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  1. Current Events

    Current events are packaged, distributed, and consumed so fast that there's little space to think about what's happening, and less still to act. But 2011 saw people take what was on the front page of The New York Times and trending on Twitter, and launch it on Kickstarter.

    Some projects documented events as they happened. When NASA announced the end of its shuttle program a team of photographers, cinematographers, and artists recorded it all while others turned it into video art. The Occupy Wall Street JournalOccupy Boston Globe, and Occupy! chronicled Occupy Wall Street. Citizen journalism launched from Libya and Tunisia.

    Alison Klayman’s documentary about the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei mirrored headlines. When Weiwei was imprisoned by Chinese police in April, Klayman broke the news to backers with word from his camp. In May, she discussed him on the Colbert Report.

    Others creatively addressed crises head-on. In the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake, scientists and technologists created a Radiation Detection Hardware Network to publicly measure and report data in real-time. In the wake of the BP oil spill, a group of naval architects developed plans for wind-powered, sailing robot drones called Protei to skim oil from open water.

    Not all hashtags were highbrow. When a new version of Huckleberry Finn was announced that would edit the "n-word" to "slave," two comedians published a book to replace it with “robot.” When a random tweet to Detroit’s mayor asking for a RoboCop statue went viral, backers kicked in $70,000 to actually do it

    The backers and creators of these projects didn’t just respond to the news of the day. They helped create it.

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  2. Civic Projects

    From public art to community gardens, civic-minded projects launched a wide range of efforts in 2011.

    Many projects created or transformed public space. The Brownsville Farm converted a derelict lot into a farm yard for students. BioCurious created a hackerspace for citizen scientists. A new cultural center debuted in Brooklyn and open-air reading rooms popped up in New York. A Georgia bus stop got a makeover. One hundred metal monkeys were hung from a Michigan bridge. A town in Minnesota got a boombox installation. A woman left disposable cameras in parks.

    Other projects made areas explorable. Nathan Wessel created an alternative city map with the Frequent Transit Guide to Cincinnati. Noah Jeppson designed a map for Dallas’ tunnels and skyways. Amelia and Jamie mapped Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness. Brian Cook made a Hartford Museum Passport.

    Civic motivations were a part of many projects. A photographer documented derelict rest areas, and filmmakers detailed the fates of California state parks set to close. Three New Yorkers unveiled a plan to turn the East River into a pool while two guys in Brooklyn delivered pool parties by bike. Philadelphia’s dance moves were turned into murals. The Cleveland Heights public library got a statue of Harvey Pekar.

    And then there was Detroit, Kickstarter’s civic epicenter. Its projects created community gardensart installationsgreenhousespop-up shops, and software to map its ecology. A documentary on its beleaguered firefighters was a big hit, and it even got a Robocop statue. For Detroit’s creative community, Kickstarter was a WPA of sorts last year.

    In a year that saw government funding on the decline, people took to Kickstarter to get things done. However humble or ambitious their goals, these projects point to a new approach to civic engagement and a new way to express a community's will.

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