We find ourselves in times of great change and challenge, especially economically. Generosity is one of the best antidotes to fear and scarcity. I believe that the current challenges we face are an opportunity to restructure our world in a new and better form – and that artists have a key role to play in visioning this better future.
To encourage everyone to align with the power of generosity, in this issue we offer an interview with Cami Walker, founder of the 29-Day Giving Challenge. I myself participated in this challenge in October and November of last year and was really stunned at the deep impact it had. My mind re-focused toward the immense abundance in life as I opened up to the new possibilities inherent in asking not how I can protect and hold on to what I have, but rather how I can extend a hand to those around me. Artists have a wealth of creativity to apply to the 29-Day Giving Challenge, and I hope you will consider joining in.
Also in this issue, I feature the Federation of Students and Nominally or Unemployed Artists – a wonderful collaborative and creative giving project. I also include the book, What We Want is Free: Generosity & Exchange in Recent Art. Lastly, we have a new Arts & Healing Podcast with Jen Cross.
May this issue fill you with you a sense of abundance and possibility.
~ Mary Daniel Hobson, Director, Arts and Healing Network
Cami Walker, Founder of the 29-Day Giving Challenge
"What I notice is that the people who are taking part in this – what is common amongst us all – is that we all count our blessings. We practice gratitude. We feel like our lives are full no matter what we have.” ~ Cami Walker
Last year, Cami Walker gave away 29 gifts in 29 days. She found this experience so healing and transformative, that she invited everyone to join her in this practice. Today, the 29-Day Giving Challenge is a global giving movement with an active online community, where people have shared over 3,500 stories of giving along with artwork and videos. It is a testament to the healing power of generosity.
Britt Bravo interviewed Cami Walker in October of 2008. The following is an abbreviated version of this interview. You can listen to the entire interview on Britt Bravo's Big Vision Podcast, or you can read the full transcription on her Britt Bravo's blog Have Fun, Do Good. To learn more about the 29-Day Giving Challenge and join their online community, please visit 29Gifts.org.
Britt Bravo: What is the 29-Day Giving Challenge?
Cami Walker: The 29-Day Giving Challenge is actually an odd little creative experiment that I started about seven months ago, almost exactly. It started with me. I was in a very dark place – struggling with a very serious health condition. I have multiple sclerosis [MS], and my life was in a very awful place. I was broke. My business hadn't made any money in months. I was too sick to work. I'd been in the hospital five times in three months, or something like that. My marriage was under a lot of stress because of all of this.
I work with a medicine woman from Oakland [California]. Her name is Mbali Creazzo. I called her to complain, and she gave me a prescription that day, to give away 29 gifts in 29 days, as a way of getting out of myself. I thought it was a really crazy idea. I jotted down in my journal, "Give away 29 things in 29 days," and then put the journal away and promptly ignored it.
About a month later things were even worse, and I was in an even worse place. I guess I'd gotten in enough pain that I was willing to try anything. I was awake all night one night, and it was like, 3AM. I picked up my journal to write, and opened it right to that page that said to give away 29 things in 29 days. I thought "well, I don't think it's going to hurt me, and maybe it will help." So, I decided in that moment that I was going to go ahead and do it. I gave my first gift that morning, which was just a supportive phone call to another friend who has MS. That same morning, an amazing string of events happened that showed me that maybe this really could help.
So, I decided to go ahead and do it. By the midpoint, around day 13, my life was so much better, and I was so inspired that I decided to throw up a website and send out an email to some of my friends, about 30 people, and said, "Hey, I've been doing this interesting thing where you give away 29 gifts in 29 days, and it's really helping me. You should try it." A week later 120 people had signed up. And now, it's about seven months later, and we have over 2,500 members on the website. So, that's how this all started.
Britt: What are the things that people can give?
Cami: If you decide to commit to the 29-Day Giving Challenge, you can give anything to anyone. The gifts can be material things. If it's a material thing, we like to encourage you to re-gift items that you own. So, go through your book collection and take books to the library or a used bookstore, or pass them on to someone on the street, or whatever – or, go through your CD collection, or your clothes. A lot of people have gone through their kitchens and made up snack packs. People will make 29 snack packs and then take them out and give them to people who are hungry, or to food shelters, or whatever.
The gifts can also be non-material things like kind words, or doing something nice for someone, or volunteering some time. I'm a marketing consultant, so a lot of times what I've done is give away small amounts of free consulting time to people who couldn't afford to pay me what I charge. So really, it's any kind of gift to anyone. The gift can go to someone that you know. It can go to a stranger. Sometimes people even sit down and do meditations and send out positive energy to the world.
Britt: What is the favorite gift that you have given?
