on their feet.

photo(1)

Long story, but Ramon and Pamela were cool enough to try on
some of our wigs when they visited the Idealist office.

The two met in New York a few years ago through professional connections and quickly learned they were both interested in tackling the same question: how can we help people who’ve been pummeled by the correctional system come back to society feeling hopeful and whole, especially when they come up against a slew of external hurdles as soon as they’re released?

“Returning from incarceration is a nationwide issue,” says Pamela, who is now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University. “We currently have 700,000 people coming home annually nationwide. In the Bronx alone, thousands of people are coming home from jail and state prisons. The implications of reentry are many, and they impact everyone. If we don’t do something to make this scenario better now, future generations are going to pay for it.”

For the past three years, Ramon and Pamela—with many other colleagues and volunteers—have been growing the Bronx Reentry Working Group (BRWG), a grassroots coalition that helps returning citizens of the Bronx get social support, find jobs, stay out of jail, and work to overcome the societal stigmas associated with involvement in the criminal justice system.

“We help one person at a time,” says Ramon, who is now a Crew Supervisor at Bronx Community Solutions, an initiative of the Center for Court Innovation. “When you come home [from prison], you don’t feel secure; you’re afraid of going back. You don’t even want to cross the street, you don’t want to talk to anyone. The BRWG wants to give people confidence that they can make it. That if they commit themselves to change, they can hold their heads up. That it’s a long process, but it will happen.”

Obstacles

Though they describe their journey so far as mostly an “upward climb,” Pamela and Ramon have of course faced challenges.

Obstacle: Identity crisis

Since it’s founding, the coalition has won state funding for a Bronx County Reentry Task Force; hosted large community forums and support groups; and offered returning citizens services to help with basic needs, from education and employment to physical health, food, and housing. It all seems essential, but Ramon and Pamela wonder how they can better focus the BRWG.

  • Solution: Agree on what you can

“We’re all volunteers—none of us work full time on this—and it can be difficult to reach consensus on our direction,” Pamela says. “But we do know we want to work more with individuals—to help more people write their resumes, help them talk about their incarceration with those on the outside. We know we want more people who have benefited from our services to come back and help others. And we know we want to spread the word—to profile successful returning citizens in the media so others know it’s possible.”

Obstacle: Lack of funding

“We’re a grassroots community group, not a nonprofit,” Pamela explains. “We don’t get any financial support besides what we ourselves put in. So that limits us in a way—limits the speed at which we can work.”

  • Solution: There is an upside—focus on it

“Lots of wonderful projects have collapsed when their funding is depleted,” she says. “But we’re not tied to any external funding, so we’re not always stopping to look for more. Our people are doing this because they want to. We can’t move as fast as some other organizations, but we’re free to do what we want; we’re sustainable.”

Obstacle: Societal biases

“Not everyone who’s killed someone did it because they like to kill people,” says Ramon. “There are all kinds of circumstances. You never know what will happen. There are so many reasons and ways—truly, anybody can wind up in jail. But a lot of people who have no experience with incarceration think all ex-cons are bad. The biggest problem we face is the stigma.”

  • Solution: Education

“We have to educate people so they know that helping returning citizens helps everyone,” Ramon says. “People do want to change, they don’t want to go back to prison,” says Pamela. “But there are systems in place that tell them they’re still criminals. We have to change that so people are given a true chance to change. If you’re a ‘model inmate’ inside, you should be given a chance to become a ‘model citizen’ outside.”

Their best advice: stick with it

Despite the challenges of shifting focuses, money issues, and stigmas, Ramon and Pamela say they’re in it for the long haul.

“You don’t have to have a college degree to bring people together—you just have to have a passion for the work,” says Ramon. “You have to be committed for the long term. We’ve been able to really help some people. We know they’re not going back to prison. We know it. And that helps me sleep at night.”

If you’d like to volunteer with the Bronx Reentry Working Group, or have a question for Ramon and Pamela about their experience, get in touch with them through Idealist or email info@bronxreentry.org.

