Saturday, March 31, 2007

Re: The Cultural Collaborative by -Jordan Walker

Dear Michael,
Please read the correspondence below. I am sure that you will find thoughts and visions similar to yours. I believe that the time has come when great thinkers as yourself and Peter Rosen must get their ideas to the world - otherwise the beauty of everything will disappear. We need desperately people who's eyes touch the sunny hill where no one has been before and who create futures of peace and love. We need you!
Please find a way to cooperate. I want to help also with all God given talents I have - if it is of help.
God bless,

Sent: Saturday, March 31, 2007 7:36 PM
Subject: The Cultural Collaborative by -Jordan Walker

Dear Reader,

I just found this on Zaadz!

How exciting it was to find someone with such a similar vision - right down to the CC alliteration as in Creativity Cafe. I think the time is coming when we will discover there are many of us who share such a vision. 

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On March 20th 2007   Jordan Walker wrote:

What follows is an idea that has been making its way into my waking dreams of late.  I'd love to get some feedback on the idea as I begin the long process of researching similar spaces that exist, the management structure needed to fund and run the space, and the collaborators out there who are meant to work with me on this.

The Cultural Collaborative

I have long envisioned a space modular enough to integrate aspects of business, art, learning and entertainment into one unified whole.  I have spent years researching the possibility of combining the aesthetic appeal of an art gallery with the comfort of a neighborhood coffee shop, the vibrancy of a night club and the health of a juice bar.  I have sought out the consistent experience of cinema with the unique interaction of live performance, the sophistication of a dinner theater with the intellectual seriousness of a lecture hall and the fun of a music venue.  The fellowship of a place of worship with the freedom of an arts center dedicated to next level creativity.

The Cultural Collaborative serves as a laboratory for emerging soul capacities and new social forms.

The Proposal:

To convert the historic Wellmont theater in Montclair, NJ into a collaboratively run arts center dedicated to new ideas and new ways of people gathering together.  The lobby of this "Cultural Collaborative" would be a juice bar/tea shop gallery.  The two first floor movie theaters would be a modular multipurpose performance space for film series, dinner theater, lectures, and live events.  One of the office spaces on the 2nd floor would become a room for massage/body work.  The original space with stage located behind the two newer theaters would remain a raw event space while grant money was located for a historic refurbishment.  This rear space would serve as a venue for theater and other arts productions, the site for an after-school arts program, market space for an arts fair, open space to rent for film shoots, display installation and large format art pieces and a variety of other functions serving a broad spectrum of non-profit and community arts organizations.

The Exterior

A metal sculpture would be commissioned for the top of the marquee.  It would be lit by lights at night and serve to instantly express the identity of the space.  Another idea would be to secure funding from local arts organization for a giant mural on the Seymour Street brick wall (and which might wrap around to the side facing the rear parking lot), bringing area artists together to portray a creative description of the Collaborative's mission statement.  This treatment of the exterior would not only provide a unique and easily remembered/recognized landmark but would also gain publicity and a strong beginning to the idea of a true arts partnerships that would be vital to the success of the space.

The Lobby

The lobby would feature a juice bar offering fresh juice/smoothies, organic and fair trade teas and coffees, baked goods delivered daily from a local bakery, organic popcorn with a variety of sauces/spices, a daily soup or two and shifting flavors of sorbet/ice cream.  The lobby would have free wireless internet access and a computer available for member use.  The space would serve as a lounge with Dj's, spoken word, jazz trios, etc. on weekend evenings.


The lobby would be a "gallery" with a definition of art wide enough that just about everything in the lobby is for sale (not in a price-tags-dangling sort of way, but in a way that ensures that the space is continually changing and that purchasers are participating in the continual transformation of the space).  The art and items for sale create the space, rather than the space existing to display the items for sale.

So for instance, a large vase positioned between the bathroom entrances would have exotic flowers and grasses both for sale and for decoration.  This runs counter to the conventional retail experience but would be communicated with consistency throughout the space.  The light fixtures and furniture would each be unique - either antique, sustainably produced with innovative materials from a company employing innovative practices, or ethnic pieces purchased along fair-trade guidelines.  All would be for sale with the price described in a "gallery-esque" wall card that also told of the history and/or creators of the piece or item.  Most items would be sold under conditions similar to a gallery or consignment shop while others would be purchased outright and sold retail.

