Project Partner Pitches for the Codesign Studio | MIT Center for Civic Media

Project Partner Pitches for the Codesign Studio

co written by Aditi Mehta, Becky Hurwitz, Rodrigo Davies, Sasha Costanza-Chock, and Willow Brugh and cross-posted at codesign.mit.edu

Today the potential project partners for the fall 2013 civic media: collaborative design studio came by to present a little bit about the work they do and the possible projects they'd like to team up on. Here's a summary of the presentations - you can see that they are all doing incredible work, and we're very excited to have the chance to collaborate with them.

Intelligent Mischief: http://intelligentmischief.com/2013/08/09/meet-intelligent-mischief/ (Terry Marshall)
Intelligent Mischief (IM) started up in June as a hacklab for creative civic engagement.  Terry has 15 years experience in labor, youth, community organizing around various issues. IM is a place he created to house crazy ideas and move organizing forward.

Terry grew up in Boston and his family is from Barbados. He was an organizer at SEIU 1199, involved in the national health care struggle, now known as Obamacare.  Terry noticed that young people weren't involved in the campaign and that campaigners were not talking to young people in their own language.  He and his team came up with an idea to open mic events mixing hip hop, spoken word, personal stories, and music, focused on access to health care. IM took this project on a city-wide tour, in part after seeing the Tea Party town halls. They asked "what would our community's Town Halls look like?" He shows a 6 minute video about this work: www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VR7Yn-CzBI?

IM is about mashing up culture and politics. They are currently being housed by the Future Boston Alliance (http://www.futureboston.com/). In November and December they are going to partner with Future Boston Alliance to run a series of panels and a creative hackathon around 'reimagining blackness' in light of Trayvon Martin's murder, the Zimmerman verdict, and Stand Your Ground laws, as well as the mobilizations by Dream Defenders. The goal is to have a hackathon, but with less reliance on programmers, and more of a focus on bringing in community members and artists.

Q&A
Q: Can you talk about what that hackathon might look like?
A: The main two kind of programs we have are "What Ifs," which are pop-up art interventions, and "creative hacks." We want to incorporate technology, and also promote social entrepreneurship in the black community. Also, a hackathon might produce a cultural strategy. IM is part of the Center for Story Based Strategy, which uses narrative for social change. For example, at a previous event, we produced a mock boxing match to address questions around the Financial Crisis - "America vs Bank of America" - and that was our 'app' or solution.

Q: Is the collaborative idea about designing what the hackathon will look like, or just takes place at the event?
A: The collaboration is in designing the hackathon.

Q: Have you considered calling it something other than "hackathon"? Sometimes coders go to events that turn out to have corporate sponsors, a competition, and prizes, and end up unhappy because it's not what they think of as hacking.
A: I usually use the term creative hacks.

Design Studio 4 Social Intervention: http://ds4si.org/ (Ken Bailey)
Next, Ken Bailey from DS4SI presents. They are a creativity lab for the social change sector. Ken was a fellow at the Center for Reflective Practice before it became CoLab (Community Innovator's Lab). Together with Lori Lobenstine they wondered why there's no space for research and development focused on civil society rather than the market, and decided to make one. Ken shows a slide about "Productive Fictions": this is a way to get people inside the social sector to imagine new ways to approach social problems. They use imaginative fiction to get people think differently and imagine new possibilities. We have to imagine possible futures in order to create the world we want to create.

One productive fiction they came up with, was the Public Kitchen: http://ds4si.org/public-kitchen/. It engaged over 500 residents. If a kitchen was public like a library, what would that mean for our lives? What would that mean for what we spend on food? The first one was in Upham's Corner, for 10 days. They had lots of partners and participants. They're hoping to do another round this November.

Another project was Making Planning Processes Public (http://ds4si.org/blog/2013/4/9/making-planning-processes-public-in-uphams-corner.html), also happened in Upham's Corner.  They took the planning processes and planning initiatives that are typically only discussed in community meetings and translated the information and brought it into a gallery space. They created a hub in a neighborhood to help people learn about what was going on in their backyard. They worked with artist Philippe Lejeune for this project. They're trying to up their game around the aesthetic of social change. Ken says it's important to give people a positive experience of the things you're trying to communicate.

