Project Dreams #1: The Organisation

If this is the first you hear about this idea please read the previous post before you continue.

How does one achieve something unachievable? By not trying to. A project like this will fail, instantly, if going at it with a “we’ll restore this building, we’ll be done tomorrow” attitude. From a project management perspective the way forward is to break this down into small projects, one at a time, each successive one a little closer to the far off target of a non-profit cinema/venue way way ahead in an undetermined future/ist.

Please note that as with my first post these are my ruminations and I haven’t discussed them with anyone yet. That means I really yearn for feedback from here on down, your own ideas, suggestions and of course further thoughts. Nothing is set in stone. This is just a framework to go from and to have something on paper to work on.

I’d suggest to set the project up in a phased based manner. The most familiar process to me would be that of software development – the goal is to work along a roadmap, reaching milestones and re-assessing the project and further plans at every major milestone reached. I also feel it is essential to not attempt to look ahead too far – there will be issues and developments that are just unforeseeable. Trying to look to far to the future, in this case, also causes vertigo.

Rather than asking people – that is you – to sign up for the whole project, we’d all only sign up for each phase and can elect to commit for another once that phase is complete. Each phase should have a number of conditions / goals that need to be reached for that phase to be complete. To make this less abstract – here’s what the first two phases could look like.

Phase 1: Brainstorming, research, the building and a webpage.

Phase 1, where this project is now, would have to build the basis for all that follows. It has six – suggested – goals that need to be reached for the phase to be complete:

  1. Recruit a core group.
  2. Brainstorm the project and build a structure for it.
  3. Learn about and from other projects like these.
  4. Research and assess the building in detail.
  5. Design and build a web-page with a solid backend and database structure.
  6. Decide on goals for and set up the next phase.

Recruiting a core group says what it means. At this point I feel it makes more sense to keep this small and focused rather than big and chaotic. I’d doubt a group much larger than ten would be necessary or even manageable – though it is of course always possible to have guests and additional help coming in. The most important thing about this group is enthusiasm, responsibility, a good damn amount of (sardonic) humour and that the people going through this phase are actually able and happy to work together.1  I have a few in mind (hello!) and I am sure if you are interested you have a few on your mind, too. The specialists required in this phase are someone with knowledge about restoration and a skilled webdesigner (more on that below). Potentially someone that can assist with finance, calculations and market evaluation.

Point two and three go together, really. There need to be an ongoing discussion on how the group actually wants to organise this; we’ll need to look at examples, talk to people that participated in similar projects and the like. I don’t believe in authoritarian leadership. Authority is a tool, not a purpose. As a bit of a fun part this might open up opportunities to visit those other restoration projects and talk to people there in person.

Researching and assessing the building is the major part of this phase as it will inform so much else. Who owns the building, what is the owner’s attitude to a project like this, how can we collaborate with them, what is the damage, what are the most pressing repairs that need to be done, what is a good way to structure the repairs? My guess is that the most pressing matter likely would be to fix the roof and make sure that structurally the building is still safe. This assessment is all important because without having an estimate about what needs to be done to the building it will be impossible to set any funding targets or plan how to proceed.

I’d also like to have a webpage set up by the end of this phase, to help with recruitment and outreach. I’d insist on something that’s designed to a professional level from the get go rather then having to massively re-design later. A webpage is so important for a project relying on interaction with the public and on gathering interest. This must look trustworthy, solid and inviting. But I’d also would want this to be a database system that helps us when recruiting – i.e. to include a flexible/detailed sign up form where people can indicate that they are willing to contribute and in what way they want to contribute. This database needs to be easily searchable. So, if we need people with carpeting skills, rather than having them all on the project at all time, it should be possible to filter those that indicated that is a way they could and would want to contribute. We could then contact them when the time is right to see if they are available. The webpage would have to provide an opportunity to sign up for a newsletter, leave comments and to interact. I favour transparency – telling people what is happening as much as possible and updating frequently.