The Lower Mezzanine

The Gallery would continue on the second floor mezzanine, featuring "traditional" art mediums: paintings, sculptures, prints, mixed media by a wide variety of artists, but also functional art such as pottery and textiles.  The chandelier hanging above the lobby would likely be replaced with large hanging sculptural lights.


The Theaters

A possible idea is to remove the wall separating the two theaters and create one wide space.  The seats would be removed and the concrete floor would be re-poured, creating three sloping ramps (one on each side and a wide middle aisle) and several deep, terraced levels.  There would be a wide flat area remaining in front of the screen(s).  Each terrace would have the ability to go from having couches and love seats with small coffee tables, dinner-theater style, to having the couches wheeled away, railings put into place, and the terraces available for standing/dancing.  This space would serve as the primary theater for film screenings, public lectures and classes, concerts and parties, as well as the display space for multi-media art pieces.

Rather than following the traditional first or second run movie theatre business model, the space would focus on film series (for instance, documentaries on Wednesday evenings and Sunday morning classics or Oscar Winners, midnight showings of cult classics, etc,).  Existing Film Festivals would be courted to utilize the Collaborative for a location or stop on their tours, and the Collaborative would take a leadership role in developing local and new festivals.  Film critics or professors would often take part in curating and introducing director retrospectives and series featuring multiple films from a certain country or region, or films exploring a specific theme or medium.  Q and A's with directors, and partnerships with specific publications (Time Out or The Onion's film critics host a screening of their all-time top ten films for example) would all create events around film screenings that break from what has become a stale exhibition model.

The space would also regularly host lectures and workshops.  There could be regular salons which took place book-club-style, with a moderator and a common theme.  Certain films could have time afterward for people to discuss what the film or piece that the just watched; Dinner Theater events would be catered and could entail everything from comedy to films or music.

The Massage Space

Located in one of the two office spaces on the second floor, there would be a small "healing room" in which private massage and body work practitioners would offer treatments.  The Collaborative would take a percentage of each treatment's cost and would offer session bookings through its website.

The Balcony

The Balcony would stay much the way it is currently, swapping out certain seats for others from the bottom theaters that are in better shape.  Perhaps adding two simple concession stand bars against either wall in the areas where seating has been removed.  These bars could be used for vending during large performances. The hung screen would remain for film screenings and would be removed to one side to reveal the stage for larger scale performances.  The historic nature of the Wellmont would be played up through directional lighting for people to see beyond the screen before and after a movie.

The Rear Stage

Restored for structural integrity to a level that would allow for events and productions to take place.  Grants and other funding would be sought to restore the original plaster work. 

A list of possible events:

-A medium-sized concert hall has the flexibility of selling out larger bands that are looking to play an independent venue or attempt new collaboration/material, but also host smaller, lower priced shows that feature up and coming artists.  Promoters would always feature artistic integrity over popularity and the kinds of acts booked would need to reflect the Collaborative's positive message and it's location in a family-friendly town center.

-A bohemian market where vendors would rent spaces.  I could imagine this being a mix of one of a-kind-crafts, hand made clothing, art, prints, pottery, gifts, etc.

-Gallery space for showings of large installation art works in conjunction with museums, galleries or well known artists.

-Film/Photography studio space for rent

-Hosting an after-school or "at-risk" youth program where adolescents work with local artists in creating their own variety show performance.  The students write the script, act, sing, dance, create the set, etc.

-Host stage groups which use the space to rehearse and exhibit theater, interactive and avant garde performances.  Ideally, this same group of artists would offer improv. classes and workshops in the space as well as run the programs for adolescents.

-Show new types of multi-media performances combining audio/visuals with live performance.

-Cultural organizations hosting ethnic and world music shows (holding a West African drumming workshop, before a performance of African dance and drumming).

-Private events wanting to hold their wedding/fundraiser/gala in a space that wears its mission on its sleeve and was open to supporting a unique or innovative idea.


