A grassroots campaign is currently afoot to get citizens engaged in collective future visioning. It’s called #DareToImagine, an initiative of USDAC, the United States Department of Arts and Culture, with which Situation Lab has been collaborating for some time (I serve as USDAC’s futures advisor).
So we at Sitlab recently issued a special customised edition of The Thing From The Future (in the form of two free-to-access online shufflers) to enable participants anywhere to playfully prototype artifacts and perform scenes from their own preferred futures (situationlab.org/usdac).
And this week, as #DareToImagine got underway, we had a virtual sit-down with USDAC Chief Instigator Adam Horowitz, who shares more about this fascinating project.
Sitlab: What is #DareToImagine?
USDAC: #DareToImagine is large-scale exercise of social imagination, sponsored by the people-powered U.S. Department of Arts and Culture. We’ve dispatched Emissaries from the Future across the country to create pop-up Imagination Stations, inviting participants to envision the world they wish to inhabit and—looking back from the future — to celebrate the work they did to bring it into being. Visions are all being uploaded here — dare-to-imagine.us/explore/ — and will inspire art, policy, and community action. We are now working on shifting #DareToImagine from a weeklong action to an ongoing community of practice and set of resources, so stay tuned…
Sitlab: Why is this initiative needed, and why now?
USDAC: Imagination is our birthright: everyone owns this power and everything created must first be imagined. But too often, we’re persuaded to believe our voices don’t count or that the future is determined by a powerful few. In these times, social imagination is a radical act, restoring personal and collective agency, shifting dominant narratives, and affirming that all of us make the future. When we have the audacity to dream in public, when we begin to unleash imagination and turn it into action, we can move the world.
Sitlab: What other futures or activist or other kinds of projects has it been modelled on, or informed by? What previous work does this build upon and what have you learned from that?
USDAC: Humans have been envisioning the future for as long as we have records of humanity! From the oracles and seers of ancient cultures to the science fiction writers of today, we’ve seen our world, our technology, the very story of who we are as people shaped by visionary future thinking. There are a lot of folks doing visionary future work right now. We’re fans of Sitlab [aw, shucks], the Long Now, and Octavia’s Brood, to name a few. Octavia’s Brood is an anthology of sci-fi stories from social justice movements inspired one of our recent Imaginings in Boston. (You can read about it in this interview with Cultural Agent Chrislene Dejean.)
Sitlab: What’s the long term vision or aspiration here?
USDAC: #DareToImagine is just one of many USDAC initiatives — part of our action research into how to use technology to support creative community development, how to operate as a people-powered department, and how to surface visions and ideas to inform the policy proposals and campaigns that we roll out further down the line. If you want to learn more about what we’ve been up to and where we’re headed, check out our first publication, “An Act of Collective Imagination: The USDAC’s First Two Years of Action Research” (free download). We #DareToImagine a world in which the full creativity of every individual is invited, nourished, and celebrated — a society that nourishes the conditions of full cultural belonging, where everyone’s story matters.
Sitlab: How do you design something like this for the outcomes you want?
USDAC: It’s a total experiment! We really wanted to design something that anyone could take part in and that appealed to a wide array of individuals, groups, organizations, etc. And that part seems to have worked — we have 12 year olds hosting Imagination Stations and major institutions hosting them. We’re always in search of solutions that are high-impact and low-infrastructure. This initiative obviously has a very DIY quality. Folks could download the toolkit, take part in online trainings, and use the platform to upload their visions to the map. By using CTZN (our tech platform/partner), our Emissaries were also in community with each other, getting ideas by seeing the work their peers were doing as they prepped for the week of action. Future projects we take on may have more specific desired outcomes. We would certainly do this differently if we were trying to crowdsource a vision for the future of a specific place, project, or sector. But our big investigation right now is: how can we spark large-scale acts of collective imagination that foster meaningful local engagement and ideas as well as a sense of connectedness to a broader movement?
Sitlab: USDAC sounds like a government entity, but of course it’s a grassroots initiative – so what powers the project; how is it funded and run?
USDAC: The project is powered by a lot of love, imagination, aspiration, and a largely volunteer team. We’ve begun to receive some modest grants to sustain the work. We are discerning about where funding comes from, so as not to limit what we’re able to do. For example, along with many other cultural groups, we’ve signed the Fossil Funds Free pledge, indicating that we do not take any oil, coal, or gas corporate sponsorship for our cultural work. As a people-powered department, we’re also asking individuals to step up as Founding Co-Conspirators (www.usdac.us/donate) and support through monthly contributions.
Sitlab: How can people get involved? What about those outside of the United States?
USDAC: Anyone can enlist as a Citizen Artist. You don’t have to be a U.S. Citizen or an Artist! We’ve started by building the network here in the U.S. where there is not cabinet level Ministry or Department of Arts and Culture (unlike most countries in the world!). But we’re very excited to be collaborating more internationally. (#DareToImagine A World Without Borders!) Starting in 2016 we’ll be developing more international partnerships and programming. We’re excited about the possibility of large-scale citizen-to-citizen diplomacy through the arts. So, stay tuned. And be in touch if you have ideas! Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Images courtesy of dare-to-imagine.us]