Postcards and play connect communities in Macon, Ga.

Communities / Article

Photo credit: Molly McWilliams Wilkins

Artist Hunter Franks kicked off his Creative Interventions Tour in Macon, Ga., last week, the first stop on a swing through Knight communities to use creativity to build connections among residents.

With the support of Knight Foundation, Franks plans to spend three weeks in Macon, with plans to continue the tour in Akron, Ohio; Philadelphia; and Detroit later this year. Related Link

Franks founded the League of Creative Interventionists in January as a global network “to break down social barriers and build community through creativity.” The first chapter is in San Francisco, where Franks is based.

“All the cities have class and racial division. This is to get people talking to each other,” Franks said.

The first project on the current tour is Love Letters to Macon. Franks plans to take postcards he has made to different locations and events in Macon. He will ask people to complete the cards and describe why they love their neighborhoods. The postcards will then be randomly mailed to someone in another neighborhood; each person will be invited to a potluck cookout at the end of the program to meet the person who received their postcard, he said.

Franks was inspired to start the project through his past position as community manager at the Office of Civic Innovation in the San Francisco mayor’s office.

“There’s a quote that I love, from [Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi] Adichie, which says, ‘The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.’ We set out to tell the rest of the story, taken from one neighborhood and mailed randomly to someone in another neighborhood,” said Franks.

Each league chapter will meet once a month and consider a theme. This month it’s play, and as a part of that effort, Love Letters to Macon came to Lunch Beat Macon, a networking event that features music and dancing, on March 13. A table was set up inside the 567, a local nonprofit that assists new startups, so that people could complete postcards as they were arriving and leaving.

“Everyone loves snail mail, when it’s not junk mail or bills. Rarely do we receive mail—let alone a postcard—from someone in our own town,” said local artist Heidi Clinte. “What a pleasant surprise to find in your mailbox! A fresh reminder of why your hometown rocks!”

The postcards will be hung at the old Capricorn Records studios at the end of the project to create a public art space.

“Hunter Franks and his project, the League of Creative Interventionists, are about making communities more playful and connecting people who might otherwise never interact,” said Jonathan Dye, spokesman for the Macon Arts Alliance, where the Macon League of Creative Interventionists held its first meeting March 18. “We believe the local chapter will be a catalyst for social change and community building through creativity and play. This project is an example of why we are glad Macon is a Knight city.”

Franks opened the chapter meeting by saying, “Some things … you might think are insane and aren’t going to work; tonight we’re going to do some brainstorming exercises and some fun things to try and come up with crazy ideas, ’cause crazy ideas allow us to get to really good places. Today we’re going to do some brainstorming on how we might make Macon more playful.”

There were four exercises. Participants were first asked to introduce themselves and to tell what superpower they would like. The answers ranged from people saying they wished they could fly to resident Roger Riddle’s wish that “whenever I picked up a sock that the sock closest to it automatically became its match.”

Second, participants were guided to stare in the eyes of the person next to them for 20 seconds. Next, they were given two unrelated words per table and instructed to use those two words to come up with an idea for an event that would make Macon more playful. One group was given the words “cat” and “banana” and came up with the idea for a fundraiser to offer banana splits to children to help spay and neuter feral cats.

“Through this exercise some of us discovered that we live in the same neighborhood,” said Deonna Belcher.

Another group was given the words “chair” and “light” and came up with the idea of creating “lightning chair,” which would be a gondola system, complete with a map of stops along the route, to help solve a problem with public transportation.

“I think it’s great to see so many people from the community participating at this level because obviously there are a lot of passionate, caring people here that really want to make a difference,” said Brent Shaver.

After the exercises, each group walked to a nearby construction site to place Post-it notes with their ideas on a wall. They were invited to follow up with Franks the next day to help collect written thoughts from passersby on why they love Macon on a love wall covered in chalkboard paint.

“It was thought-provoking,” attendee Marvin Hodges said. “I just feel that in the end something will come of this.”

Molly McWilliams Wilkins is a Macon, Ga.,-based freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter: @MakeItWorkMolly.