The next initiative, StreetLab: Upham's (http://futureboston.com/about/our-pov/street-lab-uphams), is inviting residents, artists and makers to transform small public spaces in and around Upham's Corner.

Ken explains that ds4si works all over, not just in Upham's. They travel to facilitate workshops and spaces elsewhere.

Co-Design Class Challenges:
ds4si.org: making their site more interactive, in parallel with their creativity labs and social interventions. They're a creativity lab for the social change sector, but their website isn't very dynamic, they feel.
Democracy Time: can we create an app or social media tool that would capture the changing face of democracy - civil society breaking up and there is no central hub where we know we can get information for what it means to have a healthy society.
Other: they're open to discussing other ideas people in the class have

Sasha: DS4SI was a partner with the CoDesign Studio last semester. What did you learn from the experience?
Ken: That studio helped creating Making Planning Processes Public. It gave people a way to think more about the complicated nature of advocating for certain things. The project was an interactive simulation of possible scenarios. We wish we had the data from the project (we didn't receive that), and this time we'd like to see something all the way through.
Sasha: One of the things we will do early in the course, is develop MOUs to make sure everyone knows what project completion actually looks likes. How do you develop a process where everyone is clear about what is going to happen?

Vida Urbana / City Life: http://clvu.org/ (Mike Leyba)

Mike shows a video overview of their work: http://vimeo.com/74722901, and see http://vimeo.com/clvu/videos/all.

City Life/Vida Urbana is a 40-year-old bilingual, community organization whose mission is to fight for racial, social and economic justice and gender equality by building working class power through direct action, coalition building, education and advocacy. The video shows City Life organizing mobilizations at Bank of America around the housing foreclosure crisis.

Next he narrates this Prezi: http://prezi.com/dypu4p0h3eij/city-lifevida-urbana/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

They have a very specific focus, which is housing displacement. Housing displacement comes through a variety of means - gentrification, predatory lending. Their focus is where do people live, where should they live, and who's moving in. They focus on tenant organizing.

Mike provides some history about the organization, from 1973, when Vida Urbana formed and supported Tenant Associations to preserve affordability, improve building conditions and resist displacement. Tenant Associations are about collective bargaining by renters. They've won 99 year affordability contracts, where the rent can only be raised 2% a year for 99 years. In 2007, they worked with tenants and homeowners facing foreclosure and eviction to stay in their homes after foreclosure, a method termed "sword and sheath" that has been replicated across the nation.

In 2013, they started an investor campaign: due to the foreclosure crisis, most foreclosure purchases were by speculators and management companies.
Challenge: Going against popular narrative that the housing foreclosure crisis is over.

Their approach:
- Housing is a human right
- Solidarity across, race, class, age and gender
- Desire to create long-term systemic change
- Overcoming systemic oppression
- Speaking one's truth through a narrative framework

The project - we employ a collaborative approach in everything we do and are looking to work with students who want to advance social, economic and racial justice and gender equality.

Their Project: to address the cultural narrative that the housing and foreclosure crisis is over.  They propose various potential angles: Popular education, Media education, Institutional angle, Movement angle

Institutional angle: What tools can be deployed to change the narrative?
Movement angle: What tools needed to unite?
We have the voices, but how do we unite them?

They hold over 1100 cases in their database at one time and work a lot with Mass Housing Partnership. They try to tell the stories in a different way. Mike describes an eviction defense they conducted last week, a theatrical event where people chain themselves to the door to keep from being evicted. This generates visibility, media coverage, and pressure on the banks.

Q: Do you work mostly in East Boston or all over:
A: East Boston is quickly gentrifying. There's an East Boston Tenant Association. There are also associations in various neighborhoods. There's a Brockton tenant association that just started up.

There are encouraging stories there too. Antonio was a former rapper, three years ago he was facing foreclosure and now he's still in his house, and he works on our staff. He made an album called "Bank Attack" that came out of protest songs.

