Active Voice Lab presents The Future of Public (TFP), a "cultural strategy" for learning about what happens when we turn over public resources to private hands. We hope to launch TFP with new films like Backpack Full of Cash (about vouchers, privately managed charter schools that operate with little public oversight, and cyber ed), A Time for Change (about one community's fight against top-down school closings), Free for All (the astonishing and precarious role of public libraries today), and Love & Taxes (the first ever pro-tax romantic comedy).
Presented alongside public singing groups or public art at community and state colleges, local schools and libraries, urban spaces and rural centers, and hosted by trusted local leaders, this initiative aims to connect the dots that are disappearing for many Americans. While Millennials and subsequent generations may benefit from free education, parks, information, roads, etc., their notion of public systems seems to be on the wane. Life is more transactional: E.g., books are downloaded for a fee, Walmart offers medical care just down the aisle from the clearance section. Success may be measured by one’s ability to commute in corporate coaches or to send well-prepared children to privately operated charter schools. Like the slowly cooking frog in the pot of water, the disappearance of “public” may be too subtle to detect until it’s too late. Meanwhile, those who cannot afford to pay or who face deep hurdles fall further behind, and inequity widens.
The Future of Public will cast a wide net, inviting writers, bloggers, performers, journalists, analysts, and others to express their own attitudes about the American “commons.” Using social media in close consultation with advocates, we’ll inspire people to tell stories about their personal connections to these public settings that are supposed to work for everyone, regardless of how much money they have, where they live, the color of their skin or the values they hold. We’ll shine a light on the way the word “public” is now being used to connote everything from quaint to hipster to elegant. In person and via social media, writers, learners, employees, media makers, civic groups, and other networks will contribute to the conversation, as advocates help us make sense of our options for taking action.
The Future of Public won't pretend that these institutions have ever served all Americans equally. Rather, with wide input and a critical eye, we'll facilitate an urgent, long overdue reckoning: At a time when Americans' satisfaction with public institutions has been steadily dropping, as our economic gaps widen, and with political leadership eyeing the privatization of everything from veterans services to air traffic control, where do we go from here?