The local nonprofit Warm Cookies of the Revolution just scored a lot of money to make elaborate machines representing the complicated and often boring processes of local government.
A Rube Goldberg machine, like the one above, is a combination of wacky equipment that ultimately does a simple thing in a complicated way. Warm Cookies, which describes itself as a civic health club, thinks this kind of contraption could be a useful metaphor for explaining how the city of Denver makes decisions about spending its money.
“If you ask people to come out and do a budgeting thing, people don’t like to do that — that’s boring as all hell,” said Evan Weissman, a founder of the group.
“The machines will be interesting enough and engaging enough that people will see why this is important and how they can take part.”
The award, announced on Wednesday, is worth $325,000. The project, called “This Machine Has A Soul!” will get underway in January 2017, but Weissman doesn’t think it will have its public debut until summer 2018.
Weissman, working with community organizers Candi CdeBaca and Candace Johnson, submitted the application nearly a year ago to ArtPlace America. They were competing with nearly 1,400 other groups for ArtPlace’s “placemaking” grants — and they were among 29 that won.
In particular, the group wants to explore the idea of “participatory budgeting,” which gets everyday people talking about and influencing the city’s budget.
“I think one of the missing links in everything we’ve tried to do is real participation, especially at the budget level,” said CdeBaca, executive director of Project VOYCE and a community activist in Swansea.
“We always have to be really reactionary to things that happen – especially things that are happening in our community right now. (This project) is an attempt to equip people with the skills that they need to participate – and then it could be the launch of a campaign to actually ask for that opportunity.”
In other words, the theatrics of these crazy machines also could become a new campaign to request a more participatory budget process.
The group will use the money to pay several artists from around Denver, and to pay for supplies and space.
There’s no telling what the machines might ultimately look like — maybe a “tennis ball hits a poet who starts a lowrider who sets off a mariachi band,” Weissman suggested.
The project will be based in District 9, stretching from LoDo to the National Western Stock Show and including some of Denver’s fastest redeveloping areas, such as Cole, Elyria, Swansea and River North. Residents of two or three neighborhoods might be invited into the elaborate budgeting simulation, Weissman said.
“It’s an illustration,” he explained. “It’ll be participatory in some ways. In other ways, they’ll just watch it … Maybe the whole thing is mobile — maybe it’s just on the back of trucks.”
What he does know, though, is that this is the single biggest project that Warm Cookies has taken on in its four years of existence.
“This is more money,” he said, “than our entire budget for every year of our existence.” Combined.