Upswell Day 1 / Be Big. Be Bold. Be Loving.

Upswell Day 1 / Be Big. Be Bold. Be Loving.

// By Christian Clansky

After two years of planning, collaboration, and energy-building, it’s finally time for Upswell! Here’s a look at what’s happening on the ground in LA.

Welcome to Los Angeles

Wired into the DNA of Upswell is the idea of being immersive. What’s the point of being in a place like Los Angeles – a multi-cultural metropolis with almost 20 million people’s worth of ideas, challenges, solutions, and dreams – if we’re just going to sit in a hotel, removed from it all?

So, the first moment of Upswell was designed to explore the City of Angels and see firsthand what’s happening in communities across the region. A few hundred changemakers who arrived early to dive into Upswell went on 10 LA Inside & Out Tours. They rode in an iconic Jeepney through Filipinotown, participated in the rich arts history of Leimart Park, discovered society-changing new solutions for homelessness in Skid Row, and much more. Then, with a local context in mind, they returned to the InterContinental to open Upswell in a powerful way.

Kicking Off (Officially)

Surrounded by changemakers on all sides, Independent Sector President and CEO Dan Cardinali took the circular Main Stage to open Upswell LA with a call to remember that, no matter what sector we come from, all changemakers are part of the same wave of social change. Together, we’re here to harness the energy necessary to improve lives and our world.

Dan then turned the stage over to Andrew Powers, city manager of the City of Thousand Oaks, California, who delivered poignant remarks about the tragedies his community – just 40 short miles from Upswell – has been reeling from since the Borderline shooting that killed 12 people and the fires that continue to ravage multiple parts of California.

Then, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles brought the message home that despite all the negative news, we have to find inspiration and hope in the “anxitment” – the anxiety and excitement that is a part of all positive social change. And he gave us a final call to action to ride the wave of Upswell through the next two days: “It’s time to be big. It’s time to be bold. And it’s also time to be loving.”


The Public Square Comes to Life

If you’ve been following the story of Upswell, then you know we’ve been talking up the Public Square. Big time. The vision has always been for the Public Square to be a wildly vibrant and buzzing social corridor with tons of things happening at all times.

So, rewind 24 hours. When we arrived on Tuesday, the 5th Floor of the InterContinental – the near-future home of the Public Square – looked like…well, a typical hotel. Sure, it was bathed in warm natural light, but the sprawling, empty hallways left everything to the imagination.

And then the boxes started to arrive – stacks and stacks and stacks of them. Followed by park benches, fence posts, street lights, paintings, stacks of books, and teams of staff and volunteers to arrange them all. In a few very short hours, with a lot of elbow grease and determination, an average hotel space completely transformed into the Public Square of our imagination. The final ingredient: people.

On Wednesday, like in public squares in cities around the world, people started to trickle in. Small conversations bubbled up on benches. Exhibitors opened for business. Curious changemakers wandered around with steaming cups of coffee. And then more people showed up – by the dozens and then the hundreds. They listened to new ideas on the Spotlight Stage, plugged into the Immersive Arcade, rolled their sleeves up and experimented at the Science and Tech Demo station.

They thumbed through volumes of wisdom in the Upswell Bookstore, brainstormed in groups for Changemaker Challenges, tackled huge topics in Focus Groups, and heard powerful and short Spark Talks. They grabbed markers and filled in the massive coloring wall mural, explored new perspectives in the Art Gallery, and thumped their feet during a rousing performance from the youth of the Fernando Pullum Center Jazz Ensemble.

It was overwhelming and exhilarating and inspiring. And that was just the afternoon of Day 1.

On the Main Stage

Failure seemed to be a theme on Wednesday on the Upswell Main Stage. First, artist Erik Wahl shared his story of failing in business during the dot-com bust, leaving him to question who he was and what he cared about. As a cheap form of therapy, he started slapping paint on a canvas – and quickly discovered his calling.

Fear of failure is what keeps us from reaching our potential, he said: “Follow the trail of breadcrumbs back from any unmet goal, and it will almost always lead to fear.” He illustrated his point (literally) by creating portraits of John Lennon and Albert Einstein in just a matter of minutes – two visionaries who combined creativity and action to change the world.

Erik’s performance was followed by Robert Egger, a well-known social entrepreneur who has spent 30 years transforming the way nonprofits approach food insecurity. Ironically enough, Robert announced just a week earlier that he was shuttering his LA Kitchen enterprise due to an unsustainable business model.

Robert owned the failure in LA Kitchen in blunt, provocative terms. Change is hard, he acknowledged, and the best ideas are often thwarted by “The fierce grip of normal, the tyranny of routine.” And though he’s leaving his active role in the nonprofit sector, Robert vowed to “take the knee,” allowing a new generation of changemakers to climb on his shoulders and reach higher than he ever could.

Diving Deep

Upswell breaks the mold – and it also features tried and true workshops designed to take deep dives into a diverse range of topics and skillsets. On our first day of workshops, we covered everything from fundraising compliance to scaling impact through partnerships to strategies for retaining emerging leaders of color.

Folks took away real skills and tools, but also engaged with people in smaller groups in each session for better connections with peers often dealing with similar challenges. Among the many highlights, Independent Sector’s own Katie Jones and Robert Jones (no, they are not related) gave people an update about our narrative initiative for the sector, sharing with the audience a new video about the effort.

A Taste of LA

Just as it began, the day ended out in the neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Eight buses drove in different directions to deliver hungry Upswellians (Upswellers? Upswellites? Ok, let’s stick to “changemakers” for now.) to some of the city’s most exciting culinary community spots. At tables serving an awesome range of menus – like Filipino BBQ, Italian, Mexican, Plant-based – new friends shared great food and spirited conversation while learning about the role food and culture play in strengthening communities.

And then, with nourished bodies and minds, everyone went home to recharge for a big Day 2. Check out a few highlights below:

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