Dodge Foundation Week in Review

Posted on by Dodge


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What the Mad Men Finale Tells Us About Advertising, Storytelling and Dominant Social Power

Posted on by Ennis Carter, Social Impact Studios Director


(SPOILER ALERT: If you’re still catching up with Mad Men and haven’t seen the series finale, don’t read this!)

The reactions to the Mad Men series finale make for interesting social commentary. Not just because more people seem to have impassioned things to say about a television show than major public issues, but because there are such strong and varied reactions to the story that unfolded — and specifically to the very last minute and 3 seconds devoted to a vintage Coca-Cola commercial.

From blogs to tweets, I’ve seen everything from “abomination” or “best ending. ever!,” at the most visceral level, to critique that borders on academic positing that the final scene was a “cynical statement” on the shallowness of the main character Don Draper and the inherent manipulation that lives in the field of advertising in America.

What I haven’t seen is an acknowledgement (and questioning) of the nature of what seems to be our only unifying public narrative in this country — a consumer/market-driven frame on the emotions and values that unite us as individuals and as a society.

Having grown up in the 70s and worked in the field of creative public narrative for nearly 30 years, I think there is a much deeper layer to the use of the “The Real Thing” Coke commercial than meets the eye.

First of all, anyone who sees that Coke commercial through a cynical lens needs to understand more about the 70s (in specific) and the work of “creatives” in shaping a public narrative (in general).

“I’d like to build the world a home…”


The 1970s were not the same for all people, of course, but I feel confident in saying that some very distinct features heavily influenced those of us who were children at the time. America was reeling from the Vietnam War, reacting against an over-reliance on consumerism and new technology with a general sense that people were searching for more meaning, equity and compassion.

There was a call that came from the grassroots to aspire to higher values than war and profit. This aspiration touched our individual lives and was mirrored in mainstream culture. Whether it was a neighbor “mom” selling Prisoner-of-War bracelets to fund anti-war work while her son was missing, the “multi-cultural” community depicted on Sesame Street or the anti-pollution TV public service announcements, we were surrounded by the idea that things could be better for everyone — and that it was, indeed, a national goal.

Creating Public Narrative


Public narrative is a two-way street (actually, more like a crazy New Jersey traffic circle with people zipping in and out and only a simple, beautiful form at the center to keep some semblance of structure). Throughout the course of human history, “creatives” have been engaged to present stories and information in ways that are designed to encourage specific action.

Artists and other communicators respond to what people are thinking and saying in society and often make a connection that moves people to action. The job of creative storytelling — in whatever form — is to inform and inspire. But the action encouraged at a public scale is the domain of the prevailing social power and, in most cases, that is directly connected to economic power as well.

When the Catholic Church was the dominant social and economic power, “creatives” like Michelangelo told the story of the church, its values and the power of its ultimate leader (you know who). When imperial courts commissioned Mozart and his peers, their musical and operatic storytelling was expected to follow and reinforce the values held by the leaders — and by extension their “subjects.”

In the U.S., we have an intentional secular society, so our public narrative can’t center on a singular set of religious values. And we don’t have despotic emperors that control the story — or at least we’re not supposed to. What we are supposed to rely on for a barometer on our values is a central concept of a delicate balance between the voice of the people (democracy), and the “invisible hand” of the free market (economy).

Unfortunately for us, the bottom-line values of a free market are more tangible and seem to carry more social and economic power than the aspirational ones on the democracy side of the equation.

Of course, there are examples of democracy-run, values-based creative public narratives, such as the WPA posters of Federal Art Project during the 1930s in the U.S. (see our Posters for the People initiative for some gems) or newer “crowd-sourced” public art projects like Candy Chang’s “Before I Die.”

But for the most part, our nation’s creative public narrative has been dominated by the need of the free market to promote itself for survival.

The great irony here is that emotional, human-centered and value-driven storytelling is actually a more powerful way to turn hearts and minds than the fear or respect of the power itself — for the public and the storyteller.

So, creative work and advertising in America, in particular, has always been about promoting something much bigger than a product. There were plenty of times that the Don Draper character in Mad Men wove that fact into creative meetings for us to all understand that he was ultimately driven, like most of us, by a need for more meaning in the narrative.

Don Draper wants a better story himself. He strives to tell a better story and draws on his personal experience, which makes it more real. It’s a story that might just influence a higher narrative and one that will be sure to touch just about everybody in the society in which he lives.

That’s what drives good stories and inspiring narrative – whether it’s for a real-life product or an idea (or for entertainment). It transcends distinction.

[Note: Mad Men is a made-up story in itself, so the actual creative process wasn’t what we saw, but the idea behind it was still spurred by emotion and not focused on the product itself. Read the real back story of the Coke commercial and its creator Bill Backer here.]

Storytelling or Manipulation?

True to the typical critique of advertising, the roaring thread of comments about the Mad Men finale decries a perceived “manipulation” of our emotions as human beings – which is parallel to the experience that Draper has in the last few seconds of the series’ end.

