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The Art of the Nudge

I used to think that the best way to convince someone of my viewpoint was to beat them over the head with my opinion. To grind them down with facts, figures and quotes. To wear them out until they finally gave in, agreeing to my absolute correct perspective!

This method extended to my involvement in historic preservation. As a newcomer to the field, and a DIY-er, I learned by doing and by surrounding myself with other experts. I read everything I could, picked people's brains, and watched the campaigns that they were involved in. I saw a professional field full of passionate people who wanted to make places better.

You know what I didn't see? Subtlety. Maybe that's why I was initially attracted to the movement. I thought it was all rallies, lawsuits and press conferences. A lot of flash, but unfortunately, not enough wins. Important historic buildings were still getting demolished at an amazing (and unnecessary) rate. Hardly the fault of the hardworking people involved, but it made me take a step back from my nascent organizing.

Next, I co-created CITY of NIGHT, a one-night multi-disciplinary art festival at Buffalo's Silo City grain elevator complex. My organization, ELAB, made a mostly-forgotten place popular again and put 30,000 pairs of eyes on the derelict structures, over three years. Something amazing happened.

We helped people see.

By giving them a fun party, a fascinating historic tour, and a giant concert/art/dance/food truck extravaganza, we shifted their perspective in just six hours. Granted, these events were a huge undertaking- volunteering for months, organizing across disciplines; not to mention the logistics of bringing a dangerous site like that into line so that your insurance agency doesn't freak out!

What people said when they left said it all: "You know, I've always wondered about these buildings, but never knew I could go inside! Now I understand how cool they are. We should definitely save them- maybe they could hold apartments! Restaurants! Maybe I could plan an event here someday!"

We gave them access to the place, curated an experience, and offered them a way to connect emotionally. Simple, subtle, elegant. It was the perfect formula to change people's minds about place.

The "art of the nudge" is about doing small things and big things that help people gain new perspective.

My Architectural Coloring Book series, focused on Western New York (with more projects in the hopper - see what I did there?), has been a fantastic nudge. It reminds people that their hometowns are still relevant. That historic architecture is more than just aesthetically pleasing- it is an asset to be leveraged. It also reminds me that people can access art in many different ways and that it's up to me to keep stretching my boundaries.

History is our future, and when we can share that message in subtle ways, it becomes all the more obvious to everyone.


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