Report from ideaSPARK

Raleigh's explosion of conformity

| September 26, 2007

Artist Meghan Melloy's "Fear Bracelets" hangs in a dark corner of a downtown Raleigh warehouse, beside 87 other interpretations of art dotting the black walls.

In a note beside the piece—three cloth bracelets pinned onto a frame—Melloy explains her cathartic practice of wearing her fears on her wrist, spelled out in crude, pastel embroidery: Intolerance. Failure. Bird flu.

In the same space, the speakers and participants of ideaSPARK spell out their own fears for the city of Raleigh and its creative scene: Gentrification. Stigma. Corporate takeover.

These maladies were addressed Friday and Saturday in Vintage 21's sanctuary-turned-conference room at the lecture and workshop component of Spark Con. Like the festival as a whole, the meeting was meant to spur conversation, debate and solutions by those who believe Raleigh is more than a collection of McMansions and malls.

Participants hoped to answer the question raised by one participant's musing: We talk about the soul of Raleigh—but what are we really talking about?

J.P. Reuer, an architect and force behind ideaSPARK, thinks the meeting was a start.

"There aren't many groups you can jump right into and have your voice heard without going through a long process," Reuer says after Friday's presentations. "If we didn't care, we wouldn't be here."

"We" is about 40 mostly white men and women professionally and personally invested in the town that tops so many "Best of" lists. One of them is Bill Mooney, co-owner of Tannis Root and Kung Fu Nation, merchandising companies that count The White Stripes and Yoko Ono as clients. Mooney traces his urban roots to the Corrosion of Conformity concerts he would bike to in the 1980s while in high school in Cary.

Now, as a businessman in a city with skyrocketing rents and more parking lots than business space, he asks over the rumble of a passing train, "How can we look to the future and enjoy the success of Raleigh while protecting the cost of living and encouraging creativity?"

Mooney's question looms over the workshop like the church's silver industrial cross on the wall behind the speaker's back and is considered in a number of proposed solutions: hitchhiking and bike sharing transportation networks; forging connections in existing communities instead of building new ones; generating cross-generational stories communicated via technology; establishing "iRights," the Apple generation's answer to a universal bill of rights.

But, for now, those solutions are just a part of the effort. After hours of discussions, one guy shrugs and quotes writer G.K. Chesterton: "It's not that people can't see the solution, it's that they can't see the problem."

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