Upswell’s Public Square: What You Should Know

Upswell’s Public Square: What You Should Know

// By Jacqueline Brennan

Imagine being in Manhattan, New York. Or Frankfort, Kentucky. Or Anchorage, Alaska. Or any town, really.

In any thriving community, there’s an exciting and unexpected rhythm to public activity. You wander down the street and bump into an old friend. Duck into a quirky store and discover a new passion. Have a sudden moment of transcendence, brought to you by an artist playing music on the street corner. Strike up a conversation with a stranger in a coffee shop who opens your eyes to a totally different view of the world. And all around you, other people are having the same kinds of experiences.

That incredible diversity of activity and opportunity is what the Public Square captures. It’s Upswell’s bustling, fascinating, electrifying, thought-provoking, awe-inspiring, vivacious heart, where anything can happen and every exchange advances the common good.

So, what does that mean, exactly? How do you a build a town of changemakers? Well, it’s something you truly have to experience to understand, but a snapshot of last year’s Public Square might make things clearer.

Just a few days before Upswell LA began, the cavernous hallways and landings of the InterContinental were empty. But on the first day of the very first Upswell, hundreds of curious changemakers strolled around a completely transformed space. Luminous street lamps, iron and wood benches, and white slated fences created a sense that a city planner had installed a massive park within the hotel.

At one end, a group considered the subtext of a powerful painting in the Art Share LA gallery. A few feet away, someone thumbed through Erik Wahl’s The Spark and the Grind in the Upswell Bookstore, as the author himself prepared to take the Main Stage a few minutes later.

Not too far away, a gasp erupted loudly when a woman, plugged into a VR set in the Immersive Arcade, witnessed the brutal power of California’s wildfires. And just down the way from her, the team from the Fetzer Institute led a spirited conversation about what it means to connect your changework to your inner life.

At the other end of the Public Square, New York Times columnist David Brooks sat on a park bench with a new acquaintance to discuss his new project, Weave, which explores ways to strengthen the social fabric of our shared country. Behind him, another group, armed with markers, got to know each other while coloring on a massive mural.

The hum of activity – people chatting over coffee in the networking lounge, listening to a lively Spark Talk about food systems, brainstorming ways to advance equity – was punctuated by the soul-stirring beats of the Fernando Pullum jazz ensemble.

And, in the Science and Tech lab, the young changemakers of the YMCA of Greater Long Beach Youth Institute impressed an influential leader with an unusually innovative display of 3D printing and product design. That demonstration led to the entire team from the Y being funded to attend a conference for young leaders in Europe.

All of these things – the activity, energy, ideas, potential – were happening at the same time, in the same place. An hour later, we could have described a completely different scene.

That’s the magic of being in community with such a diverse group of changemakers. You never know what will happen next. But you do know that, whatever it is, it’s going to be amazing.

As you explore the plan for this year’s Public Square in Chicago, there’s just one important thing to know: it will change the way you think about doing good!

1600 900 Jacqueline Brennan
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