Webby for Good is a collaborative program formed by The Webby Awards and WP Engine to showcase Webby-recognized projects built to change the world.
What’s the elevator pitch for your project?
Art and Soul is a micro-documentary project about Creative Growth Art Center, the world’s oldest and largest studio for artists with developmental, physical, and mental disabilities. Operating since 1974, Creative Growth has provided both the tools and space necessary for individuals with disabilities to grow, develop as artists, and professionally showcase their work to the world.
What was the impetus for this project? What real-world challenge were you trying to solve?
Art and Soul came to be after reading about Creative Growth Art Center online, seeing a handful of dynamic photographs of the space, and feeling deeply moved by the mission statement of the institution and the stories of the artists working there.
There’s only so much planning you can do for a shoot before you get out there and see the story yourself. For us, our breakthrough moment came the minute we stepped foot into Creative Growth’s studio. The space is brilliant - a multitude of color, natural light, sound, energy, creativity, and joy. All of Creative Growth’s artists were receptive to the producers (and their cameras) onsite and remained immersed in their work. This enabled Throop and Boyer to seamlessly move through the space to capture a handful of intimate scenes, a number of quiet, slow-motion portraits, and other thoughtful moments that ultimately informed the edit.
Once you settled on your idea, what was your first step in moving it forward?
Our team spent considerable time researching and thinking about how to shape this piece so it could truly emphasize the outstanding work coming out of Creative Growth, whose impact is felt not only across San Francisco’s Bay Area, but around the world. After weeks of pre-production and a handful of phone calls with Creative Growth’s director, Tom di Maria, producers Noah Throop and Mark Boyer boarded a flight to San Francisco to spend three days at Creative Growth to capture and tell this story.
Was there a moment during the project where you ran into a hurdle; or faced a problem you didn’t know how to solve? Take us to this moment, what happened and what did you do next?
There were a number of challenges that arose while producing Art & Soul. We had limited time on the ground, tight editing deadlines, and unique shot constraints, among other things. The biggest difficulty was capturing intimate and captivating moments with each artist, while being sensitive and nonintrusive to the creative process. We made a concerted effort to spend time in studio without any cameras, sitting with many of the artists to ensure they knew our intentions and how we'd be going about the production. This worked wonders, and by the end most were sad to see us leave. It was an overwhelmingly positive and eye opening experience.
Did the real-world impact meet your expectations? Can you share an example?
Creative Growth’s story and mission felt substantiated from the very beginning. As an organization, it has stood for empowering marginalized individuals dating back to the 1970’s… Similarly, Great Big Story believes its work can positively impact the viewers it reaches, no matter where they see themselves as individuals.
What technologies/media did you use to develop this project (AI, Social Media, WordPress, etc.)?
We used Video, as well as social media distribution through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram.
Was the tech/medium you chose crucial to conveying your message? If so, why?
Yes, in a crowded media landscape, the opportunity to tell a visual story like this one can easily get lost among a multitude of voices competing for attention. Great Big Story is fortunate to occupy a strong online presence and has a reputation for high quality storytelling, in addition to viewers who actively watch, engage and share new material when its published. Additionally, this was a visual story that needed more than a written component. Video was the perfect medium to accomplish this.
How did this project defy your expectations?
The production staff had to handle this story with extreme care and sensitivity and in the end, the feedback showed. While numbers and stats from online viewership can validate the work of any filmmaker, what’s most rewarding is the praise and acknowledgment from hundreds of individuals with disabilities who expressed gratitude for the story. When material resonates in this way, it creates a lasting impact on not only the viewers, but an entire community. That’s the ultimate reward.
How will you use technology in future work to create inspiring, cutting-edge projects that also make a difference in people’s lives?
Technology is vitally importance to the work we do at Great Big Story. Wherever we go in the world, whether it’s an Oakland-based art studio or a remote swamp in the middle of Louisiana, we are always at the forefront of trying to incorporate the best technology to help us better tell stories. We operate on the mindset that if we have the best tools at our disposable, we’ll be able to do our best work. Continuing to effectively use and harness technology on future projects will enable us to tackle challenging and seemingly inaccessible stories, from using drones to highlight remote wilderness areas under environmental threat, to equipping an elite cyclist trying to break a world record with the latest GoPro. Technology is the backbone of our work, and it will always drive and underscore everything we do.