Tags: , , , , ,



Balkan brass band plays a new venue: Sing Sing prison

This week’s spotlight: all things prison.

Slavic Soul Party! is a nine-piece New York City brass band dedicated to the Balkan brass tradition and its incorporation with American music. Formed over ten years ago by drummer and bandleader Matt Moran, the group plays upwards of 100 times a year in venues throughout the world.

In 2009, SSP! started performing in a much different space than nightclubs and concert halls: Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York—a maximum security prison.

SSPHangingOut

Slavic Soul Party!

About five years ago, a friend of Matt’s who worked at Carnegie Hall told him about a new program the venue’s Education & Community arm was initiating, called Musical Connections. The program would seek to “bring musical inspiration to people living with challenging circumstances,” and was recruiting musicians to play in places like hospitals, homeless shelters, senior centers, and correctional facilities.

Matt applied right away. For him, it was a no-brainer. “We wanted to be part of the program because as a brass band we’re always looking for situations where the fourth wall gets broken down. That’s what we’re about: street music, life music—not the separation of art and life.”

“When we auditioned, the Carnegie people asked us a lot of questions about ‘building community.’ I said, ‘We know about building community—building community means showing up. We’ve been playing at the same club in Brooklyn every Tuesday for ten years; we’ll come and play at the funeral when someone in our musical circles dies… That’s community: Be who you are, be honest, show up.’ “

They got the contract.

Sing Sing loves SSP

A portrait of the band painted by a Sing Sing inmate (Hurricane Sandy swirls in the background)

When they were accepted, the band was asked what type of place they wanted to perform in. They said prisons.

Matt explains: “For one, we’d never played in a prison. Two, of all the non-traditional venues Carnegie was serving, prisons were the one we as a band had the closest connections to, via personal experience or family members. And three, there is the undeniable cache of ‘cool’ about it—think of the history of music in prisons!”

SSP! was given their first gig at Sing Sing in the fall of 2009. Matt tells the story:

We were nervous as hell. We really didn’t know if what we were doing was going to be appreciated. We went through a tremendous security detail—they searched us personally, our instruments, our equipment… Then we were led to a room where we were suddenly turned over to a group of inmates. It was like, “What?! After all this security, we’re just let loose with these guys? Are we safe around these people?”

It turned out that the entire performance setup had been given as a task to a group of inmates—a handful of “good behavior” guys, who were also musicians, but no one had prepared us for that. We weren’t even sure what we were allowed to do—could we shake hands with them? There had been zero rules of engagement set.

Looking back, I realize that initially, their presence—because they were inmates—made us very uncomfortable, but that then they themselves—because they were so welcoming—soon made us very comfortable.

So we got on stage in the Sing Sing auditorium. The room filled up; over 400 people came. We got up and played hard; we didn’t want to leave any doubt that we were a really good band. They might not like it, but we wanted them to know that we were for real. It’s safe to say we all got goosebumps in that first concert.

The inmates are not allowed to stand; they have to remain seated. The fact that they’re in prison is always evident. They’re on total guard, personally, at all times. They’re always watching—everything.

But they still let it out, man! We have never played for an audience that’s yelled for so long between tunes; they even started chanting our names. When we were done and filing out, we continued playing in the hallways, which apparently you could hear in many places throughout the prison. We heard later from the Carnegie people, who had heard from the prison staff, that that little touch of empathy, that touch of rebellion expressed from us to them, made a big impression.

We went back to perform the next fall and the next—we’re currently in our fifth year—and in between we’ve been going back to teach some of the guys music and trade scores with them. Now when our band plays there, some of them get on stage and play with us. The community that’s been established there through Carnegie is incredible.