And it would also be great to begin to collect people’s memories and stories about the Futurist through, among other ways, this webpage. Ask for people to submit any old photos, specifically of what the interior of the building used to look like. Ask them to submit any surviving newspaper clippings that concern the building.

Phase 2: Starting the recruitment drive, finances, legalities and becoming non-profit

Here’s where the project will get a little more serious. Each successive step will move further in that direction and each successfully completed phase will make it harder to just walk away and say “this is madness”. Be warned. Obviously this is even more speculation then my suggestion above, given that it depends on what happens during phase one.

At this point we have: A working webpage to interact with the public which is2 ready to collect the information people feed us and which has the facilities to assist recruitment.  We know what the situation with the building is like, what repairs will need to be done, and which ones are the most pressing. We know whether the current owner of the building is permissive to us, or if we need to start a convincing act or3 even outright have to raise funds to purchase the building. We have explored other similar projects, potentially visited them, and talked to a lot of people, beginning to build a network.

Here’s what needs to be done in phase two:

  1. Recruit a core group.
  2. Brainstorm the project and evaluate what has happened in phase one.
  3. Make the project known widely. Find celebrity patrons willing to officially support the project, contact news agencies, start releasing viral videos on the internet, go out in the community and talk to people. A lot of public relation work.
  4. Begin to recruit people willing to help with all the volunteering tasks needed. We know what repairs need to be done. We know in what order. This helps give structure. As with the general project itself I feel that small manageable projects that we can advertise for and co-operate on with the volunteering centres available are key to make this a success.
  5. Set up a non-profit organisation. We need this in place from here on down to be able to legally start fund-raising and become an entity. I’ve put this in phase two, rather than phase one, so that it remains easier to scrap everything while we are in phase one should it all get too scary. There needs to be a decision made (based on legal advice) whether this non-profit organisation is the same that later on runs the building or whether restoring the building and maintaining it are two entirely different projects.
  6. Decide on goals for and set up the next phase.

Phase 3: Into the looking glass

I have no clue about and don’t even want to consider this phase in a lot of detail yet. I would guess this would be where the actual repair works on the building starts.

The Documentary Subcommittee

And then – there’s that other bit that I have alluded to in all of the above. To me this is not just a restoration of a building. I see this as an art project on a really big scale.4 The aim is to restore a cinema. It’s the perfect “topic”for someone to make a documentary on. I’d like to invite a documentarian and her/his team (this doesn’t have to be the same one for the length of the project) to follow the success or failure of this. A team that has absolutely free hand on how they organise themselves, how that documentary looks like, etc. – but that assists the project by providing video material and recordings that can go on the webpage or be used to generate additional buzz. As mentioned above transparency is important to me.

This then is my suggested plan. Go wild in your comments and rip it apart. You can also send an e-mail to “futurist at” if you don’t want to comment in public.

If you were to ask me if I am scared about what exactly I am suggesting here, then I’d say “hell yes”. But pretty much anything I’ve done in my life I’ve done because it was something that scared me. One of my good friends, Helena, once said that we are defined by our fears, rather than our successes. Well you monsters under the bed, you Edward’s with the scissor hands, you global rising temperatures and financial pressures: bring it on!5

I have an appointment with the city council tomorrow morning to start to look into who owns the Futurist. My next post will talk about my motivations for this project, and with the one after that I can hopefully start to introduce the team! Finally, because this post is really, really dry, here’s a motivational link.

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    1. Ask yourself why you would want to participate in this. If it’s primarily for your ego I’d prefer you’d stay away from the core planning group. You are still more than welcome to help though! []
    2. The webpage. []
    3. I did mention things might get way more serious at this point. []
    4. The panorama photos I do, now and then, would, if I’d have them printed, be meters wide and meters high. I like to think big, if you didn’t notice yet. []
    5. Just please, please someone keep Tinky Winky away from me. []