February 28, 2013 By Louis Zacharilla
When I next see her, I am going to tell my high school language teacher that I learned 11 Aboriginal Australian languages in 90 minutes last Friday night in New York. I did not use Rosetta Stone or one of the commercial courses designed to “immerse” a person in a language, so that they can travel to a country and manage to at least mangle greetings.
Instead I felt my way into the culture, through the music, sounds and images of an ensemble of 16 artists who are part of a “creative meeting place” for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal performers to develop and perform contemporary Australian Aboriginal music and, as I was told, to “interrogate Australian culture.” The group is called Black Arm Band. These beautiful souls offered me in 90 minutes more emotional range than a joint conference of psychotherapists and opera divas. While the inspiration of the group is to “awaken sleeping languages” and the spirit of a community that has been fragmented, it has given the culture –Australia’s – the “courage to face many dilemmas.”
The music and images were an attempt to unite, or at least to call forward, language as a cultural center and source of personal power. Given the fact that I was a guest at the performance and performance after-party of my friend Phil Scanlan, the nation’s Consul General to New York, the connection among culture, community and broadband ran like a current through the entire evening. It is not lost on Australia, as we heard from last year’s Visionary of the Year, Stephen Conroy, that there is a seeping away of vitality from the communities of that hearty culture.
This is not unique. There is something swelling in the ground and in our public air that is seeking a new way; certainly a new economy but also a new cultural experience that can feed the new economy. It first needs to reunite and then to reignite. It needs the courage to face dilemmas. That is where ICF and its communities come in.
I am not dreaming this, however dreamy the performers at NYU’s Skirball Center made me. This is real world stuff, and you can hear it rumbling through the conferences, cafes and countryside just as well as I could hear it in the unique sound of the world’s oldest wind instrument, the didgeridoo.
What is it? It is both anger over the pace of change and a rush toward the hope and possibility bound up in a newly-discovered, old truth: community is the source of culture, and culture is a canvas that can be repainted and reconstituted for the good. But you need to have wealth. You need to be able to sell the painting and to own it in every generation. This is called economic viability.
You can see this rush of possibility on our stages in New York each June, when the world’s Top7 Communities arrive to tell their stories. We learn from it and it guides others. You feel it when you speak with people from our Institute at Walsh University which is attempting to explore education’s role in the new community, while bringing Ohio’s Stark County into the new century. It too is a call back home.
You will also hear it in a new, exciting way when Chief Uzo Udemba, CEO of the Udemba Group of companies addresses the ICF’s Intelligent Communities of the world alumni on June 5th. Udemba is attempting a cultural coup of epic proportion. One worth studying. His vision is as clean and as simple as the voice of a great singer. His countrymen have scattered. Nigeria, which has one of the world’s largest film and media industries (after the USA and India), is attempting to put these creative arts back into its economy and to build an economic and social engine from them. To do this Mr. Udema has a vision for a new city, an Intelligent Community which will arrest the Diaspora of Lagos. As with most communities under siege, there is flight out. Nigeria’s talent is scattered across the globe. The work, over the long-term, is to allow them to hear the right music, the song that lures them back home. It is an attempt at a global gathering, which is not unlike what we hear from rural populations trapped inside cities. “We want to go home.”
If I heard anything on Friday night in New York, during one of the most significant two hours of my life, it is the sound of a call to gather the tribe and to make it work and work and work until the gold returns to the kingdom of community.
About the Intelligent Community Forum
The Intelligent Community Forum is a think tank that studies the economic and social development of the 21st Century community. Whether in industrialized or developing nations, communities are challenged to create prosperity, stability and cultural meaning in a world where jobs, investment and knowledge increasingly depend on advances in communications. For the 21st Century community, connectivity is a double-edge sword: threatening established ways of life on the one hand, and offering powerful new tools to build prosperous, inclusive and sustainable economies on the other. ICF seeks to share the best practices of the world's Intelligent Communities in adapting to the demands of the Broadband Economy, in order to help communities everywhere find sustainable renewal and growth. More information can be found at www.intelligentcommunity.org.
Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.
ICF co-founder John G. Jung originated the Intelligent Community concept and continues to serve as the Forum's leading visionary. Formerly President and CEO of the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance and Calgary Economic Development Authority, he is a registered professional urban planner, urban designer and economic developer. He leads regular international business missions to US, European, Asian, Indian and Australian cities, and originated the ICF Immersion Lab program. John is a regular speaker at universities and conferences and serves as an advisor to regional and national leaders on Intelligent Community development. The author of numerous articles in planning and economic development journals, he has received global and Toronto-based awards for his work in collaboration and strategic development and sits on numerous task forces and international advisory boards.
ICF co-founder Louis Zacharilla is the creator and presenter of the annual Smart21, Top Seven and Intelligent Community Awards and oversees ICF's media communications and development programs. He is a frequent keynote and motivational speaker and panelist, addressing audiences of tech, academic and community leaders around the world, and writes extensively for publications including American City & County, Continental Airline's in-flight magazine and Municipal World. His frequent appearances in the electronic media have included both television and radio in South Korea, China and Canada. He has served as an adjunct professor at Fordham University in New York and is a Guest Lecturer at Polytechnic University's Distinguished Speaker Series. He holds a Masters Degree from the University of Notre Dame.