The Art of Change in the Making by Juan David Acosta

COSACOSA celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2010 by initiating an ambitious two-year program documenting community transformations around the world. The project, Change in the Making, brought together twenty artists to work with twenty communities, in Philadelphia and abroad, examining a wide range of issues through the creation of photographs, interviews, and stories. At each site, twenty questions, key to COSACOSA’s work over the past two decades, formed the basis of the artists’ and communities’ explorations.

Change in the Making extends, reinforces, and renews COSACOSA’s best practices for working in Philadelphia neighborhoods. Global in scale, it encourages inter-community dialogue through storytelling, an art form deeply rooted in communicating universal themes and concerns. In both its process and documentation, the project offers us unique opportunities to glimpse not only our own humanity and relationship to each other, but our common concerns about education, health, social equity, and economic opportunity -- irrespective of geographical location. Storytelling, the most collective of all endeavors, links us to our individual pasts and our interrelated present. Change in the Making also directs us to a future that we all can share.

The range of the project’s locations – from Philadelphia to Hong Kong, from Jakarta to Jerusalem, from Cape Town to Quito -- was made possible in large part by the very fact that we are now more interconnected than ever; a true global village transformed by the rise and use of social networking technologies which are fundamentally changing the way we communicate and the way we learn and process information. These new technologies represent a true democratization of information -- turning individuals from mere readers and consumers of content into publishers, authors, and advocates, with the power to inform and to communicate their unfiltered individual realities to a worldwide audience instantaneously.

While directly engaging artists with communities, as well as creating tangible exhibitions at the project sites, Change in the Making itself is primarily an online endeavor: a wiki that anyone can edit, uniting participants around the world in sharing their stories of community, culture, and change. The project’s multi-national interviews and images also form the basis of a "service learning through the arts" curriculum created by COSACOSA for Philadelphia students. City youth, in turn, can share their experiences of improving and building their neighborhoods with international participants through the project wiki.

Our storytellers now sit in the middle of the town square of a global village, ready to regale us with their tales. This radical transformation of storytelling is only in the breadth and manner in which the story is delivered, not in what lies at its very center -- its power to teach, to entertain, and to take us to new places, transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Indeed, COSACOSA’s work over the past twenty years has been a continuous, mutual conversation between artists and communities exploring salient issues essential to the common good. Such reciprocity lies at the heart of art and art-making as a non-commodity; a “paying it forward” essential to our lives and to the very language of the art, artists, and communities transformed in the process.

The blurring between artist and audience, maker and recipient, so central to the work of COSACOSA and Change in the Making, gives all of us the opportunity to tell our stories and to actively participate as agents of change in an ongoing cross-cultural dialogue. In this reciprocal process, we are listeners reminded by the storyteller that it is we who are telling the tale being told.

Juan David Acosta is a poet, writer, activist, and cultural worker whose work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies. Acosta has taught poetry and creative writing across the curriculum in a wide variety of educational settings. He is the co-founder of the Working Fund for Artists with AIDS and is the Coordinator of HIV/AIDS Prevention Programs for the City of Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

Artolatry bread image after Salvadore Dalí's Basket of Bread (1926).