A Message from Milenko
November 28th, 2011
July 31, 2012
Napkin Notes on Collaboration
The foundation of Pomegranate Center’s work is collaboration. Here are napkin notes on the subject, collected from writings to myself over the past twenty-five years.
- Collaboration is a fluid, interactive state where the parts have power to influence the whole while the whole influences the parts.
- In collaboration, teamwork and individual excellence are equally required: as in jazz, the greater the individual virtuosity, the greater team virtuosity.
- Collaboration should magnify individual greatness rather than deny it.
- Collaboration requires coexisting differences, not sameness. Where there are differences there are tensions.
- The purpose of tension is to create a field where creativity grows. As long as there are differences, tension is there to stay. When one is resolved, another appears.
- Working willingly with tensions is the prerequisite for collaboration.
- Modern cities and communities are filled with differences—people from myriad cultures, ideologies, religions and world-views, all expressing their values and talents. These differences (and their inherent tensions) are our greatest, and most untapped, asset.
- Collaboration’s purpose is to relate to each other in such a way that typically irritating differences can be transformed into valuable gifts.
- To turn differences into gifts requires strength and flexibility. It involves the confidence to express ideas and the humility to adjust them to those of others’.
- This requires us to stand in one’s center while falling into the unknown-a demanding circus act.
- To hear and see without instant misrepresentation and distortion is an act of utmost bravery. Great 20th century artist Henri Matisse stated long before our pop-culture that everything we see is more or less distorted by acquired habits and ready-made images that are to the eye what prejudice is to the mind. To see through the noise takes courage.
- In collaboration we rely on others to help uncover the greater truth of any situation. One of the most powerful sentences is one of the simplest: And what do you think, observe, understand?
- Avoid jargon that is the language of lazy shortcuts and presumed shared assumptions.
- We are all smart in some areas and ignorant in others.
- Collaboration is about increasing our collective smartness and decreasing our collective ignorance.
- This requires a mature degree of self-knowledge where we claim not only what we know, but also our gaps, acknowledging deep oceans of blissful ignorance.
- When lazy, we talk only to those who are alike which is just another form of talking to ourselves.
- Collaboration is only possible when all parties are willing to steps into the empty space beyond pre-existing ideas where mutual discovery is possible.
- Collaboration is not possible between fixed ideas.
- When we are able to share our different “smarts” we quickly realize that, amazingly, together we know more and that together we are able to accomplish what no one individual or group could separately.
- We discover that the results of collaboration meet many important goals at the same time.
- Collaboration is next step in our evolution. We are all invited to practice.
- Our world is a school where collaboration is the main lesson plan. We have all been invited to enroll into collaboration kindergarten.
I trust that very soon we will be able to move to the elementary school.
November 28th, 2011
Pomegranate Center’s Landmark Year
2011 was a landmark year for Pomegranate Center. We had the opportunity to test our collaborative philosophy in five parallel projects and demonstrated that, when conditions are right, ordinary communities are capable of extraordinary things; that meaningful community projects can be done quickly and with moderate funds; and that people, given a chance, are eager to jump with both feet into improving their neighborhoods.
In 2011 we completed five gathering places in five different communities in the greater Seattle area. One was a pro bono project in Bellevue, WA. Four were made possible with a generous grant from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters through Tully’s Coffee. Here was the timeline:
· In March we put out a Gathering Places Request For Proposals and received seventeen responses.
· In May we trained the leaders of the four selected projects in our gathering places model.
· In June we held planning and design sessions in each community.
· Between August 5 and September 17, we organized intensive, participatory four-day building workshops culminating in opening celebrations with proclamations, musical celebrations and, of course, Tully’s coffee!
Here are the stats: these five projects engaged 781 volunteers who gave 8000 hours of time to conceptualize, design and build. Pomegranate Center’s four-person staff received assistance from two summer interns and a dozen Public Space Rangers (professionals in design and building who offered their services pro bono – at a value of $139K).
· used 20 gallons of paint and 18 gallons of wood preservative
· mixed 473 bags of concrete by hand
· placed 67 tons of rock
· spread 81 cubic yards of soil
· painted 45,000 dots on banners
· carved 350 sq. feet of cedar
· installed 500 feet of paths
· polished, bent and twisted 500 feet of stainless steel flat bars
· constructed 44 benches (20 on bicycle wheels) and
· planted 500 plants.
These are remarkable achievements, especially in our current charged civic situation where acrimonious blaming and complaining are the norm. Our projects demonstrated that given the opportunity and under experienced leadership, people are capable of remarkable accomplishments. It is good to remember that, typically, similar projects take years of planning and unrealistic budgets. Our intensive, streamlined process unlocks a surprising amount of positive energy because the process moves quickly and people can actually see their ideas taking shape on achievable budgets that are complimented by volunteer work and in-kind donations of materials and equipment. In addition, because our projects offer an easy opportunity to deposit care and artistry, they become a stark contrast to the anger and violence that dominates the news and our public awareness. Our model works because there are so many ways for different people to be involved. But mainly it works because every neighborhood has people who have a keen awareness of how things ought to be and they jump at the chance to realize such potential.
