So what lessons did Franks draw from his whirlwind tour of four American cities?
1. Give people permission
It is important to start small so residents can see the immediate change and begin to reimagine their city as a whole. “These are people who are used to blight, decay, and crime, used to lots of negativity about the communities they live in,” he remarked. “My work gave people permission to challenge the norm, to practice creativity in public.”
2. People make places
Franks found residents in each city filled with passion and love for the place they call home. “People make everything possible,” he remarked. Creating meaningful change, he added, happens person by person, one by one. “People have a lot of pride in their stories, whether it’s a happy story or a sad one,” he added. “What I do is enable people to tell their stories. I plant seeds where people can continue on the road to finding positivity in their lives and their city.”
3. Work with, not for
For anyone considering organizing a creative intervention in their city, Franks said it was also important to identify people who are active in the community early in the process and to enlist them in planning and executing activities. “It is crucial to work with neighborhood residents and organizations that already possess an intricate understanding of the challenges and opportunities,” noted Franks. He noted that it is impossible to build trust as an outsider coming into a city or neighborhood for the first time and having an established, trusted organization to work greatly increases the impact of a project.
4. Make it accessible
“People need to be able to see and feel that they can create change,” said Franks. “Create low barriers to entry, and carry out projects in public so everyone can see them.” Despite all the challenges facing the communities he visited, Franks said he was struck by the optimism and resilience of the people he met. “There are lots of positive people and lots of good things happening. You have to make those positive things visible, and you can do that by creating inviting spaces where people feel safe and can have fun,” he said.
5. Focus the scope
Each city Franks visited had years of history that could not be changed in the three short weeks he was there. “I learned to narrow my scope,” Franks said. “I knew I was not going to change an entire city in that time, and so I focused on one area or set of challenges as best I could. This allowed for higher impact of my work in that time.”
6. Sustain change
“I wanted to not only help show residents what was possible, but help them create and sustain that change,” Franks remarked. To accomplish this, Franks established a chapter of his League of Creative Interventionists in each city he visited. The League chapters have since flourished and continue to building their member base, regularly creating small-scale impactful projects, and establishing partnerships with other local organizations and initiatives.
Franks said his philosophy could be boiled down to a remark Ronald Reagan once made: “I’ve always believed that a lot of the trouble in the world would disappear if we were talking to each other instead of about each other,” the president said. Let’s start talking.