Cami: There are a lot of gifts that I've enjoyed. I'm really enjoying the Flower Power Gives though. That started with me, as well. I live in Los Angeles, California, and when I was wrapping up my third cycle (I'm actually three or four days into my eighth cycle of 29 days of giving), I decided to go buy four dozen roses. I went out to a really busy street corner. There was a Whole Foods parking lot there and a bunch of bus stops nearby. I made a few loops around that area and gave away all these roses to strangers. That was awesome.
That has kind of become a signature give through 29 Gifts, because we had a few other members who individually then went out [and did it]. One woman went and picked wild daisies [see photo]. We have these little 29 Gift cards that people would tie onto the flowers, and she actually made a couple vases full of those, and took them into a local coffee shop. They were free for anyone to take. Now there are organized events happening locally. People have organized group gives in Atlanta, Houston, a couple times in Los Angeles, and it will happen tomorrow in San Francisco, that as a group we get together and give away roses to strangers.
Britt: How has it changed you? What's your favorite gift that you've been given from the 29-Day Giving Challenge?
Cami: Well, I have to say, selfishly, that the favorite gift I've been given is a book deal to write the 29 Gifts book, though, I've had such amazing changes happen for myself. You know, when I started doing this, I literally couldn't walk. I was very, very ill. And, by the 13th day of giving, my first cycle, I was actually back on my feet and walking without a cane some days. By the 29th day, I really was walking pretty much unassisted. I mean, every once in a while now I still have to break out the cane if I'm having a really rough day.
The day that I stopped walking with the cane regularly was a very odd day. I had been out, my husband took me out to breakfast and then a friend picked me up and we went for brunch, or lunch, and we stopped at this bookstore afterward. When I got home, I was getting ready to leave again that evening, and I couldn't find my cane. I realized that I had literally walked away from the cane at some point during that day. I don't remember when or how. I was like, "OK, something's working here."
Getting my health back has been a huge gift, for sure. My relationship with my husband has dramatically improved because I'm not a resentful, miserable woman anymore that he doesn't want to wake up next to everyday. I've gotten closer with all of my family. A lot of wonderful things have happened in my life.
Britt: I'm wondering, as we're in this crazy time of economic need, of so many people who feel like they don't have enough, and that they need things, and that they need to be given things. Have you noticed any difference in the people who are signing up, or what people are giving, or the feelings? How has it affected the project, if at all?
Cami: Well, you know, we've actually had some really interesting discussions on our site. We have a forum on our site where there's been a good amount of discussion about abundance and scarcity. Mbali actually posted a very insightful response to Wall Street just a couple of weeks ago on the site. You know, this is totally a personal belief that I'm going to spout off here (I just want to add that disclaimer): I really do believe in the concept that our thoughts create our world. Where I was at, when I started this is that I was in a deep place of "scarcity thinking" where I believed – I really did believe – that my life was over and I believed that I had nothing to offer anyone. I also believed that I was incapable of offering anything to anyone because I needed every ounce of my own energy for my own healing.
I was completely forgetting that healing actually happens through our interactions and connections with other people. It doesn't happen in a vacuum when you're locked up in a room for three months alone. I was in this place of lack – stuck in a place of lack. It was reflecting in every area of my life. Yes, it started from a physical, health-related issue, but it was reflected in my bank balance, it was reflected in the quality of my relationships, it was reflected everywhere.
One thing that Mbali said to me when I finally decided to do this – I called her later on that day or something – she said, "I'm so happy you decided to commit to this because taking an action, giving something to another person, and taking an action of that sort will immediately change the energy of your life. I teach that to my clients, but you know how we are, the things we teach we don't practice a lot.” It was really one of those moments where I felt myself reorganize on a cellular level where I really got something deep in my gut, and understood it.
The people who sign up for this – we all come from very different circumstances. There are people who need to use food shelters. There's actually a homeless couple who is taking part. And then there are people, like me, who really aren't in desperate need of much. That's the reality. I like to convince myself sometimes that I need more, more, more. But that's not the truth. I'm fine. I have a roof over my head. I have a little bit of money in my bank account. I have a big balance on my credit card, but whatever, you know?
What I notice is that the people who are taking part in this – what is common amongst us all – is that we all count our blessings. We practice gratitude. We feel like our lives are full no matter what we have. In an economic crisis it is very easy for us to all trip into scarcity thinking, to begin to hoard things, and to be living in fear of losing a job, or losing our investments, or whatever, and that is the worst place we can go. If you are spending all of your time focusing on losing things, you are going to lose things. That is the reality, but if you are spending your time reflecting on everything you have to offer, you are going to be attracting more of what you have to offer.