Q: Are you working on any of the angles you mentioned in particular, or likely to?
A: Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac currently own half the mortgages. The FAHA is above them (link?). There have been multiple studies that show that it's better for the community, taxpayers, to renegotiate the loans. Your taxes are paying for the eviction of working peopple, instead of renegotiation. They're trying to get deMarco replaced, but it's hard to get on the agenda with Syria front and center

Spare Change News: http://sparechangenews.net/ (Vincent Flanagan)

Aditi presents on behalf of Vincent Flanagan. Spare Change News (http://sparechangenews.net) comes out of the homeless empowerment project; they were founded in 1992 and have a twofold mission: to build skills and also create a livelihood for homeless folks. The stories are written by homeless people and allies.

Vendors buy the paper for 25c and sell it for a dollar. Since 1992, 3,000 people have earned money from the paper.

The second goal is to change the perception of homeless people in the area.
Other newspapers like this have been started elsewhere, the original founder also started a similar paper in Seattle.  Stories in the paper focus on the question, "How can we get people to think differently about homeless people?"

For the project, some of the challenges that Spare Change News would like to address:

  • How can their ideas reach a greater audience, especially people under the age of 25?
  • Through an informal survey, they found that 40-60% of people who buy the paper aren't reading the stories or learning about the causes - how can we change that?
  • They're part of the North American Street Newspaper network, and also an international network, but would like to know more about how to leverage those networks.

Q: Do they help the homeless people sell papers to a company or an organization weekly rather than having to sell it daily?
A: The paper is published twice a week and they want the homeless person to sell the paper, it's their way of making money. They have trainings to sell and are training vendors to talk about the stories.

There has been a collaboration in the past between Spare Change News and the Center for Civic Media, maybe 5-6 years ago, focused on building connections between vendors and the people buying the papers. Vendors, selling papers, included stickers with their papers with QR codes to link to individual vendor's page or profile on SpareChangeNews.net so they could learn more about their individual story and build knowledge of vendors.

REV-: http://www.studiorev.org (Marisa Jahn and Anjum Asharia)

Rodrigo presents on behalf of Rev- a media/arts/design studio based in NYC.

_Message from REV-/Marisa “Hi Co-Design Studio! We are really excited for the opportunity to collaborate with you this semester. Students who are self-motivated; excited to collaborate; and interested in the way that art can impact social justice work would be a great fit for our team. Thanks for inviting us to pitch, and hope to work w/ you soon!”

_Followed by this brief video (approx. 1:30 min) of Marisa explaining New Day New Standard https://vimeo.com/72039615
As explained in the handout, we are seeking to produce a NDNS for Massachusetts, whose Bill of Rights is about to pass, granting the state's 100,000 nannies, housekeepers, and careworkers basic rights like overtime pay, days of rest, etc.

_Followed by this similarly brief preview video (approx. 1:30 min) of Project NannyVan, a roving public art project accelerating the movement for domestic workers' rights. https://vimeo.com/74250301
(Note that this is the debut of the ‘Nanthem’!!! (the nanny anthem)).

The MA hotline we produce in this class will be one of several tools that the NannyVan will share with parents and the broader public.  Rodrigo continues, Marisa is involved with the Nu Law Lab at Northeastern. The idea is that students in this class would partner with BIC, Nu Law Lab, and Rev- to work on the current campaign and advocacy around passing the Domestic Bill of Rights in Massachusetts. Students in this project will be expected to join some Wednesday evening meetings at BIC, together with the NuLawLab students.

Q: Are all the domestic workers female?
A: No, not all of them, but this project is focusing on nannies, which do tend to be mostly females.

Brazilian Immigrant Centerhttp://www.braziliancenter.org (Lenita Carmo and Danielle Villela)

BIC is located in Allston and has chapters in a few other places. Their mission is to empower and support their community around the issues of education, workers' rights, and immigration. They have ESL classes, OSHA trainings, a domestic worker policy clinic, and an immigration clinic for people who are victims of Secure Communities. Natalicia, our ED, went to NYC in 2010 and brought this movement for a Domestic Worker's Bill of Rights back to MA brining four organizations together to join the Massachusetts Coalition of Domestic Workers.