That’s a valuable but tired discussion at this point, in my opinion.

Rather than question why (or if) Don was manipulating his experience at the 1970’s ashram to subsequently sell Coca-Cola – or how valid the world-peace message of that commercial was at the time – it seems that the more probing question should be how our society can better foster the energy of “creatives” to tell stories about our values and inspire action that really matches what those values stand for.

Even better, how can we elevate the social and economic power of our democracy so we are all the “creatives” of our meaningful public narrative together? As long as we focus our attention on the consumer/market-driven culture, we’ll only hear about how life-changing Coke is.

There are much more “real things” to talk about.

About Social Impact Studios

Since 1996, the people at Social Impact Studios have combined artistry & activism as a creative hub to promote important social issues. We believe good causes should get more attention than anything else. And we believe thoughtful, beautiful and meaningful communication is still the best way to engage and motivate people. Social Impact Studios is a creative hub where groups and creative activists collaborate, learn and do the work. From concept to creation, we design action plans, visuals, messages and moving grassroots experiences that make a social impact – together.

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Optimism and Action: 2015 New Jersey Sustainability Summit

Posted on by By Randall Solomon, Sustainable Jersey Co-Director

NRDC’s Shelley Poticha Announced as Key Note Speaker

Shelly Poticha - 014_LV-2Fierce, wise, pragmatic, insightful, committed, visionary, savvy and articulate. These are words often used to describe Shelley Poticha the Director of the Urban Solutions Program at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

RandyThese qualities must be what it takes to tackle challenging sustainability issues while maintaining a focus on what people and communities need to succeed at a basic level, because that is exactly what Ms. Poticha is doing.

I’m pleased to announce that she will kick-off Sustainable Jersey’s 2015 New Jersey Sustainability Summit on June 10, as our key note speaker.

Shelley’s thinking is in line with the foundations of Sustainable Jersey; she said, “My greatest hope is that we can turn this country around through the power of people. I know in my gut that there is a tremendous alignment between the hopes we all have for our health and well-being, the road to prosperity and opportunity, and the strategies that make the places we live, work and raise our families as environmentally sensitive as possible. That’s why I’m at NRDC. I’m intrinsically an optimist; an optimist with a passion for action.” (NRDC Staff Blog: Connecting Dots)

Prior to joining NRDC, Shelley was a senior advisor and director of the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). She served in the Obama Administration where she led a new initiative that some say was tasked with bringing the “UD” back to HUD.

Before joining HUD, she served as President and CEO of Reconnecting America, where she became a national leader for the reform of land use and transportation planning and policy with the goal of creating more sustainable and equitable development, particularly around transit stations. And prior to that, she served as Executive Director of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

As we were talking with Shelley about the 2015 NJ Sustainability Summit, we explained that Sustainable Jersey was launched with a set of certification actions that municipalities could do to become more sustainable. We hoped to get municipalities working and put a leadership framework in place at the local level first. Now, six years later, with over 400 municipalities and 275 schools and districts participating in Sustainable Jersey, we can take it the next step. With the 2015 NJ Sustainability Summit and the Sustainable State of the State Report, we are now asking communities to consider ways to evaluate and monitor progress toward a vision or common goal. To meet this challenge, for the last few years, Sustainable Jersey has been engaged in a collaborative process to outline the multiple dimensions of sustainability in terms of practical goals with indicators that describe observable outcomes at the state level. Indicators help us recognize milestones on the road to sustainability.

Shelley definitely gets it; she said “I’m super geeky about defining goals and indicators for sustainability, it’s certainly my passion.” At the Summit, she plans to give examples from towns that are not the usual suspects you think of when you talk about sustainability, but rather the ones that are actively adopting strategies to become more sustainable through place-based change.

2015 New Jersey Sustainability Summit: Join the Conversation on June 10.

globe with words

Please join us on June 10 to hear Shelley deliver the key note at the 2015 New Jersey Sustainability Summit (REGISTER).

A focus for the day will be the release of the Sustainable State of the State Report. The report will provide a vision for New Jersey, present goals and indicators for 18 dimensions of sustainability, and establish a template for an annual ‘dashboard’ view that will capture progress and illuminate danger zones.

 Participants will come away with a clear sense of the state of the movement, new ideas about what can be done to make progress, an expanded network of fellow practitioners, and the inspiration to go back and continue to drive change one municipality or school at a time. Network with Sustainable Jersey task force members, local and state officials, academics and green team volunteers committed to fostering a sustainable New Jersey.

 2015 Sustainability Summit Concurrent Sessions

A total of 16 concurrent sessions will be offered to discuss the Sustainable State of the State Report, share perspectives on Sustainable Jersey and dig deeper into the dimensions of sustainability. Experts and industry professionals will lead each session and review current challenges.

