From Bogota, Colombia

Meet Diego Cuadros, 100in1day festival co-founder

Intervention leader, Claudia Salguero, caught up with Diego via Skype to help us learn more about the 100in1day festival.

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11 July 2017

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100in1day is a global festival that activates citizen-led initiatives in public spaces across a city. Originating in Bogota, Colombia, and spreading to cities across the globe, the festival inspires residents to carry out one hundred or more thoughtful and playful “urban interventions” to transform public spaces and spark positive change.

Synapcity powered the first 100in1day festival in Ottawa on June 3, 2017, activating 105 initiatives across the city. Intervention leader, Claudia Salguero – Colombian artist, musician and arts-based facilitator –  caught up with Diego Cuadros, 100in1day co-founder, via Skype to help us learn more about the festival, its origins, and vision for the future.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length. All pictures are from Ottawa’s inaugural 100in1day festival on June 3, 2017.

Claudia: How did 100in1day happen?

Diego: I was a student at the time and involved with a group called Acciones Urbanas (Urban Actions) through my university. We were inspired by the work of a former mayor, Antanus Mockus, and held the belief that we could change the city. We were doing small urban actions that were symbolic of the kind of Bogota we wanted to see – kinder, more sustainable, more organized.

In the spring of 2012, we met with a group of design students from Denmark and we got to talking about how we could make an even greater impact in our city than just planning a few actions. There were about 40 of us chatting over a few beers one night when someone asked, “why not make it 100 actions?” And another guy added, “Why not make it all on the same day?!” We all started laughing, thinking it was crazy, but the next day, we created the first steering committee for 100in1day Bogota.

We didn’t want it to be just us creating the actions – we wanted to invite anyone to get involved and participate. We knew that there were already a lot of people doing great things in the city. But we also knew that there would be many people willing to do something. They just lacked a platform or an excuse. Sometimes, what the festival offered was a feeling of community – so people could feel comfortable going out and expressing themselves in this way.

Claudia: And you made it public, right? You offered an opportunity to highlight and share all the good things that are happening in a public forum.  I think people appreciated that and wanted to get involved.

Diego: Exactly. How do you create a community so that people think they can do more than just vote for the mayor or criticize what he is doing? It’s about shifting the mindset from waiting for someone else to take care of a problem to taking ownership of the city as a citizen.

We created the phrase, New Stories. New Realities. Because if you want to change the story, you have to act. It’s a kind of a process and a protest in which we invite people to our cause and see what we could do together – to experience this moment of action and participation to improve our city. We gathered more than 250 interventions in Bogota that first year.

Claudia: The first time?!

Diego: Yes. And more than 2,000 people were a part of that 100in1day. That’s a huge example of active citizenship. Afterwards, we were invited to give a talk at TedX Pasto – that’s another city in Colombia. And, at the end of the presentation we told them, “You’re going to do 100in1day now!” – And they did. Since then, we have heard that 36 cities across 20 countries have had a 100in1day experience.

Claudia: Bogota just had its 100in1day festival this year. Going back to the beginning – do you see any significant changes in Bogota since you launched the festival in 2012? What is different in your city?

Diego: Over the years, 100in1day has grown from an excuse to participate to an incubator of active citizens or citypreneurs, as we like to say. At the beginning, people came with an idea for something they’d like to change in the city. Over time, we’ve seen people come together and form active groups whose focus is to have an impact in their community on some social level. They are more involved in the city’s politics on a day-to-day basis, creating awareness of the issues and helping to solve our city’s problems. We’ve also seen an impact on Bogota’s infrastructure – more traffic lights and bike paths, for example.

Claudia: It sounds like the 100in1day events have grown to become projects with lasting impacts. Is that right?

Diego: We believe that 100in1day is a platform to prototype ideas. With this perspective, people are motivated to try out their ideas for the city. They later have the opportunity to reflect on what worked and what didn’t so they can continue to adapt their approach, all the while becoming experts and making impacts in their city.

Claudia: That is from the intervention leaders point of view. How about the audience? Is there a difference in the audience’s reaction over the years?

Diego: It’s difficult to track this kind of impact – but definitely, we know people begin to question their own role in society and how they can contribute to improving the city. Back in 2013, there was a family who wanted to teach their five year old how to cross the street safely using the pedestrian crossing. But, they were dismayed by their neighbours who consistently jaywalked – and especially concerned about others modelling poor behaviour to their kids.

So, for 100in1day, the child dressed up as a police officer and handed out “citizen tickets” to folks who jaywalked across the street – taking a moment to point out the crosswalk and letting them know that they are role models for the younger generation. We don’t really know how many of those people who received tickets started using the crosswalks, but we can assume that they began to question their own everyday actions in the city and to think about their own role in the community.

Claudia: What advice would you give to Synapcity as they try to encourage people to get involved in 100in1day?

Diego: At first, we focused our outreach on the people who were already doing something in the city. Other people began to notice and to wonder if there was anything they could do for the city as well. One action motivated another and another. We are also careful to not call this volunteer work – in fact, this is our responsibility. Creating change, being active in your community – this is not volunteer work at all. We are all citizens and we all have the responsibility to do what we can to make Bogota a better city. We have a common world and are creating a sense of community. We need to think about how we can help each other every day.

Claudia: And to be more kind. Being kind changes everything. It’s just practicing the golden rule: Do unto others as you would like them to do to you.

Diego: Exactly. Especially in places like Canada – where the cities are clean and the infrastructure is there – it’s the human relationships that are very important. The future of civilization is not about being individualistic. It’s about community and working together. We are not just raising our own children, we are raising all of the children – together. And it’s important to know that we all have something to give. Not just the musicians and the artists who can play music and beautify a wall. Every one of us has something.

Claudia: Yes, it’s true. It’s about changing the priority. We’ve been raised to think it’s all about me me me, but really, it’s us us us. Can you think of a project that highlights an example of a regular person making an impact on 100in1day?

Diego: I have travelled to many 100in1day festivals around the world and have had the luxury to see many many interventions. It’s hard to classify what is the best because each one has a special focus and purpose. But, for example, in Brazil, there was a group of kids that cooked some chocolate and candies one night.  The next day they gave the sweets to all the people who were doing interventions. They thanked them for taking care of our city. It was so special.

Claudia: What is your dream for 100in1day? Do you have plans for the future?

Diego: Philosophically, our purpose is to empower people and give them an excuse to get involved in their city. In terms of plans, however, we have this vision that once we have 100 cities interested in 100in1day, that it would be great to coordinate the cities so the festival happens on the same day across the globe. We want to see a global 100in1day day. A day where people everywhere recognize that they need to go out and do some action for their community. We can picture moms asking their kids what they want to do for 100in1day. “Should we plant a tree, should we share knowledge and skills, how can we take care of each other?” We want this day to be as important as Christmas is to some cultures. Humanity is not just about living; it’s about serving others. Don’t isolate yourself – get involved! Be part of something and create change. Everybody has something to give to this society.

Claudia: Thank you for your time, Diego. I feel very proud to say that this happened in Bogota first. It’s a city with many challenges and many problems and this festival is bringing people together to make real changes in their community.

Diego: Good luck!

Originally from Colombia, Claudia Salguero (above image, left) is an Ottawa-based artist, musician, and facilitator. For 100in1day Ottawa, she partnered with Art Therapy for Mental Illness to offer a free painting session at Mooney’s Bay (above images) to raise awareness about the importance of the arts in combating mental illness.