Take the leap.

Dear friends of Orangutan Swing,
Things are really changing gears here, and I have some *new* news to share. Akira Morita and I are launching STITCH’s first-ever fundraiser on April 8.
Why is this interesting?
  1. Stitch connects the community with the creative process of local artists making something FOR Durham.
  2. It is a refreshing alternative to the usual top-down, marketing-driven approach to community “branding.”
  3. It attempts to “tweak” the traditional art buying-and-selling by going virtual, and directly connecting the artists’ ideas to the potential buyers before production.
  4. It is many mini-kickstarters rolled into one campaign. Each artist’s work will be a reward that people can “back” and help make happen.
A press release is below, with links to a folder with images.
We leave our apartment 3/31 for an unfixed address, and STITCH is our first Orangutan Swing project with that new frame. (Last year was the Year of Dialogue, and more than 1,000 people participated in conversation forums in: Seattle, Portland, NYC, Boston, DC, and here.) Quite fun. We’re up for something new, now, and taking our 4yo along for the adventure…
Would love to time any coverage that you’d like to do so that it lands within our Kickstarter window.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: STITCH gathers momentum, is set for April launch of its on-line gallery in the form of Kickstarter campaign

Uncovering Durham, NC, residents’ most passionate dreams—articulated in one word per person—for their city’s future, community art project STITCH is set to unveil its series of popup art happenings in the coming weeks, and launch its Kickstarter campaign.

“Love,” “blessed,” and “yeasty,” are a few of the 276 words that emerged as more than 500 people added their own and voted on words garnered by a simple question, “In one word, tell us what you’d like to see Durham become.” From the mayor to young schoolgoers, words gathered by hand by asking directly or through an online form came together. You can see the word cloud at http://www.orangutanswing.com/stitch.

STITCH is the name of the project underway to collect the community’s voice for what it would like to become, and make that into something tangible. That’s where the April 8 launch for Kickstarter comes in. It’s a crowdsourcing platform to gather microfunds through which the organizers—Akira Morita and his wife Dipika Kohli, who are co-owners of their own creative studio, seek to generate conversations around how art is perceived in the community, gather support for the local artists, and change the way things are done normally. STITCH is a way to bring the creative process of discovery and play into a public forum.

Can the team gather enough interest from local citizens to art direct original new artworks by some 20 local artists that will be inspired by STITCH’s Top 50 words? That’s the question the Kickstarter will seek to solve.

How is that special?

“Art is bought and sold in a traditional, somewhat outdated structure today. I wanted to try a tweak,” says Akira Morita, who came up with the idea for Stitch. He wanted to test drive his idea that community voices can shape the way they evolve. That’s something that he’s learned how to help facilitate through Design Kompany, which he describes as “a tiny but nimble design consultancy that helps people and organizations find their true voice.”

According to Akira, in a traditional gallery structure, artists are being forced to produce their work completely “on spec,” without any promise of a payout. “They tend to work in a vacuum, too, without any input from their audience,” adds Akira. The results is that work displays in various venues, free for anyone to view, and unless it’s sold, gets stashed away, often never to see the light of another day. Besides this, many artists have voiced their need for help in articulating their own messages about what they make and whom would enjoy it. Akira is meeting with artists who’ve responded to his call for applications individually to help them talk through their own marketing in hopes that they’ll be able to put their best foot forward in the upcoming campaign.

“Kickstarter gives entrepreneurs a new model to work with. Let’s say you have an idea: rather than getting it to production and sinking all sorts of resources into it, or spend months courting private funders, you can share the idea with your fans, and get funded for the production,” he explains. “Why can’t artists use the same model?”

Of course, this isn’t a new idea: Kickstarter has been used to fund all sorts of artistic projects, from fine-art, film to music and theater productions. But it is a huge undertaking, requiring a month-long scrambling of the project owner. But what if a group put a project forwards?

Enter STITCH. “What it is, also, is a way to share an idea and invite people into the process of creation. Looking at many of the [Kickstarter] campaigns, I got most excited by the ideas that expanded their fans’ perception of the art creation, and the possibility of making the fans’ contribution a part of the creative process.” Akira has personally backed 15 projects, in cluding: local, artful coffee shop Cocoa Cinnamon, Bound Custom Journals, and Walk [Your City].

