Project Experience: Oct. 2012 - May. 2014, New York City
My Role: Experience Designer, Design Strategist, Design Researcher
Contribution: Critical Play, LGBT Rights, Community Empowerment, Participatory Performance, Behavioral Change
Collaboration: Kelly Tierney - Co-founder Togethering, Christopher Patten, Parsons The New School for Design, SALGA-NYC (South Asian Queer Organization), Centre for Social Innovation- New York, The New School Health Services
Awards and Recognition: Project showcased at The Parsons Festival, 2013. Togethering is also a founding member organization of the Centre for Social Innovation (C.S.I), New York.
A critical play consultancy to address community issues
TOGETHERING - CRITICAL PLAY CONSULTANCY
I cofounded Togethering, a for-hire design consultancy that uses participatory performance techniques and game mechanics to build actionable strategies for social change, addressing challenging community issues.
On 11 December 2013, the Supreme Court of India upheld section 377 of the Indian Penal Code dating back to 1860, introduced during the British rule of India, criminalizingsexual activities "against the order of nature", arguably including homosexual acts.
Earlier that year in August, during the height of the marriage equality campaign to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the United States, the US Supreme Court was hearing one of the many lawsuits in which Eddie Windsor had to pay $360,000 in real estate taxes after her wife Thea Spyer died and was not recognized by Federal law as a spouse (heterosexual couples do not have to pay estate tax).
These series of events provided Kelly and myself with the opportunity to strengthen, and empower local LGBTQIA organizations such as Immigration Equality and SALGA-NYC (South Asian Lesbian & Gay Association of New York City) working to facilitate conversations around the topic of marriage equality and LGBT rights.
This was originally developed as an MFA Transdisciplinary Design thesis project at Parsons The New School for Design to expose nuanced understanding of LGBT rights. Our objective was to design new working methods by developing a platform for such organizations to select and facilitate a conversation around the topics of LGBT rights on their own, thereby exploring different points of view, choices and consequences on critical community issues, while preparing participants to take action in the context of this new knowledge.
“Play is essential to our social skills, adaptability, intelligence, creativity, ability to problem solve and more. It possible for play to be both divorced from reality and yet be so rife with real-life consequences.”
Brown, s., Vaughan, c. (2009) play: how it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. New york: Avery
Our intervention focused on utilizing the transformative power of play and performance methods, such as theatre exercises and improvisation, to create targeted customizable experiences. As part of the initial research, I participated in experimental projects that utilize interaction, games and performance methods with organizations such as Theatre of the Oppressed and Elevator Repair Service. We researched, developed, tested and iterated activities based on feedback from experts and organizations such as SALGA-NYC, Centre for Social Innovation in New York City and The New School Health Services.
We created Togethering, a creative consulting practice that engages with organizations to help create common understanding, empathy, and shared belief by helping to uncover fundamental truths of the realities within their communities. These then can become the foundation for new visions of the future, clarified goals and targeted action plans. Togethering designs experiences that encourage dynamic interaction of contradictory ideas, using them creatively and productively towards transformational change. To do this the activities utilize performance methods such as theatre exercises, improvisation and social games. We designed context-independent, open source activities to adapt to each organization’s goals, categorizing them into four stages: Exploration, Awareness, Understanding, Activation.