Leveraging digital media and user-generated content to empower citizens certainly isn’t a new phenomenon. But in Cincinnati the Radius short film project, inspired by the work of the Topos Partnership, has devised ingenious and far-reaching ways to mobilize citizens.
The Radius project provides diverse digital elements with which citizens can become more deeply involved in arts in their community. Indeed, the main goal of the film was to “help people see the arts in a new way,” stresses Margy Waller, senior fellow for the Topos Partnership.
The film, which was produced by Possible Worldwide, centers around “a man’s investigation into a mysterious superhero who sweeps into his local community and the startling revelation behind the hero’s rapid rise.” It premiered in a 104-year-old Cincinnati theater called Memorial Hall on February 25, 2012, and was launched online the same day, reports Waller.
Citizen involvement in the making of the film was extensive, with citizens providing images for the set and characters in the film, “motivated by superhero mannequin figures with colored capes” that were perched “on top of five noted buildings in the business and art districts” of Cincinnati, including the Contemporary Arts Center and Know Theater, explains Waller. Two thousand photos from “several hundred” Cincinnati area citizens were assembled for the film, she says.
Filming took place during the MidPoint Music Festival, held last September in Cincinnati. Virtual movie posters were plastered on the five buildings where the superheroes were situated, directing citizens with mobile phones to play a SCVNGR game by scanning QR codes.
Citizens stop to view poster for Radius. Photo: Scott Beseler.
The game essentially challenged them to “take pictures of different citizens, buildings, and businesses in and around the festival footprint,” says Waller. Participating citizens also had an opportunity to “remix music from downloads” provided by some of the bands in the music festival. Some of those mixes were then incorporated into the film score.
Much of the inspiration for the Radius film project came from the Arts Ripple Effect, a research project launched by the Topos Partnership to “build shared responsibility in the arts.” The project underlines the many key benefits of a vibrant arts scene, including “safer streets and booming businesses.”
According to Waller, the Radius film “is having a major impact” on citizens in the Cincinnati region who participated in the film. This was borne out in reactions displayed by citizens interviewed for a documentary on the making of Radius, which is due out this month. They said their participation in the film “changed the way they view the arts” and “emphasized to them the importance of the arts.”
The film also helped demonstrate that the Cincinnati region is a “great place to live, work, and visit,” Waller said.
Another likely benefit of the film was its usefulness as part of the fundraising effort that local partner and arts advocacy group ArtsWave launched this season. Waller, a former vice president of ArtsWave, reports that this was the first time in four years that the annual fundraising effort “raised its goal,” with the “film premiere serving as part of the successful annual campaign narrative.”
The Radius film project has a larger significance as well: It underlines the capability of employing more fluid, blended physical/digital experiences to advance long-term public policy goals and nurture more vibrant and close-knit communities.
— Michael Mascioni is a market research consultant in digital media.