Wednesday, October 23, 2013

PechaKucka Orlando

I usually write a commentary about events I sketch. This time I felt that Darren's entire talk from the Friday September 20th  PechaKucha needed to be shared. 20 slides, 20 seconds a slide, a wide variety of presenters.

Imagining Real
By Darren McDaniel

"Over the past two years, a particular image has played a prominent role in my life.  It’s the wallpaper on my phone, the art on my kitchen wall, the sticker on the back of my laptop, and the ten-foot tall mural high on the wall at 625 E. Central.

I’m the founding director of Urban ReThink, a community workspace and programming hub in Orlando's Thornton Park. When I got the news a few weeks ago that we'd be losing our space, the thing that hit me the hardest, of all things, was the thought that I’d no longer have daily access to this mural that I know as GoogliAnn.

I teach Digital Storytelling to designers at Full Sail, and I preach the power of symbols—how a simple icon or graphic could be loaded with meaning, representing far more than its collection of marks, or—in this case—scribbles.

In the 18 months it’s been on the wall, the mural has been a fueling station for me.  It reminds me of why I do what I do.  The artwork came from a self-portrait my niece, GraciAnn, had given me on her 5th birthday.  It’s come to embody my immense affection for my nieces, for our community, and for all that’s been accomplished under GoogliAnn’s over-lordship.

Here’s how it happened.  Upon returning to Orlando, I crudely Photoshopped GraciAnn’s art on the wall and shared it with my sister, asking her to get GraciAnn’s reaction—a reaction that turned out to be all-too matter-of-fact: “It’s not real.”  I took this as a challenge.  And I thought, “Yeah, but imagine if it was…”

And I shared the notion with Dina, and Pat, and Kitty, and Kim, and Fiona, and Ryan, and Julia, and Anna, and dang near anyone else who happened through.  “What if?”  What do you think?”  “Can we do it?”  “Surely, we can do this.”  And thanks to their affirmation, support, and resourcefulness, we made a way.

Karen Rigsby helped me figure out the eyes.  Anna McCambridge-Thomas said she knew the perfect artist, and she wasn’t kidding.  Carolyn Schultz was every bit as impressive as the art she produced. In a day and a half, she swept in, climbed up, and made the magic happen, one grid-square at a time.
As it neared completion, I got giddy and sent a picture to Cris Phillips-Georg with the caption “the audacity of play,” and she said that’s what you should call it.   “The Audacity of Play.”  A dedication that marked the first anniversary of Urban ReThink…and a bold new theme for the year ahead.
Months later, GraciAnn was coming to town, and, much to her surprise, we staged a grand unveiling.  Kathryn Neel even made the eyes work.  And Thor was there sketching and my family and friends, and the moment I’d dreamed about since "It's not real.": the big reveal.  From astonishment to head-burying embarrassment on GraciAnn’s end; from triumph to tears on mine.
Then: discovery.  The mural was complete, and the eyes moved.  Regulars would jump when they caught a first glance.  When kids would come in, I’d point up to it and watch their expressions turn from perplexed to wide-eyed.  I’d tell them “Somebody your age drew that,” and I’d see the possibility swirl around them.  “Can I put my art on a wall?”
One of my favorite pastimes became juxtaposing the events and speakers with the googly-eyed girl.  The PBS Newshour’s nationally-televised debate panel.  The chief data scientist from  Business meetings.  Coworking. Highfalutin parties. And, of course, Gloria Steinem.
Less than 2 weeks from now, the doors close on Urban ReThink, and—unless I can find a way to liberate a ten-by-ten-foot piece of drywall from its well-secured perch—her always-welcoming arms will be waving goodbye, her eyes will close, and she’ll forever lurk behind who-knows-what paint.
But you know what, Orlando?  Symbols carry their meanings.  And we’ve still got ours.  And we’ve got high-res pictures, and we’ve got printers, and the Transformation Village in Bithlo ready to become GoogliAnn’s next home in some form or fashion.  Beyond that, we’ve got the legacy we’ve built, and we’ve got each other.
I moved back home to Central Florida a dozen years ago and made a feature film. When it was over, I wanted to do something to give back to this community that helped make my dream possible—something that could make many more dreams possible through gathering and cross-pollenating enterprising creatives from all walks of life.
Forty months ago, an opportunity finally arose to make that real. The time since has seen scores of collaborations and hundreds of cultural events. It’s brought the majority of tonight’s presenters and so many other treasures into not just my life but each other’s.  It’s inspired visitors to shift their Mickey-Mouse views of Orlando and even move here.
At the surface, there’s something rather ridiculous about a googly-eyed vision.  Untethered, quixotic, not always on the same page…  But it’s also a vision with broader perspective and heightened possibility—one that honors imagination and contributions from even the most unlikely of sources…
My mission continues : To gather and showcase Orlando's independent-minded, community-spirited doers for economic, community, and intellectual growth. Why? Because we have treasure in our midst: from the talent pool of recent graduates, transplants, and the underemployed on one hand to the creative, the curious, and the volunteers-to-be on the other. I call them gappers. I’m one of them.
And I'm minding the gap because our support structures haven’t kept up with the societal change that’s creating more gappers by the day.  Yet, it's gappers that will ultimately generate our solutions.  After all, we’re the entrepreneurs, innovators, and enhancers.  It’s in our collisions, conversations, and collaborations that imaginations become real.
One thing is certain: There’s a need for an Urban ReThink and for opportunity structures like it.  There’s a need for a new social institution—something that fuels gappers by combining elements of work, play, family, school, church, and library.  We’ve pioneered that—right here in Orlando. But we’re not finished.  And I’m not stopping.
As Urban ReThink, we’re losing our space and our scope, but not the audacity of our play, nor the tenacity of our purpose. GoogliAnn.  She’s the spirit of our future.  And she’s looking to us to get her where she needs to go.  People say things happen for a reason.  Let’s make that reason.  Imagine the possibilities.  They’re real.  And they’re spectacular."

Darren's talk had me in tears. I felt a warm glow knowing so many family and friends who create and inspire change. I hunt for collaborators and creatives, and the resources found in Orlando are unlimited. ReThink was a creative epicenter that fueled my daily sketch habit. I have over 50 sketches that were done there. The bricks and mortar might change ownership but the people who see and bring about change are still here.

Mark Your Calendar! The next PechaKucha is February 7th at 7pm at The Orange Studio, (1121 N. Mills Avenue, Orlando, Fl).

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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