The idea of an arts co-op, while innovative, is not new.  Health Food Cooperatives are thriving in this country and urban areas are seeing an influx of arts cooperatives, where organizations and individuals pay membership fees for collectively held studio space (see

Allowing for membership to the space would do multiple things:

-create a community of people who believe in the mission of the Collaborative.

-literally creates "buy-in" where members feel ownership for the space, and feel a part of the enterprise's success.

-draws a pool of creative and talented resources to the space who function not just as a network of promoters and supporters but also provide valuable feedback and ideas.

-Provide talents for the maintenance and renovations of the space.

-Allows for a significant savings in staffing costs.

Membership in the co-op would result in a 20% savings on everything at the space; items at the cafe, artwork, events, massages, screenings, etc.

The cooperative members would be subject to much the same guidelines as these from the Park Slope Food Co-Op (the oldest continuous running health food co-op on the east coast) in Park Slope, Brooklyn:

1) All members must attend an introductory session at the space that outlined the philosophy, the operation of the space and expectations from members.

2) There would be a $25 dollar registration fee (which would be waived during special recruitment times). 

3) Each member would pay $100 a year for membership, which could be paid on an installment plan over several months.

4) Each Member would agree to work at least 6, four hour work shifts a year.  These could be fulfilled by participating in work parties (held every month) or by completing an individual slot.

The work parties would serve as opportunities for members to get to know each other as well as a way for them to become more familiar with the facility and the operation of the Collaborative.  The work parties would have time built into the beginning and the end for visiting with each other and would serve as good ways of incorporating new members into a vibrant community.


The success of the project would rely on partnerships.  Not just with the costumers who would be encouraged to become members, but with other organizations that would see themselves aligned with the mission of the space and would help promote events there.  Obviously this type of organization would call for a different type of relationship between managers and the spaces owner.  There would have to be deeply developed partnerships with "resident" non-profit, community and arts group who would view the space as their "home" venue.  New collaborations would be constantly sought with theatre/ improv./ concert groups who would use the space(s) for rehearsal and performance. Yoga, Tai Chi, Dance, Circus, Spirituality and self-improvement lecturers and instructors looking to offer classes; body-workers who wanted to offer services in the massage space; film societies that would host festivals and film series; galleries and museums that would use the space to curate contemporary, installation and multi-media art pieces; promoters who would throw interactive art events and concerts; avant garde and classical music that was looking for an alternative space or an alternative crowd; a children's after school/summer program offering an experience with artistic expression (a theater production, live musical performance, etc.); book tours and lecture tours; workshops on everything from healthy child-raising to independent film-making. 

The idea is for an "Emerging Culture Collaborative" and not just an "Arts Center".  The importance of true collaboration and supporting organizations that promoted participation would be important to the continued success of the space. The promoters who used the rear stage, the film societies and festivals who used the theater and the artists who showed in the gallery space would all be also entering into collaboration with the Emerging Culture Collaborative.  The relationship would extend beyond economic transaction to include a real recognition of the mutual benefit and support for the success of both enterprises.

All Companies and items in the "gallery" and throughout the space would be chosen based on the companies/artists philosophy, quality and artistic integrity.  Everything from the coffee brewed, books displayed and the music played to the sound-system the music is played on, furniture, paintings on the walls and every revolving specialty and gift items would be hand picked and featured in partnership with the producers.  The companies not only get a retail outlet, but receive company/artist promotion both though the description attached to each item in the gallery, but also through the website.

For example, the lobby and theaters would be outfitted with sustainable furniture from places such as and which would see the Collaborative as a showroom and retail outlet.  So, many of the expenses of outfitting the space are negated with complimentary floor samples and wholesale pieces. Additional furniture would be one-of-a-kind antiques and artists pieces sold on commission.  The spectrum of what are business expenses and what is possible profit become blurred as the disposable bowls from reclaimed bamboo aren't just used to serve ice cream in, but are sold in the lobby as well.  The pieces of the whole puzzle become more integrated with the various companies, artists, and the Collaborative partnering toward a common goal.  So, the sound system in the lobby is donated by JBL for a well-known street artist to create a piece with.  The piece is "displayed" in the gallery, Dj's spin their music through it and when it is sold, part of the proceeds goes toward the after-school arts program.

