Friday, May 24, 2013

(Marketing, Activism, Art) v/s the Audience

Yesterday I had the fun opportunity to sit in at a talk by Steve Lambert at the MIT Center for Civic Media, via Denise Cheng. I knew a bit about his work and was looking forward to this discussion on creativity, activism and the public.
He spoke about ways to engage with an audience without alienating them; how providing lots of facts about an issue can more often than not, disempower people and turn them away from engaging with you. On how narrative storytelling was one of the most powerful strategy to draw in audiences and create action.
One of Steve Lambert's most famous pieces was this "edition" of the NY Times.
These questions are something we've often thought about at Kara. I realized that we were intuitively doing some of the things mentioned in the talk. Here's how:

We care a lot about reviving and supporting the talented work of the thorthu weavers; we also care about handwoven fabrics and this long-standing tradition in our community that is quickly disappearing. 

But here's the thing: If I came to you and told you about our cause and how scary it was that this centuries old tradition was going away; you might feel some empathy towards me, but you'd be like "That's awful! But now I've gotta go walk my dog/feed my kids/go to work, etc"

On the other hand, if I came to you with our beautiful textiles and told you about how incredibly practical they are, how fun the design is, and how it is preserving a centuries-old tradition, you'd be like "Yay, I totally want some fun table linens and beach towels!". 
At the beach later, you'd think to yourself: "Oh man, this towel is so amazing! So happy I could help out these ladies with their social cause..." 

See what I just did? Got you to take part in my social cause, but without overwhelming you with the uphill task we face. You're going to need new towels and table napkins at some point; but by getting ours you not only get some stellar stuff, but also contribute you $$ meaningfully.

Its one part capitalism, one part socialism and lots of parts of ethics, love and commitment. That's our simple, un-freaky activism strategy; welcome onboard!
I chatted with Steve Lambert after the talk and the most valuable question he asked was "So say you've achieved this goal of preserving this culture, empowering this community, providing them financial stability and everything else on your list. What's next?!" 

In the past 6 months or so, we've been so caught up with new things that we haven't had time to think about this. Thanks Steve, for jump-starting our brain with this!

I'll now leave you with this amazing poem he read out:

“Utopia lies at the horizon.
When I draw nearer by two steps,
it retreats two steps.
If I proceed ten steps forward, it
swiftly slips ten steps ahead.
No matter how far I go, I can never reach it.
What, then, is the purpose of utopia? 
It is to cause us to advance.”  
-Eduardo Hughes Galeano 

xoxo, Chitra.

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