And the inmates’ own music group that they’ve formed together—they call themselves the Unofficial House Band—has codified into a real society within the prison. You can see they give each other tremendous support, and it’s given them peace, because it’s bringing music to everyone. Being part of that group offers a very real kind of protection: yes, emotional support and education, but also it increases their value in the prison, so they don’t have to worry as much about being threatened or shivved. That’s what inmates tell me.

matt_moran USE

Matt on vibraphone
(image courtesy sokillingman.com)

For anyone who’s interested in working with an incarcerated community, Matt says, “There are a lot of volunteer programs out there. It’s a bigger commitment than a lot of other volunteer work, that’s true. But it’s not that hard. Just go out and do it!”

He also offers these insights:

Dealing with the bureaucracy
“The paperwork load in advance of this gig was tremendous,” he says. “The Carnegie application process, background checks, researching to see if we had gang affiliations, security at the prison… Plus when you’re there, there are all these rules, like you can’t take photos, you can’t record any music situation where anyone’s full name might be said… But the experience has been so meaningful that I quickly got over the tedium of the logistical mazes.”

Rolling with the unexpected
Though the red tape Slavic Soul Party! has encountered has been extensive, they haven’t always been informed about what would or could actually happen. All that preliminary work and still they had no idea they’d be left alone in a room with a group of inmates minutes after their initial arrival? Or how about the time their performance was delayed because there’d been a slashing in the cafeteria?

“Yeah, it’s a tight system, but it’s still a volatile place,” Matt says. “Prisons are not the best places to work, as you can imagine. You have to realize that it’s potentially not going to be a Mr. Rogers experience all the time, and try to be okay with that.”

Relating to the inmates
“Almost everyone I’ve met at Sing Sing has seemed to me to be a serious, kind, compassionate person,” Matt says. “It’s hard to see people you’ve come to care about live their lives in there. You want to help them find ways to be happy and find peace.”

“No one talks to us about why they’re at Sing Sing. When our band is there, we’re all focused on getting into the music, because music helps you transcend adversity. It’s very clear that we all know that, and that everyone in the room is using music for that in their own way. So in that space and time, we’re all equals.”

Do you have experience working with incarcerated communities? Share your story in the comments.

Tags: , , , , ,



Old school postcards bring new connections to communities

Do you remember the last time you got a postcard from a friend? Or the last time you sent one?

For many of us, Facebook status updates and Instagram snaps have supplanted the old fashioned postcard as means of choice to drop a line describing where we are and what we’re up to.

1450430_568e2c98f9

Remember these little guys? Postcards are coming back.
(photo courtesy Arlette, Flickr Creative Commons)

But a few enterprising souls are bringing the postcard back to life, with a twist—lots of the postcard projects currently trending offer ways to connect with people we don’t yet know, not just friends and family. Here’s a roundup:

  • The Neighborhood Postcard Project (an international offshoot of the SF Postcard Project) “fosters community connection through the exchange of positive personal stories from people in marginalized communities. Residents fill out a postcard with a story from their community; that postcard is then mailed to a random person in that city to create a stronger connection between people and communities.”
  • Postcrossing “allows anyone to receive postcards (real ones, not electronic) from random places in the world. Why? Because, like the founder, there are lots of people who like to receive real mail.”
  • The Postcard Collective is “motivated by an intrinsic human desire to share experience. Our mission is to build and maintain a network of individuals who seek to share their art with each other in the form of postcards, to open up a direct line of communication between artists, and to promote a sense of camaraderie and connectedness.”

There are actually tons more, too! Get Googling to check them out, then get your stamp wetter ready. (Oh wait, people really don’t use those anymore.)

Have you made an interesting new connection through a postcard interaction? Tell us about it!

Tags: , , ,



Epic Playgrounds: How one dad is reinventing where America plays

Do you remember the playground you used to go to as a kid?

Mine was at Abbey Lane elementary school in Levittown, New York. It was a massive wooden castle, complete with tiny hidden rooms throughout, a tire moat you could crawl through, and all sorts of twisty slides and bouncing bridges.

I loved that playground. I wanted my parents to take me there all the time.

