Abhishek Thakore

Jun 5, 2017

7 min read

Our experiments with hanging out : The Artivist Ashram

What happens when 6 people from the “social sector” spend 4 days living together, sharing from their heart, chilling out and unapologetically “talking shop”?

We embarked on this bohemian experiment in early May — naming it “Artivist Ashram” (Artivist = Artist + Activist).

The inspiration came from the community living I had seen in Berkley and the Jungle house. I also wanted to combat the general lack of time we experience whenever we open up conversations about the world.

As Shilpa summarises, “It was a process of understanding, accepting and deeply appreciating each other, embracing the whole being and making efforts to learn”.

These are distilled reflections from the journey — what they lack in richness, they will hopefully make up in practical usability in the spaces you convene.

What we learned: The power of informal spaces

Artivist Ashram set no ambitious goals — we just wanted to hang out with each other over an extended period of time.

We started with some basic intentions:

  • Bring diverse people together (beyond just our ‘types)
  • Balance public time with private time, giving adequate attention to each
  • Have more activities but also dialogue
  • Blend the formal and the informal

Having clear intentions but a very simple low-hanging ‘goal’ allowed the intentions to come to fruition.

As we worked to set the agenda, the group invested trust in me. I sensed my way into designing something that would work for everyone.

Yet the design was negotiable and emergent — other than the events where we called people in — everything was chilled and flexible. An emergent design held in place by a broad agreed-on structure that did not become imposing or dominant worked.

As we went about living and talking through our days, they became intense and packed. Some of us could not be present for all the time — and that was okay. The tugs and pulls on time were present for everyone — and yet, each of us took a leap to be available for the most that we could.

Out of the many invitations that were shared, only a handful accepted. Here, I sensed the presence of trust and resonance. And maybe time!

It is the trust and ‘leap of faith’ that allows such spaces to happen — there will always be reasons to not come, but seeing the importance and value of something like this let people show up.

The space was not all ‘clean, pure and loving’. There were times of conflict and differences — as we went deeper, we navigated these difficult zones. We did not avoid them — rather we held the discomfort and spoke from our heart.

For a space to be powerful it needs to be real. For it to be real, we need the courage to be truly vulnerable. And an extended stay with a small group can allow this more fluidly.

It is the structure that enabled this as much as the participants.

We offered Artivist as a gift economy experiment — using my home space and available resources made it more reasonable. The charm of Mumbai and experiencing it with the locals made it exciting to participate as well (I guess!).

Such experiments are best done in homes rather than resorts or paid venues because of the intimacy they are able to create. Are we willing to open up our hearts and homes? That’s another question altogether!

I also learned that informal spaces can be very powerful ways of influencing the formal spaces — we unapologetically ‘talked shop’ and while we were miles away from forming any secret society, there was an alignment that started happening.

The knowledge that gets shared here is ‘night knowledge’ that is not captured in books or models. It has nuances that are hard to communicate except in such settings. And that is what makes it potent.

For me, THE most powerful sessions were at night — we were speaking and hanging out 18 hours a day lasting all the way till 3 am. Sharing music, stories and mangoes, we experienced deep community.

The days enabled the nights as we sat and processed all that we had.

Overall, in case you plan to hold such a space, I’d invite you to speak to one of us and get a sense of what worked!

What emerged: Insights and ideas

There was plenty of ‘day knowledge’ too, here are some broad blocks that we spoke about -

a. Collaborations

In sustaining our work, the aspect of collaborations, our egos and identity issues emerged. Someone in the circle wondered about why collaborations are so difficult in the NGO space (coming from the for-profit sector).

We spoke about the importance of deep ties and assuming trust as a way to get going, and the immense potential of partnerships if they go right. We also looked at challenging experiences!

b. Learning across generations

At the intergenerational circle, there was fire and earth : passionate discussions and earthy wisdom that flowed!

Goosebumps popped up as we spoke about the emergency and Babri masjid and what lessons were picked up on the way. Moral of the story in short : There is a lot to learn when generations speak to each other, and this knowledge transfer is essential!

c. “Seeing” each other — the inner outer dimensions of change

We shared through songs what each of us invoked in the other. We spoke about the gifts that we see in each other and how may we serve our purpose for the ecosystem.