Britt: Is there anything else that you want folks to know about the 29 Day Giving Challenge?
Cami: Well, one thing that I like to say about this is that it is founded on a personal belief of mine that we are all creative beings, and that creative expression is truly essential to our health, our well-being, our sense of purpose, and our happiness in the world.
I really do encourage people to take part in the [online] community. It is OK if you don't want to. If you fill out a profile and do your giving privately, that is completely acceptable. But, I do see that the people who seem to really get a lot out of this and really experience dramatic change in their own life are the people who are active on the discussion forum, who are active in their blog and actively post artwork in the community gallery. Together I really do feel we are making progress at our collective mission of reviving the giving spirit in the world, and I hope you will decide to join us, and be an active participant.
To learn more about this project, please visit www.29gifts.org. To learn about others who have participated in the 29-Day Giving Challenge, visit the online community of gift-givers. To sign up and join this online community, click on the “Sign Up Now!” button at 29gifts.org.
The Federation of Students and Nominally or Unemployed Artists
Federation of Students and Nominally or Unemployed Artists (FSNUA) is a fabulous example of how a few people with relatively small amounts of money and a big vision can have an inspiring impact. Ten people (pictured here) raised $100 each and then pooled their money for a total of $1,000. Together they gave these funds away in just four hours in a local park in a public performance, which emulated and streamlined the typical grant-giving process. Each recipient filled out an application for an art grant on the spot, telling their story of what they needed and why. Then each approved application was immediately granted $10-$60 in cash on the spot along with an official congratulatory handshake. You could watch a video of this process on their web site at www.generosityfoundation.org.
Something very powerful happens with this act. People who are not necessarily wealthy are nevertheless giving grants – typically the domain of large foundations – thereby democratizing philanthropy. There is also a collective spirit to this project that illustrates how working together magnifies one’s impact. In addition, artists are giving to other artists in a public place, saying to everyone in the park that day that the arts matter. Above all, it demonstrates how fun and spontaneous creative acts of generosity can be.
Below is an excerpt from their web site:
“We all learn art in school. Every kid loves to draw at some point. People get fascinated with the details of their new camera, or spend free time writing poems. But eventually, there’s not a teacher telling you how great your are, or the camera gets put away, or you just plain get busy and stop. Years could go by before you start again, if you ever do at all.
The FSNUA aims to re-inspire creative thinking and action in everyday people by removing a small barrier and providing encouragement. We give small, unsecured grants in the form of $10-$60 for creative projects thought up on the spot by everyday people. In the past this has included a merchant marine, two 10-year-old girls, a US soldier on leave from Iraq, an accordion player from Alaska, and around 40 others. We funded their new paintings, drawings, knitting, and photojournalism projects, and the repair of one accordion. Projects that may not have happened had they not come across 10 people in the park to support and inspire the thought.
Beyond the small amount of money, the project encourages people to see themselves as something other than workers or consumers even if it just for the length of time required to apply for the FSNUA grant. We also hope to re-inspire dormant desires to create while presenting an example of generosity without an ulterior motive.
It’s fair to say the result is beautiful, motivating, friendly and a bit chaotic (in an exciting way).”
Learn more at www.generosityfoundation.org.
What We Want is Free: Generosity & Exchange in Recent Art
Edited by Ted Purves
From the book's publisher: “Through a variety of lenses, this book examines contemporary artists' use of the ‘gift’ and the distribution of goods and services as a medium for artistic production. Featuring a detailed survey of over fifty artists' projects from fifteen countries, What We Want is Free explores how these artists use their projects to connect participants to tangible goods and services that they might need, enjoy, and benefit from. Samples of these various projects include the creation of free commuter bus lines and medicinal plant gardens; the distribution of such services as free housework, winter warming centers, or computer programming; and the production of community media projects such as free commuter newspapers and democratic low-wattage radio stations.”
Published in 2005 by SUNY Press, this book is available in hardback and softcover. To order this book or learn more about it, including a chapter index, please visit the SUNY Press web site.
ARTS & HEALING PODCAST:
Jen Cross, Founder of Writing Ourselves Whole
The Arts & Healing Network has just released a new podcast audio interview with Jen Cross, founder of Writing Ourselves Whole, which “offers safe, confidential writing groups – that allow for transformation, risk, laughter, and artistic manifestation – to a broad cross-section of the community.” As Jen says “Writing Ourselves Whole seeks to change the world through writing. To open our hearts to ourselves and each other, so that we might live in a community of deep expressiveness and self-love, where each individual reaches his and her most complete self.”
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To read Jen Cross’ blog where she wrote expanded answers to the questions in the podcast, please click here.
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