By Collin Lessing, JVA Consulting
The fourth in our series of Big Ideas for 2013 blogs, this blog features Evan Weissman of the Buntport Theater Company, which offers innovative and affordable entertainment. Evan’s Big Idea is to create a “civic health club” that combines activities people love to do in their free time with civic engagement—and there will also be cookies.
The problem, according to Evan, is quite simple, so simple that it’s often forgotten—poor civic health. People go to Broncos games, watch sports, go shopping and go to movies but City Council meetings often have attendance in the single digits. Evan explained that most Americans can probably name a character on a sitcom but two-thirds of Americans can’t name a Supreme Court Justice. Justices make decisions that affect our lives everyday while characters on television don’t impact us much beyond entertainment.
This is the civic health problem driving this Big Idea for 2013. More and more we’re alienated from the decisions that actually affect our lives. We have gyms where we go and exercise to strengthen our physical health. We have religious institutions to maintain our spiritual health. We visit therapists for our psychological health. But we don’t have a place to exercise our civic health. What if there was civic health club where community members could go to do just that?
Evan and his partners (an initial board made up of five people who are all interested in making change) are going to open a civic health club called Warm Cookies of the Revolution toward the end of 2013. While the opening won’t happen until December 2013, monthly programming has already begun at the McNichols Building in Civic Center Park and at Buntport Theater. The events merge fun and exciting things that people already like to do with civic issues. Recent events have included a letter-writing party where attendees were encouraged to write personal letters, letters to the editor, letters to elected officials and letters to prisoners. There was also an event where people pitched their ideal form of government and then all built a Lego city together.
When the space opens in December, there will also be a storefront with a pay-what-you-can system for cookies and ice cream. Evan hopes it’s a place that can combat the loneliness of online interactions. If you want to hang out in a public space with your earbuds and computer, a coffee shop is a great venue for that. Warm Cookies of the Revolution will be the place to go to interact with other people.
When the concept for Warm Cookies began taking shape, Evan participated in a six-month listening tour with different community leaders and organizations to identify community challenges and to strategize around ways to make this concept a reality. Evan reminded me that collaboration is key here. If it’s just him and 10 other people coming up with creative programs, it won’t work. Community ownership is critical to the impact Warm Cookies is striving for—getting people involved in civic issues who might otherwise not have been. To do that, he says, we need to meet people where they are and do the things they love to do.
Evan hopes to see Warm Cookies thrive and be self-sustaining. If it’s successful, it’s a model that could be introduced in other communities to get people engaged in the civic decisions that affect their lives while interacting with their community and of course, having some delicious, warm cookies.
A website for Warm Cookies is under construction and coming soon, at warmcookiesoftherevolution.org. Until then, you can find the group and a list of events on Facebook or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their next event is coming up on February 25.