How My Organization Is Democratically Reinventing Itself

“At least I don’t have the weight of a 19-year old institution on my shoulders.” A gallerist friend and I had been gabbing about the challenges non-profits and small businesses share. That was when an electric spark went off in my head: I realized that an organization like Eyebeam is nothing but the people who come through it.

It’s a lot of people.

I became director of Eyebeam nine months ago, where I strive for a world in which our tools serve us, rather than the other way round. It’s been a joy mapping out possible plans that could ripple and tumble into the future with abandon. I love attempting to craft a little utopia here in our Brooklyn HQ. Where else do you get to pay people — generously, in cash and through tools, facilities and expertise — with no purpose but to create and inspire?

We’ve drawn up plans to invite back all those who know Eyebeam best — all three hundred plus of them — to our Brooklyn headquarters to redesign the core residency program. Our alums bring in collective wisdom in everything from successful art careers to billion dollar businesses They’re exactly the people we need to listen to, and we’ll be taking a lot of notes.

We’re asking them one simple but powerful question. We provide tools to our residents that they use in turn to create tools that the public can use to change the world. As creative practice has transformed in the last decades, how should our platform of total support change?

Since the organization was founded by John Johnson in 1997, Eyebeam has maintained a fundamental belief in radical collaboration — not just because it’s right, but because it’s fruitful. Rather than bureaucratic posturing, we get true creativity in the studio.

To create the future, we need to celebrate the past. In Eyebeam’s case, that past is a storied 19 year history of creative chaos, conversations, innovation, parties, and radical ideas that have gone on to shift the rhythms of the world. Like its alums, Eyebeam itself is not afraid of taking risks. Our open-sourcing the DNA of our core program, for alums to play with, only makes us stronger.

Eyebeam is just like the future. After all, as that quote from the Hasidim puts it, the future will be just like the present — only a little different.