The orbit of our work as architects at times veers outside the focus of building design. Come to think of it, designing buildings is really just part of the orbit - community building is the true center. We consider as part of our work engaging in community conversations and being a voice for the importance of the physical environment to strong, vibrant communities.
In this same vein we’ve come to admire our friends at the Seacoast Repertory Theater. Kathleen Cavalaro, Executive Director at the Rep, and Brian Kelly, Director of Marketing and Development, are true leaders and instigators. Not only do they routinely step outside the focus of their work to engage in discussions about important matters in the community, but they have a real knack for initiating and fostering these discussions. If you’re not familiar with The (un)Official City of Portsmouth, NH Facebook group, you should be. They recently joined us for Friday Morning Coffee and we got talking about community engagement and the importance of showing up.
Showing up here in the Seacoast means a lot of things. It means getting out and taking advantage of all our cultural institutions – supporting all those artists that made this place so cool to begin with. It also means showing up for our civic process. That may mean attending not only the big City Council meeting where issues come to a head, but being informed – attending the 7am work sessions and monthly Zoning or Planning Board meetings where details are hashed out and nuances can be better understood.
It’s no surprise that our conversation led swiftly to social media. While we seemed to unanimously express trepidation about social media, Kathleen and Brian long ago recognized the power of the medium to communicate, engage and inspire. While that power can sometimes be wielded carelessly with negative or damaging outcomes, Brian observed that social media platforms are “fundamentally a place where people go to feel good….People in general will receive what you’re putting out into the world well”.
The parallels between the role of social media and the role of theater in a culture didn’t go unnoticed, either. Brian noted that as we post “we’re all playing characters. Facebook is theater.” At its best, theater shows us who we are and who we might be. Beyond posturing, digital dialog can also expose truths that might not otherwise find an outlet. Maybe cat videos don’t serve quite as lofty a goal but when a group engages in constructive conversation, it doesn’t really matter what the medium is.
Rallying support for new ideas, learning what is on the minds of others and being actively engaged in dialog - it all feeds back into our work in designing buildings. Brian encourages us all to just get out and “Keep telling your truth.”