The act of honestly seeing each other and sharing edges was priceless — deep feedback was possible because we had seen each other so closely.

d. Each other’s work

We learned about each others work — particularly the Mumbai approach of communities through circles was an experience we were able to appreciate.

“Being part of circles, gave huge learning in terms of how the process of community building works and the what a labor of love it is to create such space.

Meeting some like minded people in the process helped me get the context and back ground of the world we are living in. Also reinforced/ confirmed some of the hypothesis we began to build in this process.” says one of us!

e. Other nonsense and sense

Between sharing food, joking, trying to get each other hitched and sharing our dilemmas, a lot of personal context was shared. How are we making choices and how are others navigating their lives? What are good designs for life and change?

Conversations also moved into future visions and what are good ways to understand the various things unfolding in our sector.

Overall, though, it is hard to put this learning in points (because it wasn’t textual knowledge as much as fresh co-creation), it was powerful stuff!

The way ahead: What do I see happen

What is emerging for us is to keep connecting across the youth space with this spirit of love. Over time, an alignment will emerge — collaborations out of the desire to jam rather than compulsions. The learning will happen for all and not just a few — and not through theory but through deep convening.

Personally, I also realized that the advocacy agenda for youth seems to be unclear to most. What are steps 8,9 and 10 of seeing the change we want (we are doing a lot of steps 1,2,3 but few seem to have thought through what are our asks even if we come together).

A ‘zero draft’ for me (based on my study inspired by this) includes being able to impact the youth committee of the government, the National Youth Policy 2019 and pushing on campus democracy, youth councils and lowering the age of running for office.

At the same time, how do we improve our ability to create national level mischief — campaigns that suddenly emerge and go viral because there is a network that is already in place to let that happen? How do we sync up for this?

We decided not to create an institution out of this or even promise repeat hangouts. The dream was to allow these to be held in the same spirit, to announce our availability to co-hold spaces and to freely share our learnings.

Going ahead, I see informal spaces playing a very important role, simply because our guard is lower, there is much lesser pretence and much more building on each others ideas.

These spaces are as much needed by others as by us.

“The entire world seems so occupied in some agenda or the other that the mere existence of an open space attracted many people from outside so powerfully. Though it sometimes hindered our own process it definitely enriched it also.”

So, even if nothing “comes out” of this, the existence of such spaces has its own value!

Let us convene the Nameless Tribe in many different shapes and sizes and keep deepening our understanding of what needs to happen, our shared visions and ideals.

Lets develop the art of change — and become Artivists!

Appendix 1 : The schedule

In brief, here’s how it went :

Day 1

Morning: Opening circle, intention setting

Evening: Open circle on ‘Sustaining our Journeys’ (How do you manage the economics and sustainability while doing good)

Night: A drive to bandstand and a mango party till 3 am

Day 2

Morning: Circle on Social Change across generations (What have we learned from several generations of social change movements)

Evening: Continuing the hang out, assorted conversations around love till 3 am (again!)

Day 3

Morning:

Evening: Open circle on inner-outer dimensions of social change (which moved into Bollywood songs)

Night:

Day 4

Morning: Closing circle, reflecting on what we’ve learned, what’s emerging and how we see each other

Appendix 2 : What did this do for us: Our sharing

Shilpa
At a personal level, It was a purely enriching of soul to live with friends, be loved and speak my mind unguarded! Thanks everyone, specially Abhi for opening your home and heart for me.

Some learnings emerged, we could have made it even more powerful for us by making it more experiential. Breaking through the intellect and going deep in our own and each other’s skin.

Loved the wild ideas that emerged from this… i wish & desire to sustain the energy to implement at least a few of those.

Abhi

I’ll add Artivist to some of the “Best Days of My Life” — it was a priceless memory and experience above anything else. This way of deep convening has great potential to transform the world and we are taking the very initial baby steps to uncovering the possibilities that this gives birth to.

While we expand our formal processes, this underground process will also have to grow hand in hand because I see the these spaces as the invisible roots for the above-ground spaces to come up!