FACING THE ITCH: investing in the creative hunch as an alternative to hierarchy

Recently, I caught the initial explanation of ITCH: Investing in the Creative Hunch.

Founder Todd Brown calls it “a pilot initiative of a new form of social-cultural networking. Connecting projects in theater, dance, music, literature, and visual art, the ITCH creates opportunities for the general public to participate in the behind-the-scenes of artistic production while increasing social networking opportunities in real time and space.”

Tonight, Brown and other project leaders will meet for a potluck discussion about the idea, overviews on some of the works-in-progress, and a casual meet and greet. You can read a profile and find out more info about the meeting here, but below are some soundbytes I particularly like:

Todd Brown:

“I’ve learned a lot from the Zapatista writings. There’s a whole thing about creating a space of encounter, which is where I can show myself to you and you show yourself to me. And I don’t have any expectation for you to be like me or that I should be like you, but create a space where we all meet. We’re all unique and have our weird otherness, or quirkiness.”

“I feel what’s exciting about the ITCH… is that it’s a form of organizing that’s more closely related to what we’re seeing today on the internet through the networking capacity, and how that mimics what I think of as emerging processes. What’s interesting is to see how these two models work really differently, like a conventional organizational model is all about stability; you want to create a structure that’s stable, you want it to be consistent, you’re working towards longevity and you want to minimize risk. If I’m going to give you money, you need to show me that you’ve minimized risk, because I don’t want to just give you money and have it go out the window. So you try to create structures that are consistent, stable.

“Compared to, on the other side, the networking model is that it’s more decentralized, it’s working more according to spontaneity, serendipity—it’s a living dynamic. And there’s a higher risk. Because if you compare Wikipedia to centralized production of Encyclopedias, it’s very controlled who gets to decide what goes into the Encyclopedias: major authority, you know, minimal people. You open that up to this participatory process, the risk increases. Like what happens if someone’s putting stuff up that’s entirely inaccurate. It’s a totally different process.

“Another example is the comparison of a stoplight and a roundabout. A stoplight is an example of external order being imposed in a systematic way, and the participants are being controlled; they are not allowed to choose; they’re being told when to stop, and when to go. If you look at a roundabout: another intersection, entirely different process principle. People are allowed to engage organically according to their own judgment based around a shared principle with how it works. It’s a spontaneous living dynamic in motion all the time: people navigating and operating in reaction to one another, whereas the stoplight is a static, controlled…

“So how do we create organizational frameworks that are like a roundabout rather than a stoplight? You know, conventional organization is like a stoplight; it’s authority from above that decides how things will be done. The other one is more by the internet and networking—it’s decentralized. Different people participating and self-correcting. There’s a kind of peer correction that happens, like how Wikipedia works: if you write something that’s false, it gets flagged. You’re counting on the collectivity to weed out the false.”

Raelle Myrick-Hodges:

“A lot of people want to be involved, but have been subconsciously told they’re not a part of it if they’re not the artist, that they’re not a part of it if they send out e-blasts, or they’re not a part of it for any of these reasons, and the ITCH starts to say: All of that is an imperative part of actually making these projects happen, and gives everyone such value that they feel empowered as people to actually become better people socially, and have a different understanding of art.”

“Because organizations—the only way you can get funded is to have a very specific mission. The reality is that a lot of mission statements started to change during the 80s because being a theatre company and saying, “We tell the greatest stories ever told” usually meant that everyone on stage looked the same, everyone had the same background, you know: it was mostly male and it’s violently, I mean aggressively and justifiably so, changed to missions that became women of color, LGBT, punk rockers, motorcyclists—right?, doing their play, doing their art thing, and it became a self-marginalization that became, at least now for the 21st century, something we also have to be concerned with.

“What the ITCH does is say: What if it’s really just about the project? Right? So you get to be gay, or Latino, or black, or whatever, and just happen to like Amy’s project. And then Amy ends up with a team of people that is as diverse as anything else simply based on the essence of the work, which is all any artist really wants, and very few artists spend their lives trying to marginalize other people, and yet to get their work done they are constantly being put in positions where they have to be defined in a very specific way. Whereas the Itch allows for your team to be made up of an eclectic group of people that can come from backgrounds that learn about themselves just by working on this one project. Which is different. Because if you came to my organization, for example… We’re so conditioned that if it has women or brown or LGBT in the name then, Oh if I’m not queer I guess I’m not allowed to do it. If I’m not black I guess I’m not allowed to do it; but if it says it’s a dance show: Oh, I get to be allowed to do it. And yet I’m still black; I’m still female. Right? And my contribution to that is just as inherent as anything else. But suddenly all of that gets left at the door and it gets to be about being creative. And that’s what I think is interesting as well.”