ArbCamp 08

ArbCamp 08 begins in two minutes. Right now, I’m hiding at the back of the room, hoping that no one talks with me, and pondering what it means that UM bought the Pfizer campus today.

6:00: This is my first experience with the Open Meeting process. It’s cool. Everything is determined by the group. There’s no set agenda going in. There’s a table full of blank, colored dots on a table off to the side, and a big sheet of paper. People draw letters or symbols on the dots, stick them to the paper, and then write next to them what the symbols mean. Then, they make identical dots for their name badges. By the time I get up to the table, there were three stickers that applied to me. I have a yellow dot with an “ST” on it. It indicates that I’m interested in startups. I have yellow dot with a square on it. It means that I’m interested in community organizing online. And I have a blue dot with a squiggle on it that I think means that I’m interested in regional economic development. Maybe it means something else, though. I need to remember to check.

6:30: Everyone gathers to determine the schedule for the evening. There’s a big whiteboard at the front of the room. It’s got a matrix on it. On the vertical axis is time. There are half hour blocks from 7:00 to 10:00. And, on the horizontal axis, across the bottom, there are letters from A to E. Each represents a different area on the second floor of Cottage Inn, the pizza place where we’re gathered. Stickies and markers are handed out and people are encouraged to write down ideas for sessions and stick them on the board. It takes about 10 minutes for the board to fill up to the point where there’s a session every half hour in each of the five meeting locations. Then, at some point, a guy came forward and consolidated the sessions that seemed to be close in theme, opening up spaces for additional ideas. Most things seem to be incredibly technical, but there are quite a few things that interest me.

7:00: I’m in a session about the arts. There are about four of us. The guy who suggested the session just moved back to Michigan from California. He wants a more vibrant arts scene. Specifically, he’s tired of all the galleries run by “50 year old women.” We talk about the Shadow Art Fair and some other cool things that are happening… I have what I think is a really good idea. I suggest that we find about 10 curators, and hook them up with 10 property owners. The idea would be to have about 10 house shows, all within walking distance of one another, on the same evening. In addition to homes, they could be in stores, restaurants and even vacant buildings. If we wanted, we could charge people to go through it, and use the money to fund other arts projects in the community, but I think I’d like to keep it free. The other alternative would be to have a guerilla art show outside, on the Water Street property. We could just invite all of the artists we know and encourage them to come, stake out their space, and put together their temporary exhibit of some kind. Could be cool…

7:30: I’m in a session with Nancy Shore from Get Downtown. We’re talking about transportation. It’s a great conversation. At some point we talk about Zip Cars, and I fight the urge to say that they’re evil because they enable student prostitution. I’m proud of myself… Nancy mentions that someone is about to launch a Facebook application called ZipRide or ZimRide that shows the Zip Cars in your area, which friends have them, where they’re going, and where there may be opportunities to chip in and ride along. It sounds really cool… People are enthusiastic about alternative modes of transportation. It’s encouraging.

8:00: My friend Anjanette proposed a Girl Geek Night session. There are about a dozen women in that corner now, talking about it. They seem to be having a good time. I’m tempted to join them, but I think it might look creepy. And, as 95% of the people here tonight are men, I think the woman probably deserve to have one session out of the 30 or so to themselves… I wish Clementine was old enough to hang out with them. I want her to grow up to be a technology geek.

8:30: I’m in a session about photography… kite photography… tilt shift photography… pin hole photography… You can apparently get an inexpensive digital camera from CVS, monkey around with the flash trip sensors and put them in your own homemade cameras. Someone put one inside a volleyball and rigged it so that it snapped a photo whenever it was hit… We talk about the Ann Arbor Crapy Camera Club… Someone mentions having seen a pinhole camera online with a flatbed scanner inside of it. Another guy says there’s a truck with a tiny hole in the side that serves as a giant pinhole camera. It shoots on blueprint paper… Lots of amazing ideas… Talk turns to darkroom space availability, and how to make your own Lensbaby lenses…. And now people are talking about Aperture, and other photography software tools. People are, as they have been in all the sessions I’ve been in thus far, really enthusiastic to have found like-minded people to talk with.

OK, I got sidetracked… Right now it’s 10:00 and I’m sitting and talking with Chuck Warpehoski from the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, Get Downtown’s Nancy Shore, Dave Askins from the Ann Arbor Chronicle, and Dug Song, the man who brought all 200 of us together here tonight. We’re talking about politics and skate parks.

It was a great event, and I feel fortunate to have been a part of something so spontaneous and grassroots in nature. It’s a welcomed change from what I generally see in the local business community…. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

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  1. Blown Away in 2007
    Posted December 18, 2008 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s great that U of M is buying the Pfizer site. I worked at that site for 14 years in the glory days of Parke-Davis. Much of the facility has been updated/renovated and will provide top shelf space for research. Sigh….maybe someday I can return to MI AND find a job.

  2. Ol' E Cross
    Posted December 18, 2008 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    No goatse table? You must of been seriously bummed when you finally figured out that’s not what the pin hole photography discussion was about.

  3. mark
    Posted December 18, 2008 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, I didn’t propose any of the sessions. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but it would have been fun to write “goatse club” in one of the squares and see who showed up.

  4. mark
    Posted December 18, 2008 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    And, of course, once I had everyone gathered, I’d just play Rick Astley.

  5. applejack
    Posted December 19, 2008 at 1:24 am | Permalink

    sounds like a good time. any mention of the bike-powered movie project at this event? seems like it might’ve been a receptive crowd for that kind of thing.

  6. Posted December 19, 2008 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Great talking with you last night even if you made fun of my “running in place while sitting in a seat” hand gestures.

    Speaking of the bike-powered movie project, just thought I’d point out that the Ann Arbor Film Festival is coming up in March and the theme is transportation. You know they’d be all over the bike-powered movie thing. If you are interested, let me know and I can connect you (or maybe you are already connected).

    And how many times do I have to tell you . . . Zipcars don’t prostitute people, people do.

  7. Posted December 20, 2008 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Mark, good meeting you there too. That house/storefront/gallery walking tour that we talked about in Oakland, California is called Art Murmur. It is very cool, draws a lot of people out, and I think it’s something that could go over really well here (in both Ypsi and Ann Arbor).

  8. mark
    Posted December 20, 2008 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed meeting you as well, Peter, and look forward to your application for the next Shadow Art Fair. It sounds like you’re doing some really cool stuff with photography.

  9. Posted December 22, 2008 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Wait, so how DO you make a lensbaby lens on your own?

  10. Posted December 22, 2008 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    DIY Lensbaby:

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