Change Maker : Tim Devin

Tim Devin is the brainfather of the Boston Typewriter Orchestra and started a national dialogue with his Somerville Stock Exchange project. Emily Luce connects to ask a few questions on Tim’s recent practice and thinking around Complex Social Change.


1. You have an experimental art practice that is deeply embedded in community activism. Can you quickly outline a couple of your greatest hits, and/or projects near and dear to your heart that would be of interest for people who are looking at complex social change methods/practices?

Sure, yeah. One of my first large community-based projects was “The History of Somerville, 2010-2100.” I asked residents of Somerville MA (which is next to Boston MA) to share their hopes, fears and dreams about the next 90 years. Somerville was going through pretty heavy flux at the time (and still is, actually). With this project, I wanted to capture that mood, but I also wanted people to hear each others’ concerns, and hopefully work together to take control the direction of their city. A number of people connected with each other because of ideas they’d expressed through the project, and the History eventually attracted the attention of local politicians and members of the city’s planning department, which meant that the ideas I documented were being listened to by the Powers.

Another series that might be relevant here are some alternative walking tours I’ve given. The first was an exploration of Boston’s airport that focused on security culture, and the airport’s constant expansion into wetlands and residential neighborhoods. The other one was put on by my group People’s Tours in 2012. We walked around Boston’s South End neighborhood, and learned about the area’s history of “slum clearance” and community-based efforts to fight it– and along the way, we discussed how you can defend and improve your neighborhood without getting priced out in the process. Both tours shared a theme of celebrating communal action.

I do projects like this because I think that building and celebrating community is important. I personally want to live in a more friendly place, and I think most people do, too. But more importantly, once you have an engaged community, people are more likely to band together and work for the change they feel is necessary. Something I did to promote this ideal this are my “Street Surveys.” They’re simple homemade flyers that ask things like “do you feel you have a say in local government?” and “do you feel a sense of community where you live?” Since passersby can answer them by removing a “yes” or “no” slip, it’s a visible record for others in the area of what their neighbors think. They’re available as PDFs from my website, so anyone can test out their own neighborhood, and get the conversation started.

TIm Devin // Community Broadside

2. We talked with Peter Hall about using the process of failure to observe design beyond the analysis of glossy photos. Your projects look so amazing, complete, and effective from this distance. Obviously that kind of mastery comes with years of practice. Any advice or stories for our young change makers?

Well, failure and mistakes are definitely something I know a lot about!

I’ve learned a lot from each project, and have tried to feed what I’ve learned into each subsequent project. One thing I’ve always got on my mind is how to package ideas so that people will pay attention to them, and so my message will get across. Marketing, basically. I don’t pretend I’m an expert, but it’s something I try to focus on. For instance, back in the winter of 2010/2011, I made some demographic maps here in Boston that showed income levels and crime statistics– maps that I put up around town on poles and walls. They were pretty well-received, so when I was part of a residency in Los Angeles a few months later, I thought I’d make some out there. The problem was that no one really walks in LA, which means that small posters on the street aren’t the best way to communicate. Lesson learned: what works in one area won’t necessarily work in another.

Outreach is another tricky thing that I’m always learning more about. Every situation is different, but some of the ways I’ve done outreach have been through social networking (both online and in real life); by having public events; through tabling at other people’s events; by putting up posters and flyers; and through standard PR like press releases and articles. Reaching out to existing organizations is also crucial. If you don’t you’re just going to alienate people– I found that one out the hard way with The history of Somerville.

3. What’s capturing your attention these days, in your part of the world? Any links and/or names and/or work we need to know about?

Lately, I’ve been brainstorming a project about employment and work culture, and doing research has showed me an awful lot of amazing groups out there. (That’s one of my favorite parts of starting a project– learning about everything people are doing already. Although I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I’m reading “The Harvard Business Review” for fun.)

In the process, I’ve been learning about what’s called the “solidarity economy”– basically, sharing in an organized way and buying locally as ways to change consumption patterns; worker coops and workplace democracy as ways to change working patterns; and viewing work as a social enterprise, rather than focusing just on the profits. Talk about complex social change!

There are a number of people and groups working in this field. Transformation Central is a nice site with essays and a map of Massachusetts’ solidarity economy. There’s a large group called the US Solidarity Economy Network that’s involved in these issues. And then there’s a wonderful organization here in Massachusetts called Toolbox for Education and Social Action that promotes social justice and economic reform through workshops and games.

There’s also a move to tie all of this in with environmental justice, which is deeply exciting. Basically, if your goal is to live and work more sustainably and ethically, then this should naturally involve living in a more environmentally friendly way as well–and vice versa. Here’s a Nation cover story that explains it all far better than I ever could.

And speaking of environmental justice, Public Lab is a local group that’s trying to address one of the central problems associated with environmental justice: how can private citizens with limited resources test their soil, air and water? They’ve been building low-cost sensors to test water quality, and sell lenses you can put on your smartphone to turn it into a spectrometer to test for other types of pollution.


Tim Devin’s projects deal with community and social change. His work has been included in art and urbanist shows across the US, Canada, and Europe, and have been featured in such news sources as NPR, CBC and, more locally, the Boston Globe.

Tim’s a member of the Rise Industries art group, and a politically-minded alternative walking tour group called People’s Tours. In 2013, he helped form Space Equals Work, which is a loose group of artists who aim to preserve and expand small business and artist space in Somerville MA. He’s also the chair of the Somerville Arts Council’s advisory board, and is the proud father of a tiny human named Mack.

Dr. Judith Sayers, ChangeMaker

Almost exactly one year to the day, Emily Luce follows up with Judith Sayers on her Complex Social Change talk “Unravelling the Federal Agenda-Empowering the People” at the University of Lethbridge.


It’s been one year since you gave the talk at U of Lethbridge, “Unravelling the Federal Agenda-Empowering the People” At that time, academics were struggling to understand what was happening in the big picture with the Idle No More movement as they parsed news sources, official statements, and dialogue happening in the community and classrooms in real time. If you recall, as you gave your speech, the Nishiyuu Walkers were arriving on Parliament Hill and the room you were speaking in was SRO. Has the year gone by provided any critical distance for you, and if so, what does that reflection reveal?

The Idle No More Movement that took the country by storm became a more introspective time throughout the past year. It has been a time to educate everyone on the issues. It has been a time for people to go back to being involved in their own First Nations issues whether it is opposing the Northern Gateway project, or the TransMountain Pipeline, or fracking in Elsipogtog territory. No One will forget the line of women standing up the Canadian arm or the lone young man on one knee holding up a single powerful feather as they defended the water. First Nations people continue to fight battles on many planes and they continue to need support and understanding in advancing fair and equitable solutions. The situation with the federal government has not changed, but a different approach by First Nations people is being used. Idle No More still exists but in a way that is empowering the people.  Mass action will be used when needed. Idle No More showed that First Nations people can be mobilized and quickly.

What’s at the top of your mind right now? What are the urgent issues that need to be worked on in your world (and how might that relate to the interdisciplinary, cross-dialogue work with the Complex Social Change group? How can people interested in Complex Social Change help?)

There are so many urgent issues happening in the world that affect all people. So many international trade agreements are being negotiated including the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement. (CCFIPA) Trade agreements increase the amount of development in First Nations territories and negatively impact rights and way of life.  These major projects will be a threat to quality of water and threats of oil spills in oceans and lands.  The Independent Review Panel recommended it to government over the objections of First Nations, the province of BC, many organizations and people.  June will be a volatile month in BC if the Federal Government approves it.

The First Nation Education Act is also a big issue.  The Chiefs in Canada rejected it and then the National Chief made a few changes and approved it without the consent of the Chiefs.  Many First Nations and organizations are very angry about this and refuse to accept this way of doing business.  The act is supposed to be First Nations control of First Nations Education, but control relates more to culture and language and still using provincial standards.  This is an issue worth watching and is no different than the methods used for the omnibus bills C-38 and C-45 that was a large part of Idle no more.

Who is interesting right now? Who’s catching your eye in terms of standouts/interesting viewpoints/important questions in contemporary First Nations / Canadian federal government dialogue? Who or what should we be looking into, or watching?

The big issue these days which is gathering steam is Missing and Murdered Women.  Cries for a public inquiry go unheeded and the BC and Federal Governments are throwing pots of money at things that could help without having a greater strategy of what needs to done, by whom and by when.  The biggest disappointment to people was the special parliamentary committee that produced a “status quo” kind of report that did not provide for innovative solutions and immediate action to prevent more murdered and missing women.  It also did not request a national inquiry.

This issue is getting a fair amount of media attention, marches and protests are continuing, and this issue will not be forgotten because it keeps happening.  Many groups are involved in this such as  and Indigenous Nationhood movement blog #itendshere

Another issue to watch for is the Tsil’quotin aboriginal title case that was heard before the Supreme Court of Canada.  The court will finally rule on aboriginal title.  The main issue here is whether the court will decide on the small spots theory (aboriginal title in small areas where First Nations, hunt, fished, trapped gathered, cultural or spiritual sites) or go with a territorial view.  First Nations have been trying to negotiate aboriginal title issues through treaty with few results.  This court case will be important in defining aboriginal title and depending which way the judgment falls, this could be a volatile issue either way.

What can be done?  I think most importantly in the social change area, education on issues must be foremost.  Then those issues must be talked about and action taken to assist First Nations peoples in their struggles for justice and equity.  So much energy is expended on fighting the governments at negotiating tables, courts, defending the land when that energy could be in advancing in social, economic, and environmental areas.  The governments need to know that all people are concerned about the way First Nations peoples are treated, and lack of action on most issues and the top down action on imposing legislation and policies without First Nation consent.  Right now the Harper government thinks it can do what it wants.  The budget for Environment Canada has been cut back so much and will continue to be cut back till 2016, many key jobs have been lost and the Department cannot do all of its work so our environment is at stake.  Some issues are everyone’s issues and people need to start speaking out. Finding alliances to work together on issues that are important to you is also another way to help facilitate change.  The issues are numerous, so pick one and get involved.

Kekinusuqs, Dr. Judith Sayers

Kekinusuqs, Dr. Judith Sayers is the National Aboriginal Economic Development Chair and an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Business and Law at the University of Victoria and works on facilitating aboriginal economic development. Judith also works for as a Strategic Advisor to First Nations and Corporations on building relationships and negotiating fair and equitable agreements.

Judith served fourteen years as Chief of the Hupacasath First Nation, located in Port Alberni, BC.  As Chief of her First Nation, she focused on capacity building and sustainable development. Judith was instrumental in the development a 6.5MW run of river project, a woodlot based on higher environmental standards, eco tourism canoe tours and put in place a Land Use Plan, a cedar Use strategy.  Judith continues to advance First Nations opportunities in business development based on their values.

Judith serves as Co-Chair on the Island Corridor Foundation a joint venture between Regional Districts and First Nations that own the Rail line on Vancouver Island. Judith is on the Boards of the New Relationship Trust Foundation, and Clean Energy BC.  Judith also Co-Chairs the Joint Working Group on First Nations Heritage Conservation and is on the Advisory board for the Ch’nook Indigenous Business Education Program.


Change Maker: Peter Hall

As they explore C.R.A.F.T. (the Center for Retrofitting and Failure Techniques, described to the Complex Social Change community at the November 7, 2013 panel in Bruce MacKay’s Activism class,) Peter Hall explains his stance on failure to Emily Luce.

You’ve done extensive work on failure over the last 5 years. When did failure first become interesting to you, and why?

I became interested in failure as a topic of inquiry for the design professions because we are so success-obsessed, as a profession and as a culture. It seemed funny and provocative to organise a design event around the topic of failure. DesignInquiry 2008 was named Fail Again, using a line from the great writer Samuel Beckett (“Try again, fail again, fail better”). We were not so interested in the engineering discourse failure (Edward Tenner, Henry Petroski et al) which takes a positivist approach to failure analysis as a means to better, stronger technologies; we were more interested in the way in which visual language, like spoken and written language, depends on mistakes and misunderstandings in order to thrive and grow.

As I became more interested in the writings of Bruno Latour, it became increasingly clear that our culture’s fixation with success is connected to the process through which facts, objects and designed things become powerful but somewhat invisible forces in our world — the way an object like a car or cell phone starts to seem natural and normal in a culture, or the way a scientific theory becomes a fact. When something fails, it is an opportunity to see that process laid bare, or more specifically, to see all the influencing forces (or “actors”) that were present in its formation. This way a “fact” like the space shuttle becomes, when it explodes, “thing” that is the subject of an investigation. Failure is very useful in this sense, as I discuss in response to question 2.

How can failure influence or enhance design practice and discourse? 

A failure, and failure analysis,  allows us to critically inspect the things we have designed and ask if we really want them to do what they are doing; for example, we might look at the failure of a city’s road signs to get people where they need to go. An engineering solution would maybe add a few more signs, take some away, make some more reflective. But a design inquiry failure analysis would open up the whole topic of road signs, investigate their history, their typographic history and its entanglement with planning, mobilisation of troops, placemaking, universal design, etc. It would keep unfolding the inquiry, asking difficult questions about whether we want signs that make people drive faster, bypass town centers and get where they’re going faster, or whether we want to consider signs that invite people to explore a place, slow down. In this way I think failure can help us question assumptions we take for granted, which is necessary to move design practice and and discourse forward.

The term retrofitting came into common use in the late 1940s around engineering and building, basically updating outdated objects. But in the context of design practice, this idea seems more expansive. Can you discuss your thinking around the concept of the retrofit?

We addressed the topic of retrofitting in 2011, at Design Inquiry: Make Do. To “make do” is to create something out of immediately available resources, often within a time constraint. The phrase seems to perfectly describe design practice in the 21st Century, when we are more conscious of the resources we use. Unlike the start of the 20th Century, today there is less zeal among designers for manifestos, utopias, revolutions, for the idea of beginning with a clean slate, with the denial of history and the goal of wholesale reinvention of society. Today we see a quieter embrace of the aesthetics of salvage, a recognition of the ingenuity of repurposing and reworking existing objects. We share the delight of an anachronistic move, an unexpected juxtaposition of materials resulting from the reuse of manufactured things.

My colleague Tony Fry has adapted the word retrofit to create the neologism “metrofit” implying that we need to retrofit entire cities to prepare them better for impending and ongoing changes – - population boom, congestion, floods, earthquakes, fires, civil unrest,etc.

What might happen when we combine retrofitting and failure techniques? Why should they be together?

When we combine retrofitting and failure techniques we arrive at a method for critically analysing design and then for adapting it so it works better. This seems to me a good way to situate design practice now that we’ve come to the end of the utopian belief that we can  control and exploit the natural resources around us and just keep inventing new things to fix the latest problems and make our lives better. We have to reflect on what went wrong, how it happened, and then retrofit — rather than start from scratch. On a very practical level, this means we do simple, low key experiments and investigations that help provide methods and build knowledge that would be useful to lots of people. This could range from retrofitting a barn to create a roadside fruit & veg stand, to retrofitting a ferry schedule so that it allows more people to use public transport. Small changes that would have a viral or emergent effect and trigger other changes.

Peter Hall is a design writer and educator based at Griffith University Queensland College of Art, where he heads the Design Futures program. His research focuses on uses of mapping and visualization in design criticism and practice. His books include Else/Where: Mapping – New Cartographies of Networks and Territories (2006), Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist (1999) and Sagmeister: Made You Look (2001). He has lectured and published widely on design practice, failure, history, mapping and visualisation, with essays in over a dozen books, current and recent papers in five academic journals and over 50 authored articles in Metropolis magazine .  He was awarded a BA (Hons) in English and Philosophy from the University of Hull, and is currently enrolled in the doctoral program at Griffith University Queensland College of Art.


Change Maker: Steven McCarthy

Spreads from McCarthy’s book, The Designer As…Author, Producer, Activist, entrepreneur, Curator and collaborator: New Models for communicating

Emily Luce and Steven McCarthy make Complex Social Change connections based on his recently published book exploring the expansive discipline of design.

What is design authorship?

It began, in the 1990s, as a confluence of writing, typography, graphic design and the self-publishing of designer-generated content. Design authorship has since enlarged its purview to represent designers’ engagement with content, meaning, and the full scope of social, economic and cultural production through design. Shepard Fairey’s Obama Hope poster is a good example: not a client commission, but initiated through the desire for social change. Of course, Lorraine Schneider’s iconic poster “war is not healthy for children and other living things” pre-empted this by forty years.

Because you’ve recently developed your book,The Designer as…Author, Producer, Activitst, Entrepreneur, Curator and Collaborator: New Models for Communicating, you’ve had the opportunity to assess the state of design in the present moment. What’s happening out there these days?

There’s a wealth of varied and exciting activity. Related theoretical movements such as ‘critical design’ and ‘design fiction’ enrich design authorship’s intellectual base by pulling in those from product and industrial design and engineering, science fiction and computer science. Those working in literature are now exploiting the possibilities of richer visual-verbal texts; Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes and Graham Rawle’s Woman’s World, for example. Authorship is showing up in activities such as exhibition curating and event-programming — Design Inquiry combines design with social interaction in a community-oriented setting.

Can you give an example of how a new model for communicating affects authentic change?

In the book I make this case by its opposite: imagine the absurdity of questioning designers’ ability to write, initiate, publish, create, dissent, innovate and so on. In others words, the cultural legitimacy afforded to poets, artists, architects, film directors and others will now be due to designers as we move from solely professional service provision to shapers of our common future. Because ‘designers as…’ are both content creators and end-users, we can more deeply empathize with others.

Can you share a couple of further resources for design authorship, new models for communicating, or anything that’s lighting you up right now?

A few of the many: Kyungwon Kim’s recent MA thesis project “Graphic Authorship” done at Kingston University, London, French collective H5′sLogorama” animated film, curator Thomas Starr’s “We The Designers” exhibition, the “OpenBook” workshop held annually in northern Michigan, Someguy’s “1000 Journal” project and more!

How about a quick recipe?

TEFF-CAKES (pancakes made from teff, an east African grain)

half cup teff flour
half cup wheat flour
one teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
rounded teaspoon sugar
one egg
one cup milk
quarter cup vegetable oil (prefer canola)

mix all briskly with wire whisk until evenly smooth
ladle a six inch diameter circle of batter onto to medium hot griddle, slightly oiled
flip when a few bubbles form on surface

serve with butter and maple syrup; add a chopped banana on top for a real treat!


About Steven McCarthy

Steven McCarthy has an MFA in design from Stanford University (a joint program of the departments of art and mechanical engineering), and a BFA in sculpture and drawing from Bradley University. Since 1998, he has been a professor of graphic design at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus. For nine years prior, he was on the faculty of Northern Kentucky University.

Steven’s graphic design work has been published in Graphis Poster, the American Institute of Graphic Arts annual, HOW, Page and in Provocative Graphics: The Power of the Unexpected in Graphic Design, among others. His creative work has been in over ninety juried and invitational exhibitions.

His artist’s books are in some prestigious collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria & Albert, the Banff Centre in Canada, the Sackner Archive of Visual and Concrete Poetry, Yale University Library and the Houghton Library at Harvard University. His interactive works have been exhibited at the Paris/Berlin International Meetings, at FILE – the International Festival of Electronic Language in Sao Paulo, and at the Images Festival, Toronto.

He has had the good fortune to have been included in some innovative curatorial projects that seek to expand the boundaries of the discipline: Soul Design, organized by Kali Nikitas, Adversary, ‘collated’ by Kenneth FitzGerald, I Profess, jointed curated by Maya Drodz and Chris Corneal, Products of our Time, curated by Daniel Jasper, and We The Designers, curated by Tom Starr.

Steven has published in Eye, Convergence, Design Issues, Visual Design Scholarship, and the Journal for Aesthetic Education. He is known internationally for his contributions to developing a theory of design authorship.

The Designer As…Author, Producer, Activist, entrepreneur, Curator and collaborator: New Models for communicating is available from BIS publishers (

The Cardiff/Miller House


Concept: Domesticity in the Art World, Sustainable Architecture (and Living,) Community/Collaborative Aspects, and the Pleasure of Tiny

I live in a suite in a house owned by the artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures-Miller in Lethbridge. At one time, they lived here, as have a slew of other Canadian artists who invited people in, made their work, and were a part of the arts community over the years. People brought their stuff, and sometimes left it in the basement. A painting belonging to my partner, Rodney Sayers, and abandoned in his studio in Halifax, was left in a closet here by artists we knew who lived here two tenants before us. To our surprise and horror we found it the day we moved into the middle suite six years later. Throughout the house there is a collection of ‘artist repairs,’ slightly left of center solutions to problems. Because of this, the house has started to establish somewhat of a mythic quality for itself; locals are curious about who is living in the suites; everyone has an opinion about how it should be repaired. It’s a place that’s right on the brink of a certain history—someday it could become a significant art site. Then again, it could be sold and renovated by someone who wants to take advantage of its large footprint and strategic location. I am interested in this tipping point in the building’s history.

Meanwhile, the tiny house movement presents a radical notion of sustainability: that of living in a carefully crafted, thoughtfully designed, very small space. Less living space means less material objects, less energy consumption, and a greater emphasis on the outside world.

The Cardiff-Miller House is a miniaturized, inhabitable replica of the house on 6A in Lethbridge, combining the idea of the art life with the tiny house movement. It is built on an 8 x 16 foot trailer, furnished with objects and artworks created by the Lethbridge arts community, and designed to be low-impact while entirely comfortable, indeed a pleasure, to stay in. It makes its debut at the Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art in January, 2013.