The Fine Art Of Investing

It’s an interesting gamble.

One of the most relevant fields of study today is Emergence Theory, the science of human cooperation. The Somerville Stock Exchange, an interactive art project, fundraiser, and neighborhood forum all in one, is a supple demonstration of Emergence Theory in purposeful practice. Created by artist Tim Devin, the project is a malleable model of how, by contributing to the quality of life of Somerville, people can both earn stocks and help the ‘value’ of same stocks rise. Although stocks have no monetary use, their implicit value is accrued for the good of the residents of the city. The idea is that people can be directly engaged in creating positive change for the place in which they live, while learning about others doing likewise.

The exchange charts three ‘markets’: environmental, community, and creative. To earn stocks, locals partake in activities in those three concerns, and then inform the Exchange. The action is posted on the forum, and the stock is re-evaluated in kind. Individuals and companies may also make donations in lieu of participation, the SSE donates proceeds to three corresponding charities: Somerville Climate Action, Somerville Homeless Coalition, and the Somerville Arts Council—(Devin is on the board of the Arts Council, but the project is his own).

In the creative forum, you can get acquainted with Artisan’s Asylum, ‘zines at the Armory, the Artbeat Festival and the Printer’s Devil Review. Community matters noted include Nave Gallery’s ‘Yarnstorming’’ Event, the Welcome Project, Sprout & Co.’s proposal for an alternative High School focused on science and technology, and the Somerville Mom’s List. Environmental happenstance includes word on the Union Sq. Farmer’s Market, Metro Pedal Power, Earthos Institute, Recover Green Roofs, Groundwork Somerville, My City Gardens and more. You can learn about the Environmental Protection Agency’s rating of Mystic River, how to compost your food, and raised bed gardening.

Community is an ongoing theme of Devin’s work. “The History of Somerville, 2010-2100” used ideas collected from residents to create a future history of the city. In future Somerville—based on submissions from locals—cars are banned, Tufts University is an overlord, and a dog has been appointed Mayor.

At cursory glance, this creative piece might be underestimated as a quaint philanthropic effort. In fact, this artwork is subtly provocative in that it uses digital media, which can often produce a real-time disconnect in human interaction (with attendant social ills), to promote personal contact and collaboration (with associated boon to humanity). Similar to Josiah McElheny’s stunning “Some Pictures of the Infinite” showing at the Institute of Contemporary Art, this piece is a stimulating hall of mirrors—in that, for example, in reviewing it and it’s benefits, Spare Change News has, ostensibly, just earned stock. And maybe bumped values too. The Somerville Stock Exchange is an endlessly looping self-referential exposition on the nature of Emergence Theory. It’s akin to a stock market of neighborhood stoops. (With the tallying of ‘Porch Fest,’ in which 100 musicians gave free concerts [see the 2cd Quarterly Report], the SSE’s nudging of people to fully inhabit and experience their place of living is chicken-and-egg literal).

Currently, Environmental stocks are up, due to a one million EPA grant to clean up the Kiley Barrel ‘brownfield’ (heavily contaminated site). Sadly, creative stock took a hit with the closing of Creative Union, a gallery that sold art made by adults with disabilities. Unfortunately, community stock is down as well, due in part to a new study by Chronicle of Philanthropy which rated the Boston Metro area 49th in giving to charities and non-profits.

The artwork runs through March 2013, but who knows? With a little effort, maybe we could blow this thing up. If you find it difficult to get excited about wagering on pork bellies, human incarceration rates, or munitions manufacture, check out http://timdevin.com/somervillestockexchange.html for a better return on your investment. The dividends are both tangible and incalculable at the same time. Possible year-end bonus: making the Chronicle of Philanthropy group look twice.

What do you want to bet?

-J. Marechal

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