This is my story of how I turned a longtime practice of visual art into a powerful tool for organizational change at Alternate ROOTS.
Editor’s note: Ariston Jacks is an artist and team member with Alternate ROOTS in the Innovation Lab for Arts Development Agencies. In this post, he shares his own perspective on a recent moment where his own creative process directly informed the group’s thinking around their challenge. Read the accompanying post from John Shibley, Alternate ROOTS’s Innovation Lab process facilitator and more about how organizations can learn from artists.
Creating visual metaphors with Alternate ROOTS
I am Ariston Jacks, a visual artist and a member of Alternate ROOTS. I recently reconnected with my passion for visionary art and the innate social relevance of the creative process during Alternate ROOTS’s Innovation Lab retreat, which was exciting, fun, and filled with inspiring moments. I completely enjoyed the innovation and growth we experienced as a team and as an organization.
During the process of the retreat, I contributed to the ROOTS group by illustrating ideas and visually capturing our words. Through my drawings, I developed a visual metaphor by creating symbols and icons that we used collectively to clarify our objective. First, let me provide some background.
Implementing a long-term visual practice
I have been an active ROOTS member for a little over a year, so I am relatively new to the organization. Back in January, I was asked to be on the organization’s National Steering Committee to help restructure the organization. I was excited to contribute to this process of improvement taking place, yet I was skeptical about how I could truly be useful to the distinguished group of knowledgeable individuals they had assembled. The other committee members all welcomed me and made it known that I was there because my voice was important. This was very encouraging, and it gave me the confidence to contribute in the best way I knew how – visually.
While sitting in our initial meetings I doodled, as I usually do, in my small moleskine notebook in order to stay engaged. I listen better and remember more when my hand is sketching images combined with notes, so that I can highlight some of the interesting or thought-provoking points. This has been a habit of mine since 2003: I developed the practice while working with an agricultural ad agency in Arkansas after graduating from college. My coworkers at that time found it amusing that I created pages of doodles and information during long meetings, because they could not understand how I was able to focus better while engaged in creation of a detailed drawing.
After becoming a member of Alternate ROOTS, I learned the significance of this skill that I have cultivated over the years. While sitting through countless classes, hours of conference lectures, and training sessions, I trained myself to render conscious and subconscious thoughts to create visual icons and form-filled messages from data I take in from my environment. I think of it as practice for the happier days when I finally own a huge, sky lit loft where I create dual masterworks daily.
Building a graphic interpretation of Alternate ROOTS’s change work
Alternate ROOTS gave me a chance to contribute in an unconventional way to benefit the entire organization using my ability, interpretive skills, and drawing hand to synthesize information into an interesting visual metaphor. The leadership and staff at Alternate ROOTS made me feel right at home while creating work for organizations to improve their function, efficiency, and even increase membership or consumer base because a group of people noticed my talent, valued it and gave me an opportunity.
Back to the week-long Innovation Lab retreat:
Alternate ROOTS’s process facilitator, John Shibley, used creative mediation techniques that challenged us to think deeper, yet keep us on track in addressing our challenge without getting too stuck on particulars. Early on in the retreat, he noticed the visual illustrative work I was doing and suggested that I harness an art related opportunity in the retreat by doing what I love – drawing!
Throughout our sessions, I watched and listened as we broke down some difficult information into chunks, dissected it, analyzed and packaged it for change, and it was amazing to hear everyone’s thoughts merge together to form our action steps.
Being in the room with such brilliant people showing respect, compassion and ability to problem solve on a high level made me think of luminaries — bright instruments of change with progress.
So that is how the “Luminary Graph” came to be, as you can see in the progression of photos on the right side of this post. It shows visually our mission’s components and how the structure of ROOTS is organized around them.
At the bottom of this post, you’ll also see the long linear caricature infused drawing that detailed topics from the first day of the intensive until the last (click to enlarge).
At the end of our retreat, I was happy. I translated the information expressed in our meetings into graphic metaphor and was able to create a visual dimension of our challenges. Then, with the use of our collective imagination, we used this graphic to fuel and depict the breadth of our work during the Innovation Lab retreat.
Thanks to John, and my membership with Alternate ROOTS, I now feel as if I have fulfilled my own innovative mission as the first “Convening Illustrator”: working with teams to make visual, beautiful, and functional approaches to tough challenges.