STORYTELLING AND SOCIAL CHANGE: A FRAMEWORK
by Wendy Levy
Welcome to Field Notes, the NEWARTSAXIS blog
This is the place where a collaborative and creative vision of the world in flux will unfold; where people will share insights on projects that have been wildly successful, as well those that have failed profoundly, where creativity and the world will find each other, where stories and images and really good ideas matter. You’ll hear about new projects we’re working on, how the creative is developing, the technology and innovation we care about, and the people we work with around the world who inspire us to work harder.
I wanted to use the first post to share some thoughts on art and social change that I first tested out at the Creative Change retreat last summer. The Opportunity Agenda asked me to talk for a few minutes, to frame the presentations of work by 5 incredible artists:
• LaToya Ruby Frazier – http://www.latoyarubyfrazier.com/
• Lolis Eric Elie – http://www.loliselie.com/
• Beka Economopoulos – http://beka.org/
• Mark Lipman – http://www.newday.com/filmmakers/Mark_Lipman.html
• Bao Phi – http://www.baophi.com/
Here’s how it went:
Over the last eight years or so I have made a living helping connect documentary filmmakers, journalists and global NGOs to innovation, to technology, to new kinds of thinking and collaborating and making. There was a time when filmmakers were coming to me saying they didn’t need a facebook page. They didn’t want to tweet. Nothing meaningful was going on online. Their art had no place there. One of those filmmakers recently engaged over 800 people online in 4 weeks time and raised 78,000 in support of a theatrical release of a badass documentary about poor folks in a hospital waiting room in Oakland, CA 10 minutes from where I live. Of course, the story resonates beyond Oakland, beyond a single waiting room. This artist, my friend Pete Nicks, made room for the voices of the community as part of the DNA of the narrative. The artists up here are doing that too.
Many artists use to feel, and some still feel, that it wasn’t their job to connect their art to audiences with intention. That’s what distributors and curators did. Well, here we are in the zeitgeist of intrinsically social storytelling, and if we want to have an impact, we can’t ignore the new tools and new languages. Like it or not, right now, at this moment (knowing it will change radically any minute), Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and the internet writ large hold our collective folklore passed through the generations by word of mouth — and now code.
We live both online and offline, here and now and then and there — and what’s next seems like everything as we risk losing our past, and our context. The world needs artists and storytellers to keep us buoyant and remembering.
I have been very interested recently in authored and contributed spaces, where an articulated framing and singular authentic narrative voice is present which graciously makes room and amplifies and curates the narratives of many. The Johnny Cash project is the genre classic, and there are many others.
I have noticed that stories with the deepest impact share three qualities inherent in their telling:
Stories live …everywhere.
If the people we are working with don’t have access to fast internet or any internet or social technology, we can create interactive story projects with bricks and mortar – sms, photography, a mural, a co-created diary, a piece of paper and a crayon, an abandoned building, a megaphone — the possibilities are endless. But, if you do have online access and you are thinking about technology, remember that your stories are also your data, and your impact is not only in the numbers, but mostly in the interconnections.
If art and advocacy are to work together, they must be committed to the collaboration. Fllmmakers and technologists have been figuring this out for years – how to take a hacker culture that can throw killer code together over a coffee & beer filled weekend and make a tool that seems to change everything and kick the shit out of a wicked problem, and reconcile it with the slow growth of a film editing process where it can take months to finesse a 3minute sequence that is visually breathtaking, speaks truth to power in its complication, and moves people beyond measure and inspires them to act differently. It’s been tough going. But it has started to work because of the commitment of everyone sitting at the tables with a shared vision and an open mind.
The artists who are about to inspire us have already deeply inspired me – I have read about them, met them briefly, and pulled some words from their collective online descriptors:
Observation, amplification, place identity emotional angry loud, resolute optimistic intervention activist-culture family-personae body artist subject refugeography peace ‘hip hop ghetto plays’ separate sweet smoke from the fire mother daughter peace action untold stories — what he writes rhymes with truth.
This is the role story plays in social change:
We are the journey and the path
We are the body and the vessel
We are empty and filled
We are loud and silent
We are social and solitary
We are connected and diasporic
We are face book and empty spaces
Stories incent movements for change
Photographs have heartbeats
Words are fierce
And if we want to change a culture, we must change the stories.