Concurrent Sessions Round 1

·         Building a Culture of Health One Community at a Time
·         Changing the Way Buildings and Communities are Designed, Built, and Operated
·         Ecological Integrity: Risks and Responses
·         How Arts and Creative Culture contribute to Community Vibrancy and Economic Vitality
·         Tools for a Sustainable Democracy
·         Water for our Future, Legacies from the Past
·         Sustainable Jersey for Schools Listening Session
·         Sustainable State of the State Feedback Session

 Concurrent Sessions Round 2

·         Education: Sustainability, Skills and Enrichment
·         Fostering Thriving and Sustainable Local Economies
·         Getting to the Gold Standard in Materials Management after 28 Years of Mandatory Recycling
·         Ready, Set, Adapt!
·         Strategies and Tools to Support Efficient Development
·         Transitioning to a More Sustainable Energy Framework
·         Sustainable Jersey Listening Session
·         Sustainable State of the State Feedback Session

 2015 New Jersey Sustainability Summit

Wednesday, June 10, 2015, 8:30am – 4:00pm

The College of New Jersey


For more about Sustainable Jersey: Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Before the Skyscraper Exhibit at ShuaSpace Explores Shifting Jersey City Landscape

Posted on by Joshua Bisset, ShuaGroup

Barbara Place by Thuy-Van Vu

Construction has begun on the first of three luxury rental skyscrapers to be built over the next several years in Jersey City’s Journal Square neighborhood. The development, “Journal Squared,” will feature 1,840 luxury rental apartments and 36,000 square feet of retail space in a 54-story tower. The tower currently under construction will rise 54 stories. Advertised amenities include an outdoor pool and a golf simulation room. Studio apartment rentals will begin at $1,800.


The developer, Kushner Companies, is aggressively marketing to millennials — and particularly to the so-called “creative class.” Jersey City has attempted to draw this demographic across the Hudson with its taxpayer-funded 2014-15 ad campaign, “Make It Yours.” Campaign posters have appeared on NYC subways and in trendy Brooklyn neighborhoods where real estate values have skyrocketed in recent years, driving upwardly mobile residents to look elsewhere for a more palatable balance of living standards and proximity to Manhattan.

A brief look around Journal Square indicates that most people living and working near the Square do not fit this demographic, and it is understatement to say that the majority of current residents will not be able to afford to live in “Journal Squared.”

This is the backdrop of Before the Skyscraper, a new exhibition at ShuaSpace, a street side arts venue in Journal Square. It’s directed by Joshua Bisset and Laura Quattrocchi of Shua Group, a Dodge Foundation grant recipient that supports innovative arts in all media and promotes dialogue about essential local issues.


What Makes a City a Great Place to Live? – daily response

Before the Skyscraper is a modest effort to contextualize what is at stake in Jersey City’s confrontation with the aggression that is “Journal Squared.”

Through painting, photography, audio interviews, sculpture, and performance, the exhibit seeks to capture something of the essence and the crucial worth of the “now” as a means of digesting the enormous potential costs and consequences of the skyscrapers.

It is not nostalgic, nor does it pity. It does not deny the reality of change. But it states: these are images and forms of passing; this is evidence of a shifting city, which is not inevitable but chosen. It begs the question: what city are we building and where can we go from here?

The exhibit includes works by: Sam PullinThuy-Van VuSteve SingerMalik Nashad SharpeFranc PalaiaAndrew Emmet+Alec Pomnichowski, Nadia Mohamed+Mathew Galindo+Shaun Persaud, Laura Quattrocchi, and Joshua Bisset.

Before the Skyscraper runs through June 27. Gallery hours are noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays and by appointment.

For more information, or to make an appointment, contact and visit the exhibition’s Project Statement and Exhibition photos.

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ArtPride’s Ann Marie Miller Honored with National Arts Award

Posted on by Dodge

Congratulations are due to Ann Marie Miller for receiving a national arts advocacy award from Americans for the Artsthe nation’s leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education in America.


Miller, Art Pride New Jersey’s Director of Advocacy and Public Policy, will receive the Alene Valkanas State Arts Advocacy Award at the organization’s 2015 Americans for the Arts Annual Leadership Awards. (Read more about the awards and other honorees here.)

Presented each year, the Americans for the Arts Annual Leadership Awards pay tribute to the achievements of individuals and organizations committed to enriching their communities through the arts.

The Alene Valkanas State Arts Advocacy Award recognizes an individual whose arts advocacy efforts have dramatically affected the political landscape at the state level.

From Art Pride New Jersey’s press release announcing the honor:

“I am so honored to receive this award, named after a distinguished arts advocate who exemplified national leadership,” said Miller, who served as ArtPride’s executive director for 20 years. “I am grateful to be recognized by Americans for the Arts and by my colleagues who work tirelessly promoting the value of the arts to our country.”

Continue reading on Art Pride New Jersey’s website.

Take a look back at some of Miller’s recent Dodge Blog posts:

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