When was the last time you had a conversation with a stranger?
If you’re like most of us, you probably had to think for a bit to come up with an answer. When you live in a big city like Houston or Los Angeles, it can be hard to start conversations with people you don’t already know, even when they’re officemates or people out walking their dogs on the street that you see every day.
That’s where The League of Creative Interventionists comes in.
Founded by San Francisco-based artist Hunter Franks, the League was born out of his own desire to meet new people but has since evolved into a larger project focused on building greater and more open places in the community. Just like how Levitt venues create third places that make it easier to connect with fellow concertgoers, the League uses public art to facilitate “shared spaces and experiences in the public space to break down social barriers.”
“Often people just need one simple excuse to go out and do something,” said Franks in a recent interview with Levitt Pavilions. “The League is that excuse for people to get together and do something fun and simple in public space.”
How does it work? The League selects a common theme each month—with Halloween, October’s, appropriately, is “fear”—that its local chapters interpret and develop into projects called “interventions.” Set in public spaces, the events invite spontaneous participation from curious passerby, and everyone is invited to join in, make art and meet new people.
Its first event, which happened last February, is a perfect example of how the League operates. Riffing off a “love” theme, San Francisco chapter members created a miniature gallery on a busy street by asking people to respond to the prompt, “My first love was…” as they passed by. The responses highlighted how differently people interpreted the question, and included childhood pets, favorite foods and one bold confession of, “Crayola crayons (especially when the 64 pack came out).”
The San Francisco event was a success, and the League has been met with similarly positive reception worldwide. In less than a year, the League has already expanded into a global network with branches in Peru, Germany, England, and across the U.S. Other interventions have included a pop up karaoke booth, a post-it note gallery on a bus stop, and a “slow lane” intended to get busy city dwellers to relax.
One thing that makes League interventions so successful is that they often don’t require complexity to succeed. In August, Akron, Ohio’s chapter organized an informal sidewalk party (theme: health), where attendees created chalk drawings, crafted caves made of yarn, and even organized games of hopscotch. In the bustle of a big city, the appeal of these games, with their callbacks to the simplicity of childhood, is obvious. But according to Franks, even if it’s activities that initially draw people in, what make interventions most memorable for him are actually the participants.
“It always come back to the people,” said Franks. “The intervention can vary far and wide… but the interactions that take place between people are always what stands out. This could be a moment when League chapter members are brainstorming an idea and get excited about it, or… when a stranger engages with an intervention and thanks the League members for making his day. People make places and I’m just excited to be a part of helping make those people and those places a little happier, spontaneous and playful.”
The League’s ultimate takeaway? Talking to strangers might seem awkward or difficult or silly, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes it can take a little push—like a fun art activity or concert—but you end up making lifelong friends and building stronger communities. From Franks comes this gentle reminder: everyone you knew was once a stranger, so why be afraid to make connections? All you need to do is start small.
“Say hi to that person you are standing next to in the elevator instead of just staring at the floor numbers ticking by. Ask the barista how their day is going,” said Franks. “You never know where a simple hello might take you or how a small showing of compassion will brighten someone’s day.”