With the support of the National Domestic Worker Alliance, they are organizing for the MA Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Danielle explains that they want domestic workers to be visible to the world - it's a job that nobody sees.

She also says "Our most important job will be after this law passes." This is because they will have to educate people and assist. We have 2 research projects around this:
1. with OSHA around health and safety
2. in partnership with UMass boston and the sociological initiative foundation, they are researching domestic worker conditions.

They also have an exhibition in partnership with Mario Quiroz (http://marioquiroz.com/), to make domestic workers more visible. They have exhibitions in Quincy, Somerville, Hyannis. They have pictures of people of different ages, races, and type of domestic work, with a little about each person.

There's no law protecting domestic workers so the BIC has a mediation clinic that helps to resolve disputes between domestic workers and their employers.

OSHA - Occupation, Safety and Health Administation (https://www.osha.gov) - is a government agency that can go to any workplace to monitor health and safety conditions. But, they can't go to workplaces for domestic workers, because these are private residences. So, BIC is doing a survey of workers about the conditions of work, including chemical agents people use, safety, etc. Most workers do not have training or knowledge about the products they use. We also have OSHA training for people who work in construction, and there is also someone from the OSHA staff that will be working on this project.

Q: Are you trying to collect data? What type?
A: Yes, what kinds of products workers are using, how their job is all day -- what are they doing during the day. One is about health and safety, the other questions are around -- are they being paid, in cash.
We want to know type of product they use - like do they use windex and how long are they exposed to the product. This project is a partnership with UMass Boston. We plan to present this research in November.

The Urbano Project: http://www.urbanoproject.org/ (Stella McGregor and Risa Horn)

Stella is the founder and artistic director of Urbano and Risa is the Education Coordinator. Urbano is a youth arts organization located in Jamaica Plain in a 3000 sq. ft. brewery building. They work with professional artists and high school youth that address social justice issues. The work is all project-based and each year there is a theme.

They're in their fifth year of operations; Stella is an artist and architect. Urbano began as an artist-run organization in the late 1980s, to explore the role that art can play in creating social change. This led her to integrate education as part of her artistic practice.

They have several groups: curatorial, performance, visual arts tracks. The public art for social change collective invited mexican artist Pedro Reyes to bring his project Palas por Pistolas (Shovels for Guns). He gathered handguns, melted them down, and created shovels. The shovels were used to plant trees in memory of victims of gun violence. The project culminated with a group pilgrimage to plant a tree in Stonybrook Park.

In 2011, they started focusing projects around a specific theme, and their theme was disobedience. They created a project called "The Freedom Trail on Trial" together with Gedeminas Urbonas (a professor and artist at MIT: http://act.mit.edu/people/professors/gediminas-urbonas/), around the Archive of Disobedience that his group was constructing. They did installations along the freedom trail raising questions of disobedience.

In 2013, the theme was manifestations of inclusions and exclusions in the landscape. It was a data visualization project using statistics around access to transport and they created sculptures around that data and went out into the public to education people about it.

This year, we’re working on the Emancipated City, reimagining Boston is a project to imagine what it means to be free. All year they will be doing collaborative installations in public spaces. The goal is to create models of a reimagined Boston and spark public conversation.

This summer in Dudley square they did a project with a vertical garden, to address issues of food justice and environmental racism. They also brought the piece to their space in Jamaica Plain - they usually have a culminating event there.

Teens did a performative piece that included elements of data visualization. People put red or blue dots onto performers' bodies in agreement or disagreement with statements like "as a man, I should earn more than a woman," "as an African-American, I have a better chance of going to jail than going to college" and "as a lesbian, I've earned my place in hell."

Teens dressed up like Trayvon Martin and went out into Copley Square and when someone treated them badly they would give them a flier.
They are trying to reclaim a place of being important and capable.