“Each of these projects contributed to the inspiration for this campaign,” Akira elaborates. “Cocoa Cinnamon collaborated with a number of local artists in producing the rewards as well as creating a unique atmosphere of the shop itself. Bound Custom created a great platform for the backers to contribute ideas and customizations. Matt Tomasulo’s Walk [Your City] proved that community-wide art projects can generate huge interest and support.”

STITCH’s Kickstarter campaign, set to launch on April 8, will list its twenty—and counting—artists’ ideas, ranging from limited, letter-pressed posters, hand-painted A-sign boards, ink-on-paper drawings, to prints of digital art, such as imaginary graffiti designs super-imposed on photographs of iconic Durham walls and words printed on classic cars. People will be able to see prototypes of concepts (“proof-of-concept,” Akira says) to get an idea of what their fiscal support will directly make happen. Keeping it geographically centered right here in Durham is an important part of STITCH, too.

Visitors to the page are encouraged to choose and “back” an idea, which comes with its own pledge level, in place of a price tag. Once the project as a whole is funded, the art work will be produced and delivered to its “backers.”

“I think it’s a novel way to lend direct support to Durham’s artists, and create a real connection between Durham, its population, and the artists’ processes.”

The source inspiration of all these ideas have come from the people: words that describes peoples wishes for Durham, collected and tallied by their popularity.

“I know from experience people are more likely to buy into a thing if they’ve somehow contributed to the process, so I wanted citizens to join us in the sandbox, so to speak,” Akira says. “To play with us.”

Durham is known for its residents’ passionate love for it; people here have a special relationship with the city. They get married to it, and renews their vows every year at its annual Marry Durham event.

“I wanted to see what people would bring to the conversation about its future. A collective vision, not dictated by someone from above, but collected from every day people,” says Akira, who, after thinking up the idea, ditched his day job at Design Kompany, to devote to this project full-time since November of last year. Orangutan Swing ran in parallel starting from January of 2012 for the “Year of Dialogue” project, which Akira and Dipika conceived as a way to see how people would respond to the idea of coming together in offline, agendaless, and often public spaces around themes. More than 1,000 people joined in on more than 30 dialogue roundtables in places like New York City, Boston, Seattle, Portland, Washington D.C., and right here in Durham. See the Year of Dialogue annual report, complete with descriptions of themes and some of the pictures, here: http://orangutanswing.com/conversations/2012-report-a-year-of-dialogue/

Using the same method he uses to collect insights for consulting gigs (“ask a question, pause, and let the space created be filled by whatever comes up,” he explains) Akira hand-collected 276 words over the winter, walking around Durham’s downtown with his four-year-old, a cardboard clipboard in hand and wearing a stenciled shirt for that read: “Give us a word!”

“You can imagine the kind of dialogue that this generated! Cops would say, “unique,” or “quirky.” The mayor said, “great.” I invited myself to a Inter-Neighborhood Council meeting and brought three giant rolled papers with the top words we’d gathered up til then.”

At the meeting, Akira gave out neon stickers to people to put next to their favorite words.

“Sort of like Twister, but with neighborhood leaders,” chimed in his wife Dipika Kohli, who runs the design studio with Akira.

“What resulted was the best thing I could have hoped for: people got excited, started to chat with one another about the meanings of the words, and even posted to their individual listserv forums to ask people to ‘Give STITCH a word’ through an Orangutan Swing online form.”

So, what will it all add up to?

“My wildest-dream results would be when people start using some of the keywords from STITCH to describe this place to their friends elsewhere. How many of the words from the 2013 word cloud will we hear people use to describe Durham in a year? Two years? I want Durham’s current changing identity moves along a vector set by this community’s intent for what it wants to become.”

“I want there to be conversations around this. About how the community sees itself. About how art is created, and supported in the community. About what it means for a community to be ‘creative’—our top word. What does it even mean? It’s different to each person voted to this word. I want people to talk about this more. ”

Who is Orangutan Swing?

We—Akira Morita, Dipika Kohli, and 4-yo Kush—are a creative team with a vision for better understanding of, and among, all of our disparate selves. Last year, we traveled far and wide to learn from others and gather groups of voices to share their thoughts about lots of different topics ranging from new media, creative process and raising kids. We organized dozens (32!) of sit-in-the-circle, agenda-less “roundtables” and fell in love with the process of creating spaces for spontaneous, deep conversations.


Smitten with the art, the heart and the genius of thinking together, we set out to make other voices heard—and visible.

PHOTOS and images (please credit photographers)
Dropbox Link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/xe0jfo29dx5ab2h/ldeftF8MTe

More information: