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Behind the Scenes of TomorrowAnew.org

Behind the Scenes of TomorrowAnew.org

TomorrowAnew.org is a platform to collect thoughts about our future and channel donations to those who need help to survive the pandemic. It is both a space to think and to share. For thinking, it asks individuals around the globe to answer a simple yet universal question, “what will be different tomorrow?” The initiative speculates on a common future that will emerge post-COVID 19; it transforms into a critical body of intellectual thought. For sharing, individuals are also asked to donate. In collaboration with different NGOs, these funds are distributed to people in need, including the indigenous peoples of the Xingu and families living in precarious conditions in the slums of São Paulo (in partnership with Instituto Bei); to quilombola and riverside communities in the Amazon (in partnership with BrazilFoundation and Conservation International – Brazil); and to families hit hard by the pandemic and the unleashed economic crisis in the US and in Kenya (in partnership with GiveDirectly). Launched in June 2020, TomorrowAnew.org has already received more than 140 responses and gathered more than 20,000 USD. As a media partner, we will publish some excerpts of the texts to further the dialogue and collaborate on creating a book. In the meantime, we asked the architect and curator Gabriel Kozlowski, who created the initiative, to tell us about how the process has been so far.

Quote posted in Instagram: @tomorrow.anew

Could you tell us how the idea for TomorrowAnew.org started?

The idea really started to form in the beginning of the pandemic, a bit after the lockdown in Boston, in March. The situation was already critical in New York, with the number of cases breaking the 7,000 mark. Just by looking generally at the global spread rate and specifically at Italy, any sane person already had enough evidence that the virus would be devastating. Everyone I talked to was either scared or feeling useless for not being able to help those that were already being hit hard. I knew I had to contribute with something, I just did not know exactly the format.

Instead of acting individually through a punctual donation or supporting one targeted cause, I realized that my network was already big enough that I could mobilize people to do that together, as a joint effort to offer larger, more structured aid. I noticed that many of my close friends did not know how to help or which relief effort to support. So I realized that if I did a pre-scan (identifying NGOs that were committed, transparent, and in the frontline of the COVID-19 fight), put together a platform through which one would have options to choose where to donate to, and set up an easy and straight forward donation mechanism, I would be increasing the chances of gathering more help. I would play as a facilitator.

At the same time, I was aware that the solution was not only about putting down the immediate fire, but rather that it had to involve a longer-term thinking, a collective, intellectual effort to understand where this would lead us, or where we would like to be after the burn. I thought—and still think—that the socio-economic impact this pandemic is having worldwide will force us to rethink, or at least to criticize, our global development pattern as well as invent new modes of solidarity.

Quote posted in Instagram: @tomorrow.anew

By the end of March, I started putting a multidisciplinary team together (architects, economists, and environmentalists, etc.), and on April 4th, I sent the first invitation for a partnership with GiveDirectly (a nonprofit that sends cash directly to families in extreme poverty in the US and throughout Africa, in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Liberia, Malawi, and Morocco). It was a long shot because they are huge in size and have all sorts of companies and governments affiliated with them. We got a yes, and, with that, the confidence to go ahead.

We then established partnerships with three other NGOs, covering the Brazilian indigenous people, the quilombola, and riverside communities of the Amazon and slum dwellers in Brazil; we brought in a renowned Turkish new media artist (Refik Anadol); a Brazilian team of legal advisors (Fleichman Advogados); and a publishing platform (NESS Magazine). Simultaneously, we reached out to the first group of friends and intellectuals to kick off the conceptual conversation.

We had all the ingredients in place.

How has the process been so far?

We are obviously super happy and excited about what we have achieved so far and with the momentum that the initiative has gathered. Since you mentioned the amount raised, there is one side note that is worth highlighting: the large majority of donations happen to have been directed to the Amazon, which is not only beautiful in philanthropic terms but also fantastic financially. 20,000 USD in Brazil equals 100,000 reais (and the price of the bottle of water or the bread is the same figure in both currencies), meaning that the positive impact this donation will have there is huge.

In relation to the responses, the number of texts in itself is already heartwarming, but what I like the most is their diversity. We have contributions from different geographies (Argentina, Australia, Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Ghana, Israel, India, Iran, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Portugal, Spain, UAE, UK, and the US), and of many different professions, ages, and races. Their modality is also interesting.

Some people talk about the direction they think the world will go, others prefer to imagine where it should. Some are positive, others negative. Some use numbers and hard facts, others use poetry, music, or even a film script. Some talk spontaneously, sharing information out of the top of their heads, whereas others write long, elaborate essays. I can’t keep the count of how many times I was positively surprised with a submission.

Personally, I am happy to see so many diverse points of view. In a time where polarization and intolerance is a norm, I feel our initiative can help a little bit in bringing people together to foster a conversation.

Could you tell us a bit more about what goes on behind the scenes?

Not different from all “behind the scenes,” there is a lot of work going on. There are many things that people don’t even realize that we do. To be honest, even I, myself, didn’t expect it to be that demanding. Common sense is that the moment we have the idea well-drafted, the website then goes up, and done, the project lives on its own. This couldn’t be more misleading.

First, just to arrive at this point of having a working website, it took us two months between defining the intellectual foundations of the initiative, writing and rewriting texts that could clearly communicate the idea, proofreading, establishing partnerships, reviewing donation agreements with lawyers, setting the online donation mechanisms, designing the platform, getting a programmer to execute it in the shortest possible timeframe, fundraising to pay for that, contacting hundreds of possible contributors (with whom you end up exchanging at least three emails), creating communication strategies (through banners, posts, and news all over social media and other publishing vehicles), and the list goes on.

Done with that, you have the website up and now most of our energy goes in three directions: management, reach, and fundraising. For management, I mean the constant work we have to do to keep the initiative running and improving, this involves collaborations with our partners and adjustments of all sorts, from website to copyright forms. Reach refers to marketing, invitations, and publishing news on other platforms. Then fundraising is finding ways to raise larger amounts of money, instead of relying only on the individual contributions, which tend to be symbolically immense in importance but relatively small in effect. This involves building slide decks and pitches, writing letters and having meetings, as well as opening new avenues for contribution, such as the selling of ten big maps my fellow cocurators and I produced for the past Venice Biennale.

How do you collect, edit, compile, and think the diverse texts and voices?

We started the initiative sending out a big batch of invitations to potential contributors, trying to balance to the best of our ability gender, race, geography, and different fields of practice (although the majority is still architects). Out of these, around 75% answered positively, 20% never replied, and 5% said they wouldn’t be able to participate. What followed was around 100 generous texts that have set the tone and the quality of the discussion. From there, the rest came organically.

Regarding editing, here we try to be as much hands off as possible. We don’t intervene in the texts besides correcting evident typos. The only exception are with single-sentence replies, which we don’t publish. “What will be different tomorrow: —everything” is not an answer. We want to foster a sustained, genuine reflection about our future.

How do you see the relationships between the two actions proposed: to think and to share. In what ways have you seen that intellectual discussion and raising money can work together?

This is probably the best question I’ve been asked about the initiative. There are a few points I could mention.

First, when an act of altruism is not an instinctive response to an emergency (e.g. you give assistance to someone who had an accident), it is usually already a conscious cognitive behavior. By that I mean the person performing the help has intellectually processed her action beforehand. In this sense, intentionally offering a hand to someone—given that the decision is neither enforced nor understood as a favor with expectation of returns, but rather as a practice of intentional selflessness—allows one to say that to share is to think.

Quote posted in Instagram: @tomorrow.anew

However, there are also other perspectives on the relationship between thinking and sharing that are less metaphysical and more particular to our project. The second point is the fact that we, as humanity, are facing a global crisis that has affected everyone, be it directly or indirectly. So there is no outside from which to observe. You can obviously decide to wash your hands and pretend it does not concern you, but this won’t change the reality of things. Apart from these instances, people have been impacted in different degrees. There are the cases of those who are battling the virus or have lost close ones; those who are suffering from the consequences of the general economic crisis; and those who find themselves in a more privileged position but, nevertheless, do not fail to relate to the suffering of others. In its majority, the demography of our writers reflects the latter group. And because these are people who can give a bit of their time in order to reflect on a situation they care about, they are also usually willing to contribute with financial support for those who can’t. Here, sharing is a consequence of thinking.

The third and last way I relate these terms is through people for whom the pandemic has triggered a broader sense of community. They see everyone in the same boat: some are suffering physically, others psychologically. This compels both the individual and the collective to engage in multiple modes of solidarity. For them, people in the two ends of the spectrum, i.e. the most in need and the ones in safe grounds, equally deserve a form of compassion. Thus, the act of sharing their thoughts, experiences, afflictions, and hopes is just another way of expressing their empathy: sharing and thinking are the two sides of the same coin of ethics.

What have you found surprising and what has emerged as a universal idea in the responses? Have you noticed any tensions that emerge between the local and the universal?

Similarly to my previous response, I would say that the most recurrent theme among the reflections is a call for solidarity. There is a general sense that we have long neglected each other and that the crisis was like a wakeup call. This can also be read as a turn away from individuality towards broader expressions of collectivity. The more you are capable of putting yourself under a stranger’s skin, the more you perceive that the two of you are not that dissimilar. It looks like that what is strange becomes familiar proportionately to the size of the shared struggle. The tone of these answers are positive and hopeful.

Another frequent topic regards the perception of time and the pace of our lives. There seems to be an acknowledgement that our lives were unnecessarily stressed by the fast tempo of contemporary life. As soon as the state of emergency was declared worldwide and the lockdowns put in place, time has slowed down. Besides the huge change in professional and social dynamics, this feeling is due to the loss of stimulus, both in terms of diversity and intensity, that we used to be exposed to on a daily basis. This is a kind of homogenization of our experiences that prolongs the passing of time.  

These two examples are reflections that steam mostly from people’s individual experiences of the present. Many others projected their concerns into the future from the standpoint of our species, engaging more directly with the provocation concerning “change” embed in the question: “What will be different tomorrow?”

Quote posted in Instagram: @tomorrow.anew

There have obviously been answers that locate human ingenuity and faith in technological progress in the heart of a foreseeable, timely solution for our problems. However, among the answers tackling broader global configurations, I would say that the scale weights to the side of pessimism. The main causes underscored are our dominant politico-economic system, AKA capitalism, people’s behavior (from a more anthropological standpoint), and the way we relate to nature from a socio-environmental perspective. There is a consensus around general systematic immobility, based on human greed and the insistence of an anthropocentric worldview, that will ultimately make a life change for worse, rather than better. There is a generalized dissatisfaction or uneasiness with the direction the world is going.

Tellingly, these answers suggest that our issues in the future won’t be too different from those of the present; they will just have escalated to uncontrollable levels.

Although some might consider this type of answer alarmistic, I personally don’t think they are necessarily negative, nor are they exaggerated. On the contrary, I think they highlight the problems of modernity and the severity of our modes of living, consequently dating the crisis prior to the pandemic. The pandemic was just a trigger in consciousness. I categorize these as narratives of awareness, and I find them fundamental if we are to remodel or overcome any malfunctioning system we have invented. 

So to answer more blatantly the last part of your question, the main tension between the local and the universal lies in the difference in tone used to address each scale. I would risk making an unfair generalization or misreading, but my impression is that when the answers go local, there tends to be more hope and positivity, whereas when they look at the larger picture, things go grimmer, or become more urgent.

Do you have a favorite quote or quotes so far?

Well, I do like many quotes, naturally. But a better way to answer this question is by diverging it: I can’t have a favorite one. It would go against the spirit of collaboration that Tomorrow Anew wants to foster, and would probably bias the exchange. When we extract quotes and drop them on our Instagram, for example, of course, it is also because they are elucidating, provocative, surprising, or just beautiful. But, most importantly, it is because they have the potential for entering into dialogue with each other, building the awareness we were just talking about. And, in time, the collection of many of these quotes will hopefully form a rich constellation of debates.

When will the initiative finish? How do you see it changing tomorrow?

I honestly don’t know. What my team and I have created is a sort of experiment; we are learning and adapting as we go. There are, nevertheless, some important steps in the horizon.

Immediately, there is the continuation of the campaign that we have been doing in partnership with Brazil Foundation and the Conservation International – Brazil to sell the artworks my co-curators and I produced for the Brazilian pavilion exhibition at the 2018 Venice Biennale. These are large-scale maps of Brazil that tell different stories about the country. Each one is selling for 6,000 USD, with all funds redirected to support the peoples of the Amazon that are struggling so hard to survive the pandemic. Imagine, many of these people are part of native indigenous communities who are especially vulnerable to the impacts of Covid-19 due to their lower immunity to viruses, their collective traditional ways of life, and their limited access to health services and hospitals. The quarantine of the indigenous peoples and the lack of governmental action are already causing shortages of food and medicine as well as other items necessary for the survival of various communities. On top of that, their chances of contracting and dying from the virus are eight times larger than ours. It has really been devastating and many elder leaders (caciques) have already died. These are cultural and anthropological damages we will never be able to revert. So we are putting some serious focus there, and I am extremely glad to say that the feedback and support have been very positive. We’ve already sold three of these maps! We have seven to go.

Another future perspective is the book that we will create in partnership with you, NESS. The idea is to have an artifact that marks and consolidates this period of thinking. This will be a curated piece in which we will select a number of responses and explore more directly the connections between them as well as highlight certain topics and patterns. The book will probably be structured in a way to allow for different entry points and multiple ways of engaging with it. Depending on our parallel fundraising, unrelated to the donations, we could even launch it as soon as mid-next year. Being true to our philanthropic cause, all profits from the sales will also be donated.

The last thing I would add is that we might extend the reflections for as long as the pandemic, or the crisis, lasts. Knowledge is never enough and we do need to engage more actively with practices that allow us to debate our future. We need to be able to more actively craft the direction we want to move towards as a society, instead of accepting bureaucrats and big corporations to decide that for us. And this starts with conversations. The beauty is that our initiative is just one extra grain of sand in the pile that has recently surfaced out of this need to speak, mobilize and help each other. Tomorrow Anew has forced me to watch more closely the many creative ways our communities have responded to this call, and this has made me more optimistic. I do believe tomorrow we will bring dramatic changes in the ways we organize ourselves and build a more social and environmentally just future.

For the reader, I invite you to join the discussion and share your thoughts on “What will be different tomorrow?”

Gabriel adds: I would like to use this opportunity to thank my team that has worked so hard to make this happen. Here, a special mention to Luisa Schettino and Monica Vieira Eisenberg is necessary. These women have been fantastic. Also, a thank you note to our NGO partners, especially Instituto Bei and Brazil Foundation for their extreme generosity and their intense work on the ground. To NESS, for this space and our upcoming collaboration. And last, but not least, to everyone who has donated and/or shared their reflections. I know how precious everyone’s time is, and for your support, we are extremely grateful.

Gabriel Kozlowski is a Brazilian architect and curator. He is currently Assistant Curator for the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia 2021. His past curated exhibitions include “Walls of Air” (the Brazilian Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Biennale) and “Housing+” (the 3rd Biennial Exhibit of the MIT L. Center for Advanced Urbanism). Gabriel’s recent books include The World as an Architectural Project (MIT Press, 2020); 8 Reactions for Afterwards (RioBooks, 2019); and Walls of Air: Brazilian Pavilion 2018 (Bienal de São Paulo, 2018). Gabriel is the founder of TomorrowAnew.org.

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