By Timothy Bell
Over this past weekend, Arcosanti hosted the annual Convergence Conference and Festival. During these three days, experts working in the fields of social justice, science, agroecology, permaculture, and beyond, all gathered to exchange ideas and celebrate at the Urban Laboratory.
Our challenge to ourselves this year was to prove that a Festival could be regenerative. The dream was that the attendees would depart from Arcosanti feeling better than when they had arrived. More than that, we hoped they would leave empowered to return to their own communities with the tools in hand to improve our relationship to the natural world and our fellow humans. The feedback we received throughout the event from our 400 or so attendees was that the Convergence succeeded in doing just that.
So here we are, a few short months away from the 50th anniversary of Arcosanti. The Cosanti Foundation has a new organizational structure and new leadership. The sense from our Convergence attendees is that we are building something on the mesa these days that has nothing to do with pouring concrete or bending rebar. But what exactly is it we are building?
The answer that I’ve come up with is that what we are doing is building Cultural Capacity.
Speaking for myself here, after 50 years of work and dedication to the dream of a better world I think what the 8,000 hands that contributed to this project have left for this next generation of Arconaut is a platform. We are using this platform to build trust in a new generation of Arcosanti supporter that we are willing to engage both as an organization and a community in the challenging work that lies ahead to get our planet back on track ecologically, socially, and spiritually.
The Burning Man Organization is an interesting case study for how a nonprofit can transform itself. A decade ago, the primary focus of Burning Man was throwing what ultimately added up to the world’s best desert party; today their mission is to spread their culture to the world at large. What with the prevalence of Burning Man art at nearly every major event across the country (including Canal Convergence where we will be showing a piece of our own) and the global obsession with the yearly gathering, I think most people would agree that the effort has largely been a success.
The BMOrg is now undertaking a lengthy process of Cultural Direction Setting for their community. We’re not there yet, but I can tell you from the front lines of engagement with our fans and from those I’ve come to refer to as our “satellite community” that there is a palpable sense here on the mesa that something special is afoot.
So where do we go from here? My instinct is that we keep turning up the flame. We work to get this newfound capacity to a roiling boil, and then we start to cook up something really special.
My sense is also that this isn’t the first time that Arcosanti has felt like it was buzzing with potential. There are plenty of examples of moments in our 50-year history when the wind has been taken out of the sails of our work. The 1978 car fire, the great recession, the founding architect’s destructive behavior towards his own family. Each of these incidents has impacted the Foundation’s ability to fulfill our mission of exploring the experiential and educational benefits of combining architecture with ecology.
The reader will notice I have yet to use Paolo Soleri’s name in this piece. Again, only speaking for myself, if we are to get the idea of Arcology off of this damn mesa then we need to start telling that story instead of the story of a single architect.
Historically speaking, the only way you could get involved with this project was to participate in a 6-week workshop. This is no longer the case. We are in the process of launching a dynamic volunteer program that will engage people from all walks of life in work for the Cosanti Foundation, Arcosanti, Cosanti, and beyond, regardless of their workshop status. The loss of the workshop was an understandable blow to many alumni, of which I am one. But we needed a better way to disseminate our ideas than charging people $2000+ dollars to hear them. The world deserves to know what we know, to understand what we have been doing.
It’s time to stop asking the world to come to the prototype arcology, and to start bringing the ideas of arcology to the world.
Which finally brings me to the title of this article: we need allies in this effort. We are a small group of people trying to do some very big work and taking us into the next phase of this thing is going to require a lot of hands.
Whether you are an alumnus, a person who has visited our site, or someone who keeps in touch from afar, we need your help spreading the word about our new workshop programs, engaging with our critics on media platforms, contributing time as a volunteer, and more. We’ll need donations and partnerships, expert advice, and pro bono assistance. We’ll need things we can’t even anticipate at this moment.
This all might sound urgent, but we live in urgent times. Arcosanti is racing not only to catch up to the modern world but to leap ahead of it and into the more hopeful future that all of us deserve. We’re seeking to once again be thought of as leaders in the global movement for a sustainable and regenerative world. We hope you’ll join us.