Today, when most municipalities have no resources for such projects, our model provides a powerful alternative.
Pomegranate Center’s goal now is to transfer this model in many communities throughout the country. A complimentary goal is to train new leaders capable of creating their own projects in the future. We know that to achieve this goal we will need more partners in this exciting adventure. With the help of a new Tully’s grant, we will take the show on the road with a project in Tuscaloosa, AL, creating a gathering place in that tornado-ripped city.
These are challenging times for our country and we agree with those who demand changes for a more just and sustainable future. Destructive policies and practices must stop. Pomegranate Center’s approach, however, has always been to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes,’ to find a way to realize a mutually preferred future within the limited possibilities of each project. Our five 2011 projects accomplished this.
I would love to hear from those who wish to get involved with our next steps.
February 1st, 2010
Originally posted on The Center for the Study of Art and Community’s blog, Wild Caught Stories
Imagination is powerful. It guides our thoughts which in turn guide our actions. Imagination is the soil in which our ideas grow. Imagination is what allows our actions to change.
Images of the future crafted by people of the past are now our reality, just as current images of the future will shape tomorrowâ€™s reality. If we believe that to be true, we have an obligation to articulate and examine our images of the future.
Dutch futurist Fred Polak studied the importance of the image of the future. His conclusion:
The rise and fall of images of the future precedes or accompanies the rise and fall of cultures. As long as the societyâ€™s image is positive and flourishing, the flower of culture is in full bloom. Once the image begins to decay and lose its vitality, however, the culture does not long survive.
My interpretation of Polak’s words: Truly creative thinking about the future requires tension–the tension of holding both the real and the possible in our awareness at the same time.
I believe our images of the future must be more than incremental improvements on the present; they must be daring and far-reaching. Polak called such a view the “other” future — heretical in its newness, with the ability to broaden our thinking so that our lives are not limited by what is apparent and evident. If we can be so daring, we can willingly and eagerly participate in cultural change-making, rather than kick and scream when faced with the unfamiliar.
With disciplined imagination, an informed vision of what we, the people, want to be and do, change can be a joyful process. The American cultural philosopher William Irwin Thompson said that, like fly-fishers, “we cast images in front of ourselves and then slowly reel ourselves into them, turning them into reality.” To accomplish this, we need to examine and inform our imaginations, and share what we imagine with others.
Our time is ripe for a thorough re-imagination of what the world will be when it grows up. This is demanding and audacious work. It takes courage to unpack one’s inner constructs and peer into assumptions and impulses that make us who we are. Seeing without distortion takes courage. Every day, media and pop culture pound us with messages of who we should be and what we should do. If we don’t contest these messages, we accept them — and consign ourselves to a lifeless repetition of the familiar.
What is my image of the future? Here is how I described it in my recent book Multiple Victories:
Future cities will be compacted into clearly defined neighborhoods that will be smaller and more densely populated than our sprawling suburbs and ex-urbs today. These new cities and towns will combine the best of traditional urban design with modern mass transit and communication technologies . . . Offices, stores and restaurants, housing, parks and open spaces will all be within walking distance for the people who live there. Tentacles of restored land with healthy watersheds, river banks, ravines and hills will reach into the heart of the city, while clear boundaries will honor spaces in which farms and wild lands flourish and nurture the new metropolis.
As our resurgent cityscapes mature, architecture, cuisine and the arts will re-develop regional styles and celebrate local choices, resources and sensibilities.
In this future, the differences between our cities become apparent and delightful. The joy of walking and the convenience of alternative transportation will diminish the need for the single-passenger automobile, reduce its infrastructure and restore a human scale to the cityscape.
An increasingly “walkable” environment will allow us to cluster our important civic institutions, such as, the city hall, library, and museums, shopping and work. As a result, more and more people will find themselves drawn to the middle of our new town where they will also find a beautiful, intentional space where they feel welcome to put up their feet, play games or discuss the matters of the day. This space, the community’s gathering place, is the heart for communal identity, welcome, and social rejuvenation. Every neighborhood will build such a space where people create together something that captures their collective talents, their aspirations and their appreciation of the many community connections.
This image flows from my own imagination, shaped by an increasingly urgent imperative: Stop waste! We must stop wasting our time, creativity, learning opportunities. We must stop wasting our health, community, local democracy, our useful differences, character and identity. We must stop wasting the innocence of the young and wisdom of the elders. We must end planned obsolescence and stop wasting our natural gifts of air, water, soil and the creatures that live around us. If we can muster the strength to do this, we can bring about a speedy transformation of our urban, social and natural landscapes. With courage and commitment, we can develop solutions that address these issues coherently and solve multiple problems at once. If we can come together to create such solutions, we can reverse the current trend of multiplying problems and bring about, ultimately, a world that will not need constant remediation.
I have my own library of mental images that inform my imagination and shape this vision. What do you see? What sorts of patterns or themes? What images of the future spring from your own imagination?