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ArtsxAction: Building a community with data visualization

I am working with organizers to develop a interactive, crowd-sourced data visualization for ArtsxAction (AxA), designed to facilitate visual cultivation of their identity and shared values.

The challenge

Artists who have lived for decades in cities like the District of Columbia (D.C.) often face problems alone, such as increasing displacement, with no local group to organize artists around shared problems. ArtsxAction (AxA) is a new community formed to connect and organize artists and activists in the D.C. area. AxA uses a non-hierarchical organizing structure, emergent strategy, that allows the artists themselves to define their own needs collectively.

As a new community, ArtsxAction is struggling to cultivate the necessary relationships to build a community. At the meetings I attended, members expressed a desire to get to know each other and the history of art and activism in the D.C. area. Others expressed their need, as visual artists, for visual stimulation during AxA meetings. Most importantly, the thoughts and feelings that emerged through conversations at meetings became lost and unrecorded.

I realized an interactive visualization could serve as a tool for facilitating relationship building and collective knowledge of nascent community.

User research

During several AxA meetings, I recorded the thoughts and feelings of members:
People felt as though they didn’t know each other well enough, which makes it hard to collaborate and organize together.
People are bored during the meetings, are under-stimulated by verbal communication
Conversations are ephemeral and don’t get recorded; people keep rediscovering conclusions already made
People simply don’t know what AxA is going to do, which is immensely frustrating because they want to start working

Goals

Based on member’s experiences, a web-based interactive visualization can serve as a crowd-sourced collective visualization of the values, needs, and knowledge of the ArtsxAction community to foster relationships and a shared sense of identity. I defined goals for the project:

  • De-fragmenting the experience of being an artist in the city and underlining our similarity in plights
  • Building solidarity through sharing experiences and a collective knowledge of these experiences
  • Creating a platform to share our work
  • Provide visual stimulation and focus during AxA meetings
  • Maintain a record of AxA meetings such that insight developed does not get lost
  • The design

Storytelling would serve as a fundamental aspect of the project. In particular, the tool should reflect the narratives of the particpants–lessons learned, their current projects, and what they need from the community–at both the micro and macro level.

In particular, the website should support submissions of pictures, video, and text from the community, sorted into categories such as lessons learned, projects people are working on, what people want out of the town hall, and so on.

The visualization should aggregate the submissions, such that emergent ideas can be identified. Natural language processing could be used to process community submissions.

To facilitate the documentation of Town Hall meetings, the website will update in real time and should be mobile friendly. To facilitate meetings, the website can be projected onto a wall during the town hall, and participants should be able to see their submissions reflected during the meeting.

Development

Development on the first prototype began in December 2017. We are using WordPress, a content management system, which provides built in support for users, database, and post management. A custom theme is being developed to interactively visualize the posts and users.