Evergreenslide

A modern-day adventure playground in Hackney, London
(photo courtesy apesatplay.com)

Now I take my daughter to banal plastic structures that pale in comparison. So what happened in the years it took me to become an adult?

Billy Jensen has a theory: we got scared. Back in the 60s, our playground crafters took a cue from Europe’s and designed spaces unafraid to venture beyond the traditional four S’s: slide, seesaw, swing, and sandbox. We had giant rocket ships, hinged robots, fabulous circus wagons, and more—with all sorts of frills and thrills.

But they were too high. And too rough. Kids fell and broke bones. And got splinters. So we sued. Downsized. And in the process, Billy argues, stunted kids’ imaginations and contributed to the nation’s growing childhood obesity problem.

“What costs more at the end of the day?” he asks. “A broken arm, or diabetes?”

Billy, a digital media strategist, writer, and father of two teens, thinks it’s time we stop being so overprotective and return to the heyday of adventure playgrounds.

“When you have a playground, you’re really hitting everything you want to do with children: you’re engaging their imagination, having them work well with others, and they’re running around and exercising. There’s really nothing else that does that,” he says.

In December last year, Billy launched Epic Playgrounds, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that will aim to get kids ages eight through twelve excited about being outside again before they start doing all those things you see on after school specials.

Inspired by Walt Disney, Billy’s nonprofit wants to construct signature playgrounds that encourage imaginative, open-ended play. And they wouldn’t be just for kids.

“They key is to create something really cool to look at that adults would want to play on as much as children,” he says. “And at the end of the day, a community can be proud of it and say, ‘This is one of the great things we have here. And it’s like no other playground in the world.’ ”

The playgrounds can also act as alternative classrooms by telling stories about the town’s heroes, like Boulder’s Scott Carpenter Park, a tribute to the local astronaut.

In short: bigger, better, and more fun.

BillyJensen2

Billy Jensen

To realize his dream of building the most inventive theme playgrounds you’ve ever seen all across America, Billy needs three things: artists to design, engineers to build, and most importantly, municipalities and other donors to pay. The project is entirely self-funded so far.

While he’s just starting out, what Billy does have are lots of excited responses from parents, along with a few designs, which he plans to get more of and curate in an art show. Afterward he’ll present them to local governments and encourage communities everywhere to clamor for an epic playground of their own.

“What we have right now are a lot of little hunks of plastic burning in the sun that nobody really wants to go on,” he says. “This really is a matter of: if you build something really cool, they will come. And play on it.”

If you’re an artist, builder, community developer, or philanthropist and Epic Playgrounds has captured your imagination, Billy would love to talk with you. Get in touch by emailing bill@billyjensen.com.

Tags: , , , ,



Legal Cuts: Law office + barbershop = community

dudes

Barbers on the job at Legal Cuts.
Not pictured: the lawyer working in the back.
(Photo via Legal Cuts on Facebook)

“Traditional law offices can be intimidating, but folks are comfortable sharing their problems with a barber,” says Donald Howard, the 32-year-old attorney-coiffeur who opened a combination barber shop and law office in New Britain, Connecticut this past spring.

“I thought it was the perfect marriage,” he continues. “People could feel comfortable in this environment and feel they can trust the lawyer. I want to make sure legal services are available to these people,” who he believes may be intimidated by walking into a traditional law office.

430234_370239983085526_1848832208_n

Legal Cuts price list
(Photo via Legal Cuts on Facebook)

The tough job market many recent law school grads are facing prompted Howard to think outside the norm and become the entrepreneur of a “hybrid business.” (Legal Grind, a combo law office and coffee house in Santa Monica, was considered the first when it opened in 2009.)

In Howard’s case, the impetus to start was two-fold: he needed a job, and he wanted to help his neighbors.

“I believe the barbershop is the epicenter of the community,” he says. “People can come in here and play checkers or chess and get to know their surroundings. … It’s gimmicky, but I want people to know that it’s a gimmicky thing that could work and it can help them out.”

