We are the Griots

[4 minute read]
Photo from the beginning of today’s workshop on participatory design at the Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Etienne Festival in front of the ONE MILE Detroit Mothership.The Mothership opens as up a DJ booth and is used to convene intentional gatherings that uplift the community’s stories and efforts. It’s called the Mothership as a nod to the birthplace of Funk in the Oakland-North End neighborhoods (ergo the name ONE MILE) of Detroit. We represent an [re-]emerging paradigm for educational design and culture by intentional design that links music, storytelling, and timely or timeless commentary together with places and people.
We see this as the role of a griot, the French derivation of a kind of troubadour to the word djeli from the Malinke language. We find urgency in being able to convene people from different walks of life to guide curiosity and inquiry toward advancing one another with conscientious shared purpose as a broader community. We also believe all of us–audience participants included–are the griots. We are the people and leaders we have been looking for who can and will create and/or facilitate the futures we seek.

In the Malinke empire, griots also served as storytelling bards for peacekeeping purposes–warning tribes and nations with historical performances and storytelling, and recounting the toll of destruction from previous conflicts in moments before decisions for war were made.

As the French election cycle ramps up, it’s interesting to note that the city and campus we perform in was home to one of the finest weapon factories in France. Now, the city of Saint-Etienne strives to shift from its former industries toward celebrating and cultivating its creative design, architecture, and art as industries in co-development with Detroit–which for a time held a reputation as the “arsenal of Democracy” during World War II.

This workshop is intended to guide participants through various kinds of structures for governance (exploring through elections and traditional corporate hierarchies), the strengths, and pressures associated with them. We also established consent as a premise for genuine collaboration and co-operation. While lessons learned from language barriers and other nuances to leading this kind of workshop provide plenty to refine, I’m grateful for the opportunity and experience.
It’s an honor to convene so many people from around the world here in Saint-Etienne as part of the Detroit delegation and I look forward to doing so again at our next workshop and upcoming performances.
Many thanks to Bryce Detroit, D.J. Los – The Original, Efe Bes, Duminie Deporres, and Emily Rogers and the bold French participants who took part in the workshop. We got to explore what it feels like to experience emergent behaviors when organizations begin to scale up, and play a few tunes too. Thanks also to Anya Sirota, Jean Louis Farges, Inge Eller and the rest of the Saint-Etienne Biennale team for their support and presence too.
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Edited for clarity and accuracy on 26 Mar. 2017–it’s unclear which part of the Biennale’s site was a weapons factory. I also walked by a building that is a known workshop for some kind of weapon smithing (I assume gunsmiths) in the downtown area near Rue de Republic. I also added Inge Eller’s full name as she did so much to support us–she even helped me find the location for my workshop and helped me get pencils and papers so that participants could write their reflections from the workshop. The sound crew, P.H. Martin, Etienne Simoneou, and Julien ___ also did outstanding work to ensure we were properly prepared with microphones, good audio engineering, and good performance space accomodations.
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