Tag Archives: politics

Storytelling and the Web of Influence

lincoln_schatzI recently had the pleasure of attending an artist talk by Lincoln Schatz,
a contemporary American artist, best known for his pioneering works that create portraits of people, places and processes utilizing video and software to collect, store, and display images. Schatz presented his latest multimedia project called The Network: Portrait Conversations where his lens focuses on the men and women who play pivotal roles shaping the daily workings of the United States. The Network is a snapshot of people, ideas, and power in Washington, D.C.

During the talk, the artist revealed to us how he designed the space in order to encourage his subjects to tell a more personal story. The set was surrounded by an entirely black background giving a great sense of depth, like being able to reach into the recesses of someone’s mind. Several cameras were set in a round, not only to capture many angles of the subject’s expression, but also to eliminate their feeling like they have to focus on the camera in front of them, or any camera for that matter. The subject can then be in the moment of the conversation.

Schatz did not ask leading questions. He was not interested in the politics and any specific aspect of it. His goal was to engage the person in a dialog that would reveal what matters to them: their legacy, their challenges and their aspirations. The artist interviewed a group of influential people, some of whom are seen in mainstream media on a regular basis, and some who almost never step into the limelight. But the common thread that weaves them together are their stories — their concerns, their values, their humanity.

Each video portrait was electronically tagged with key words based on the subject matter of the dialog in that particular video. The computer randomly selects matching key words which determines what videos are played in sequence. The sequence is never the same, making multiple connections and juxtapositions between these people of influence and the issues they talk about, therefore revealing multiple relationships and layers of relevance between their ideas, personal experiences and spheres of influence.

What I learned from the work of Lincoln Schatz sheds light on my journey to tell the story of a Chicago neighborhood that has gone through multiple transformations through the generations — a community of citizens, businesses and nonprofit organizations, a community diverse in every way, shape and form. I see an opportunity to provide an appropriate space and time for each individual to tell their own story, to not mislabel them, to not misrepresent them, to enable them to reach into their core and express who they truly are, to empower them to paint a clear picture of their legacy, challenges and aspirations so they can engage the viewer to join them in the change they envision for themselves and their community.

The Network was first presented as an installation at ConnerSmith Gallery in D.C. The installation consists of the generative video, video stills of all 89 sitters and the set on which the portraits were filmed at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery which is now the installation’s permanent home.

You can find out more about The Network and other works of Lincoln Schatz at lincolnschatz.com.

Which Story Will You Vote For?

As we head to the polls, I’m reminded of the Huffington Post article in July 2012 written by Arianna Huffington where she mentions President Obama’s interview with Charlie Rose. According to Huffington, the interview got really interesting when the conversation turned to what the president considered the biggest mistake of his first term. He said, “…it was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. The nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.”

Without labeling all the rhetoric we’ve heard during this presidential campaign, storytelling is essential in communicating ideas and values, and in leading a country.

“Stories are the creative conversion of life itself to a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience,” says screenwriting guru Robert McKee. They are “the currency of human contact.” Or, as film producer Peter Guber, says in his book Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story, “Telling purposeful stories is certainly the most efficient means of persuasion in everyday life, the most effective way of translating ideas into action. The stories our leaders tell us matter probably almost as much as the stories our parents tell us as children, because they orient us to what is, what could be, and what should be. Their stories help us to understand how they view the world and the values they hold sacred.”

Scientific research has shown that humans are naturally wired for stories. We can best understand and remember information if it is wrapped in a story. Story gives it human context, meaning and purpose. Only then can we translate this into action. And competent leadership is about ultimately mobilizing people into action.

As you cast your ballot, ask yourself: Which candidate placed the issues in a narrative that helped me to better understand how they can be resolved? Which candidate told a compelling story about their vision for the future and made me feel optimistic about being a part of it?

The choices are overwhelming but if you were to see it only one way, I hope you will vote for the story that will provide the best opportunity for our children to realize their dreams so that down the road, they can tell their own stories of trust, hope, unity and peace.

Coming up next week:

November 13: Write Your Story for Video
5:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Fine Arts Building
410 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60605

November 15: Engage Your Donors with a Compelling Story
8:30 am – 10:00 am
Mayslake Peabody Estate
1717 W. 31st Street
Oak Brook, IL 60523
Host: West Suburban Philanthropic Network

November 16: Create Your Compelling & Memorable Elevator Pitch
11:30 am – 1:00 pm
Letizia’s Fiore Ristorante
2456 N. California Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647