Read more about the events that inspired Howard to open Legal Cuts in this Connecticut Law Tribune story.

Do you know of other hybrid businesses that are creating jobs while aiming to better serve a community? Educate us in the comments below.

Tags: , , , , , ,



Stitching art, community, and conversation

A 9-year-old Durhamite picks her favorite words from Stitch's list at an event. (Photo credit: Alex Maness  www.alexmaness.com)


A 9-year-old Durhamite picks her favorite words from Stitch’s list at an event. (Photo credit: Alex Maness www.alexmaness.com)

The idea

Last November — at the tail end of a year devoted to hosting 40 conversation-focused events across the country — designers Dipika Kolhli and Akira Morita were left with a seemingly simple question: Can community-driven discussions translate visually?

With a goal to gather insights about the city’s future from the couple’s own community of Durham, NC, Dipika and Akira answered this question with a unique community-saturated project, Stitch.

“One night, while I was brainstorming, I found myself staring at a bunch of sticky notes, all with just a word or two on them—my notes,” says Akira. “And then it came to me. What if we collected just one word from people across Durham about where they wanted the city to go, and then had local artists bring them to life?”

Soon the pair were stopping folks on the street, at farmers market’s, and at local events to jot down local’s single-word hope for the future. From “durable” to “doggy,” “walkable” to “weird,” they quickly gathered a healthy heap of 276 inspiring words from across the city.

“Once people heard what we were doing, they came to us to share their word,” says Akira. “It was great to see the community’s enthusiasm.”

Then, they pinned down local artists to use their craft (whether it be song, photography, poetry or jewelry) to embody select words to share with the community and sell to supporters.

But the next steps, they found, wouldn’t be as easy.

3 things they wish they did differently 

1.  Had a more specific agenda.
“A lot of artists dropped out of the project once they found out there was no specific end goal,” says Akira. “We just wanted to start a tangible discussion and let others take it elsewhere. I learned that even artists are scared of the unfamiliar.”

After losing a third of the originally committed artists, Akira realized that he needed to be more cautious and clear in his approach.

“I have to take baby steps,” he says. “Not everyone can be on the same page as me right off the bat. It’s important to be clear from the start.”

2. Networked more with supporters, artists, and the community in general.

Time, of course, plays a big role in gathering cemented support. Akira admits that he and Dipika needed a stronger initial network of interested people to get their project off the ground. After the fact, however, it brought a spotlight on the small design team and helped usher them into new innovative and creative circles in the community.

3. Was more realistic about funding, the ever-predictable (and frustrating) roadblock for new projects.

Akira and Dipika used Kickstarter to fuel their project and sell the artists’ final pieces, but didn’t reach the hefty $12,000 goal by April 29. However, the $6,799 they did raise was enough to help many artists turn their word-inspired idea into reality.

Again, Akira says that having a stronger network of support from the beginning would help solidify funding down the road. But the pair still remain positive about the funds that did give Stitch the push it needed.

“No, we didn’t quite reach the target,” Akira writes on a recent update on Stitch’s Kickstarter. “And while I can’t say I’m not disappointed, I am more in awe of the support we did get from you.”

Moving forward

Despite the challenges, both financial and social, faced by the duo behind Stitch, Akira and Dipika are anything but discouraged for the future of the project and their further conversation-sparked pursuits.

Now, leaving the tools in the hands of the Durham artists, the pair and their three-year-old son are leaving for a 24-month stint across Asia, in hopes of bringing similar word-based projects to other villages and cities

“Our aim remains the same: create spaces for conversations to happen. Everywhere, with everyone,” says Akira.

But, he remains humble in their efforts, calling the idea more of an “open sourced idea” that can be replicated by other communities with ease.

“The role dialogue plays in our communities is key to where we are going and how we can advance civilization,” says Akira. “We just want to help it get there.”

Want to bring Stitch’s idea to your community and get advice from Akira and Dipika? Send them a message at hello@orangutanswing.com.

Tags: , , , , , ,