We have a new website! Check out the latest version of our toolkit at beautifultrouble.org/toolbox

” … most useful as an inspiration and as a source of reflection on what is possible.”

Robert David Steele Vivas, Public Intelligence Blog

No one wants to watch a drum circle

Contributed by

In Sum

Participating in a drum circle is amazing, transformative and fun. Watching a drum circle, on the other hand, is torture. Don’t ask people to watch you have fun: get them involved!

Drum circles are incredible! Hanging out in the park with a mix of friends and strangers, making rhythms together, communicating intuitively, adding your own rhythm, and making a big and beautiful sound that fills the park. It’s an amazing thing.

Or so I’ve heard.

My actual experiences with drum circles are entirely different. At best, they’re tolerable, but more often they’re torture. I’m trying to hang out in the park with my friends and these self-indulgent dipshits won’t stop banging on their goat skins. No one else cares except someone in a tie-dyed sarong who will apparently jump at any opportunity to sway with her arms in the air.

Being part of a drum circle is one thing. Experiencing it from the outside, quite another.

Way too often, activism is like a drum circle. Viewed from the outside, it can be painfully unimaginative, solipsistic and quite simply annoying. For the people involved in the creation of an action, however, the experience can be rewarding and transformative — even if everyone else walks away confused or annoyed. If that happens and it doesn’t bother you, you may have fallen prey to the political identity paradox see THEORY.

One way to reach your audience is to entice them to become participants by expanding the creative part of the action to include as many as possible. Come up with ways for observers to meaningfully involve themselves, instead of expecting them to stand mute before your expressive outbursts of creativity.

Instead of strictly planning an action, think of creating rules to a game — one that is rewarding and fun to play see PRINCIPLE: Simple rules can have grand results. How can you create parameters within which large numbers of participants can meaningfully contribute, act, and create? An open framework that allows participants the freedom to bring in their own ideas and solutions?

The call to occupy Wall Street operated in this way, offering only a date, a core slogan, and the instruction Bring tent[ref]Of course, Occupy Wall Street went on to attract its share of drum circles: http://yeslab.org/drumcircle[/ref]. Flash mobs are no different: set a time, location, and a few basic rules, and let things take their course. These actions have simple rules that can expand to include thousands of participants and still deliver a provocative experience to participant and observer alike.

In any case, whatever the nature of your action, it’s worth looking for ways to make passersby feel that it’s more about them than about you. No matter how good a drummer you are.

Steve Lambert’s father, a former Franciscan monk, and mother, an ex-Dominican nun, imbued in him the values of dedication, study, poverty, and service to others — qualities which prepared him for life as an artist. He co-founded the Center for Artistic Activism, was a senior fellow at New York’s Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology from 2006-2010, developed workshops for Creative Capital Foundation, and is a faculty member at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Steve is a perpetual autodidact with (if it matters) advanced degrees from a reputable art school and well-respected state university. He dropped out of high school in 1993.

Hey there! Did you know that you can jump into our experimental visualization interface right from this point? Give it a try and send us your feedback!