The Website

The Collaborative would feature a state-of-the-art website which would function as the primary marketing tool and also a very important organizational and administrative tool.  Cutting edge animation and design would create an eclectic but common design identity for the space.  Upcoming events and details would all be listed along with full pictures/audio/video from artists and events featured at the Collaborative.  Collaborators would be able to access password-protected calendars that would list room bookings and could reserve the spaces online. 

Tickets to all events would be sold online as well as the ability for members to monitor their accounts and status.  An online community would have the ability to form around features such as a blog for the space and an area for members to comment upon the events and items that they experienced/bought at the space and recommendations for products or events they would like to see.  This feedback tool would be a unique feature to the space that members and companies could utilize.

The Construction

The remodeling of the Wellmont would be carried out in as sustainable a manner as possible.  All natural paints, radiant floor heating put into the re-poured concrete floor, natural cleaning supplies, etc. This dedication to sustainability goes far beyond ideology; it should make a good impression on local community members and media, as well as being a noted point in the regional and national publicity that the renovation and innovative space use should be able to receive.

Our Mission

We are an inclusive community striving for an atmosphere where creative inspiration is respected and fostered, where art is an interactive activity and where participation is encouraged.


Why This Will Work

3rd Ward ( and other collaborative artists' studios like them are increasingly serving a generation of artists who feel it is a compromise to have to enter a world of high-end galleries and collectors guided by money and prestige rather than the art itself.

The traditional idea of proprietary ownership and copyright has shifted as well.  Creative Commons ( has created a legal framework which is promising to protect content producers while also allowing the free movement of materials that the internet age demands.  A form of copyright that guarantees economic compensation when displaying or performing work for profit while allowing for the free use and trading by individuals, I believe this signals a shift within the artist community toward more expansive exhibition and distribution outside of established channels.

The increased success of film festivals from Sundance and the more independent Slamdance (, to the local festivals which continue to sprout up every year - show there are no shortages of filmmakers and quality films that are looking to be exhibited outside of the studios and traditional theater circuit.  These film festivals are wildly popular and provide tremendous economic benefit to the communities they take place in.

An entire world of new media is being created: interactive sound and video pieces, multiple screen installations and films featuring live performers (  These alternative pieces, and the desire to see them, are increasing far more rapidly than the few spaces available for their exhibition.

As Clear Channel buys up historically independent venues and artists with integrity decide to boycott them, it's increasingly common to hear about artists as popular as Bjork and Radiohead playing smaller venues than they would otherwise demand.  From Bonnoroo ( in Tennessee, to Coachella ( in California, increasingly the highest grossing concert events in this country are independent festivals, defying the boundaries between musical genres and artistic mediums.

The popularity of New York City's Open Center ( and retreat centers such as the Omega Institute ( signify a larger change in continuing education, with more and more U.S. adults regularly taking part in classes, workshops and lectures outside of tradition higher education.

A new more integral outlook has begun to appear that doesn't see the conflict between modernity and a spiritual outlook.  From magazines such as What Is Enlightenment? ( to online communities ( that are finding phenomenal success at gathering progressives together, there are many partners out there for spreading the word about the Collaborative and creating content, lecture series, traveling book tours, etc. 

Holistic education, such as Waldorf Education, with its emphasis on experiential, arts-based learning, is growing at an exponential rate (  Likewise, arts based programs are receiving more grant money for working with failing students as No Child Left Behind demands that all public school children maintain national standards.

The media landscape has changed significantly in the last 10 years with people much more likely to turn to the internet or magazines when looking for current information.  Likewise, a progressive voice that seemed to be far a field has swelled in recent years and is hungry to report on stories of projects seeking to bring people together and to practice business in innovative ways (  The Collaborative would be an extremely media friendly organization, consistently generating press releases and achieving much of its advertising not through paid ad placements but from stories and articles that can offer more space to flesh out the philosophy behind the space.  

All this, not to mention the business world's acceptance of "green" and community-based entrepreneurs as socially responsible business illustrates that it can not only change traditional consumer culture but make record-setting profit in the process. (


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