Inspiration: bankofimagination.com
Interested in interactive and inclusive multimedia projects / participatory media.
See also: www.thewildernessdowntown.com; www.wechoosethemoon.org

Q: How do you actually want to collaborate with the class?
A: We want to make our web interface more interactive and participatory the same way that our projects are. We'd like to make sure that the community outside and people from elsewhere in the world could think about possibilities for what an emancipated city could look like, could look at the projects the students and artists are doing in real-time. That's a possibility.

Q: So you're looking for students with technical (programming) skills?
Or there could be other ways. We're looking to get to the next level in terms of visibility. Our teens are exploring topics and issues and are also looking at how to be effective activitists and organizers.

ZUMIX: http://www.zumix.org/ (Lucia Duncan)

Lucia is the radio coordinator at Zumix. It is in East Boston by the Maverick T Stop. It was founded by Madeleine Steczynski in response to a wave of youth violence in East Boston. It started out as a music and youth development program and continues to do that. We moved to a renovated fire station on Sumner Street and have a beautiful space that plays a critical role in East Boston. It's really the only arts and culture space in the area. Their mission is to empower youth to make music to have a positive impact on their lives and communities.

There are a range of solo and ensemble classes, performance, production, and there's a radio station. The radio station started in 1995 as an AM broadcast (1630 AM) and you could hear it for two blocks. They are now applying for a low-power FM license (http://www.prometheusradio.org/Apply_LPFM_License). They stream 24 hours, have youth shows - mostly live shows - in the evening and adult community shows in the morning and daytime hours. They have training for DJs, audio storytelling, etc. We post these on our blogs and on PRX.

They've just begun podcasting shows with a member of BIC's show, National Domestic Radio (https://www.facebook.com/nationaldomesticradio). It's a monthly show by and for domestic workers.

Some challenges Zumix is facing:

  • Getting visibility and listenership (even within the building, and the broader community)
  • It's a streaming station in a community that might not have as much internet access as other communities
  • They have limited youth involvement in the station beyond doing their shows. Some students are traveling from other parts of the city. We could work on communication with youth about getting involved in the station.
  • There's only one staff person working on the radio station, so they are always looking for volunteers and interns.
  • Youth are not as tuned into radio as they were in the past, so we have a challenge -- is radio dead, how do we think about communicating and designing ways to connect an old technology to new ways of listening to keep it meaningful and connected to youth. Lucia teaches at East Boston high and when she plays radio stories, students always ask "where's the picture?" We don't listen to radio. They don't think that radio is dead, but know that they need to think about communicating and designing ways to connect to new forms of listening.

There are two design/build projects that might be fun:

  • One would be a space in the upstairs of their building where people often hang out. They've thought of building a computer housed in a fun looking old fashioned radio player. A wind up solar powered radio on her desk was great, kids would come and wind it up to listen.
  • Another is a mobile sound booth where they could record stories in the community, go around East Boston, a neighborhood that's rapidly changing. There are a lot of issues being discussed - like a casino being built, a lot of development is happening.
  • Other projects could be to design marketing materials for the station, and getting youth involved in that to engage them.
  • Another idea is experimenting with tools for communicating with and engaging with youth and adult DJs -- we communicate via facebook and email already
  • Lucia says, "I'd love to hear other ideas also."

Q: Do you have computers on site for youth to use if they wanted to create their own marketing materials?
A: We have two laptops that are roaming and a multimedia lab, which often is free.

Q: How are you funded?
A: Through grants mostly. We get grants for collaboration with schools in East Boston. This could be something to look at if people were interested in it.

Community Radio in the US getting access to licenses has been a long drawn-out battle, the current expansion of LPFM licenses is a unique opportunity.

Q: With the design-build project, would we be meeting with the youth?
A: For this semester, Zumix meets monthly with the DJs and that could be increased if the group was interested in working on the design.

Q: Where did the idea for the storybooth come from? Is there support for it from the DJ community?
A: We think there could be interest, but we haven't actually talked to DJs about it.