In this article Denver, Colorado based group Warm Cookies of the Revolution outline how they use innovative arts and cultural programs to help people exercise their “Civic Health” and engage in social change.
“What is Warm Cookies of the Revolution?”
Well, you go to a gym to exercise your physical health, a religious institution to exercise your spiritual health, and a therapist to exercise your mental health. Warm Cookies of the Revolution is where you go to exercise your Civic Health.
“Got it….But what is Civic Health?”
Another great question. You’re sharp. And classy. And really good looking… Civic Health is a measurement of how well we participate in our community as citizens. Are we engaged in the decision making processes? When it comes to our environment, our education, our government, our work/life balance, our health, our systems of justice, etc, do we have power? Do we know how to affect change? Are our needs and hopes being met?
“That sounds boring…and hard.”
That’s what we’re trying to avoid. We are about fun. Warm Cookies of the Revolution engages community members in crucial civic issues by creating innovative and fun arts and cultural programs. We are a Civic Health Club, making the questions “What do we want?” and “How do we get there?” necessary, participatory, just, and fun.
Our founding Executive Director, Evan Weissman, created Warm Cookies of the Revolution, the world’s first Civic Health Club in 2012 after more than a decade of making theater at Buntport Theater Company and even longer as an activist for community change. The need in our community was and is, clear: Civic life is boring and a spectator sport.
Look at a newspaper advertising sports, comedy, music, and other events. There are links and times and locations listed because the assumption is that you want to attend and participate. For civic issues, however (taxes, housing, schools, immigration, neighborhood development, etc) we are routinely “updated” on processes and decisions made by other people. Sports stadiums and concerts are full. City council meetings are rarely packed with excitement! This is poor civic health.
The truth is that those of us who enjoy watching football on Sundays, and those of us who like to knit, or bake, or tell stupid jokes, or wish we could walk down the fashion runways of Paris, or like to build robots…we all have the capacity to understand and take part in the decisions that affect our lives. Fantasy football geeks prove that regular folks are smart and committed! However, we all have such limited time and money as we work and raise families and so after spending it on what is necessary, we spend what is leftover on what we find fun. Civic life is currently boring and complicated but it need not be. We need to meet people where they are and create beautiful and vibrant and fun, new systems.
If asked about the state of your physical, emotional, or spiritual health you’d have an answer, places to work on them (a gym, therapist, religious institution) and the expectation that when you left these places, you’d feel better than when you entered. But what about your civic health? We provide a local space to exercise civic health by combining necessary community issues with inventive programs, engaging participants where they already are.
Immigration, racial justice, economics, education, prisons, safety, aging, and media literacy can be combined with sports, comedy, music, low-riders, wrestling, magic, ice-sculpting, food, families and more. In fact, they must be if we are to compete with contemporary culture.
Best of all, this approach works:
We have engaged tens of thousands of regular folks who would never otherwise show up to talk about taxes, zoning, policy, and moral issues like forgiveness, friendship, obedience, and love-and then they get more active. If given the opportunity, most people want to exercise their civic health, we just have to make sure to make it connected to their lives and most importantly, fun.
“What has Warm Cookies of the Revolution Done?”
In just five short years, Warm Cookies of the Revolution has taken on what it means to be an active citizen and how to engage others in that responsibility.
- So, we created the Tax Day Carnival because the national day of mourning should be a day of celebration of putting our morals into practice.
- Civic Stitch ‘n Bitch merges civic issues with crafting.
- We asked the Stupid Civic Questions: Where does my poop go when I flush and the answer was, obviously, magic. So we brought in a magician but also our city wastewater department.
- The People Vs ___ puts on trial moral and cultural notions we take for granted.
- The Stompin’ Ground Games were a neighborhood Olympics exploring the history and current issues facing residents of different neighborhoods using the best arts and culture they have to offer. This was a proactive, positive, and honest way to explore gentrification and displacement facing so many people in our cities.
Vote Every Day is our calling as a Civic Health Club. In short, we get citizens to remember that we all own our community the same way we own our clothes and we need to take care of it the same way as well-but there is NO reason it must be boring or for “other people” to do.
Since 2012, We have created over 150 unique programs engaging 500,000+ participants in over 250+ unique programs and host multiple events per month, including hands-on activities at the Denver Art Museum’s Final Friday, become Cultural Partners with the City of Denver (programming at the McNichols Civic Center Building), been regular contributors and host of community programs at the Denver Public Library and the Colorado History Museum and we have also engaged, educated, and performed for residents on a ridiculous amount of issues, with an embarrassing amount of artists and community organizations….and we’ve served a record-setting amount of cookies and milk.
We engage people who are not typical civic decision-makers: 70% are women, 40% are between the ages of 25-34, 50% are in the low or middle income tax brackets. After our programs, 60% of participants take some kind of civic action (contacted an elected official, volunteered, attended a community meeting, wrote a letter to the editor).
Some recent awards: ArtPlace America’s National Creative Placemaking Award, Innovate for Good, Imagine 2020, Creative-in-Residence at the Denver Art Museum, and we have been invited to give talks and workshops on what it means to be a citizen, and how to authentically engage residents in many other cities and states. We are currently working with residents and youth on two Participatory Budgeting processes while creating a system of Rube Goldberg-esque machines that engage, educate, and tell the story of the process. It’s weird. And important. That’s what we do.
- Warm Cookies of the Revolution: Programs to Knock Your Socks Off
- Warm Cookies of the Revolution: Videos
- Creative Activism: Start Here
- Creative Activism 101: An Andidote to Despair