What Makes Me, innovation from Down Under.

There’s a project going on in Australia that is the largest online digital storytelling project in the country. The project invites people to tell stories about what has made the arts special to them and how they’ve been touched by the arts. They tell their stories through audio, video and writing. The cool thing about it is, anyone in Australia can do it.  As of today, it has several thousand entries. The project was launched in July of 2010 and the results are aggregated into a into a giant, growing testimonial page with search-able contents by genre.

This website is called “What Makes Me”. There are three different sections: What Makes Me, What Makes You, What Makes Us. Each person claims a cube, a cleverly designed multimedia enabled object online and they decorate it with their images, video, and audio files.  Each one is very different. The first twelve entries talk about why each individual loves a certain art form or forms - whether it be dance, circus arts, graffiti or something else.  All of them are touching and told from the heart.  There’s a retired nurse that found out her next door neighbor was a circus performer and has since fallen in love with the circus. There’s a professional rugby driver who drives around looking at the graffiti all over the city. There’s a professional cook who while catering a party, discovered dance for the first time and has since developed a personal relationship with the choreographer.

The common thread that runs between most of these testimonials is the personal connection built with a specific artist or the arts in their neighborhood. It’s about relationships, rather than facilities, and community as the key to these relationships.

The idea around this project was to counteract the perception that the arts in Australia are “associated with images of snobbery and inaccessibility”.   The project is run by a company called Wanted Digital and initiated by the Australia Council for the Arts.  The participants of What Makes Me are cooperating to build something together- it’s a game.  A game that is getting the attention of philanthropic organizations in the US.  Wolf Brown recently used this interactive project as an example of participation in the arts in their recent study commissioned by the Jame Irvine Foundation “Getting In On the Act - How arts groups are getting opportunities for active participation”.

What Makes Me is worth taking a second look at. The project engenders enthusiasm that isn’t created from simply being a spectator.  Anyone in Australia can be a part of it and there is a hefty presence on the site from diverse populations with Aboriginal people, the disabled, and immigrant communities being well represented. Participants post links to their cube, to their facebook, to their twitter, to other social media sites. The individual act of creation combined with the community have a ground swell effect and foster even deeper love for individual artists and the arts contributions to the community.