We the People: a groundbreaking social sculpture project

by Sydney Cooper


Download Video: Closed Format: MP4 Open Format: OGG / WebM

We the People revolutionizes the concept of self-portraiture for the visualization age. Our interactive, multi-platform (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_sculpture) project engages participants in the creation of dynamic, layered self-portraits. This creative process allows a single person or a whole community to draw maps representing experience, interests, values, and more. Portraits are personal and intuitive, recording each participant’s taste, memory, peeves, hopes and stories in a rich visual matrix of interconnection. WTP differs from existing social media in its emphasis on the creative process and its embrace of diversity. We the People is an adaptable system with applications in fields as wide ranging as the arts, education, epidemiology, science, social services, democratic activism, and anywhere else participants choose to take it.

The Next Stage

WTP began as the on the ground art project shown in the above video. The next stage will use digital visualization, database and location-based technology to create dynamic portraits and community maps. Making the project available through web and mobile platforms expands access for all and allows portraits to unfold in depth and over time. Visualizing specific interests and commonalities will highlight both cohesions and conflicts. Internet accessibility offers an array of tools for creating portraits, engaging groups, and drawing the relationships between people and communities.

Our goal is to increase democratic use of the Internet for greater expression and perception of human interconnectedness. No one will be left out of We the People for lack of tools, training or education. Our goals range from leveraging Internet access for technologically marginalized communities to encouraging the freedom and pleasure of working with physical materials for digitally savvy portraitists.

We will follow a three-phase development arc, with key milestones and goals as follows:

Phase I: a model of the platform, and a free-standing, compelling artwork. Our funding request together with matching funds we are raising from local sources is to complete Phase I. We estimate that this phase will take six to nine months and will result in 1) a captivating and collaborative artwork, 2) a funding and constituency-building tool, based on the direct input of communities most in need of cultural representation and 3) an alpha version of the first truly democratic map of the individual’s relationship to neighborhoods, communities, government structures, and to each other—across demographics from a genuinely ground-up, unedited source: We the People.

Phase II: a multi-platform prototype of the fully functional project, created with a self-sustaining methodology, suitable for testing in communities even with limited access to the Internet.

Phase III: the complete build-out of the We the People

In the unlikely event that we must start with just the USA minimum funds, we will create the freestanding artwork, and "model" the platform in such a way that it provides a foundation for continued development.

Project Origins

The methodology of WTP was originally developed through physical expression, to allow anyone to create a portrait with a minimum of tools, and no special knowledge or art skills. Creative freedom and flow were achieved by providing participants with a choice of templates: concentric circles, face forms, hearts, over which a sheet of acetate was placed. To aid in the selection of subject matter a box of cue cards was provided with words like family, illness, food, or phrases like “everywhere you’ve ever lived” or “all the people you’ve loved.” The artworks created through this process (http://sydneycooper.com/social-practice.shtml) are as astonishing and distinctive as the people who created them.

One self-portrait was based entirely on all the animals a young woman had ever known by name. It was in the form of a wagon wheel in tiny writing and included breed, name, Place, her age when she knew them, what the animal liked to eat and how it died. It was a portrait of a life through a young woman’s love for animals--gorgeous in its specificity and simplicity.

The first public display of the project was the 2008 site-specific exhibition,Wonderland (http://wonderlandshow-10.blogspot.com/), curated by Lance Fung in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood. Portraits were arranged in the windows of a newly constructed parking garage. Links between individual portraits were made using strips of colored tape and office dots revealing thematic or formal relationships. The interconnected portraits quickly evolved into a complex, but discernible and engaging community portrait. The window display became a social space--people gathered to examine and discuss it and homeless people began to sleep underneath it. This installation was followed by site-specific adaptations of the project in Portland, Oregon (http://openengagement.info/), and Santa Fe, New Mexico (http://www.santafe.com/calendar/event/santa-fe-reporter-aha-festival).


A dedicated and talented team, with enough experience to be willing to fail in the pursuit of success, will guide the implementation of this initial phase.

Sydney Cooper, Director: Sydney is an accomplished artist whose love of people and passion for the liberal arts and interdisciplinarity in all things led her to create the original methodology and inspiration for We the People (see her Artist Profile for more information).

David Breecker, Producer: David is the founder and President of the Santa Fe Innovation Park (http://santafeinnovate.org/about), a creative problem-solving laboratory, which is partnered with Sydney on the project through its “artist-driven innovation” program. David has been a film production executive, worked extensively on building community access to broadband services, and has devoted his time to the meeting of social, scientific, artistic, and explorative endeavors that specifically aim to benefit the public good.

Anagr.am (http://anagr.am/): A design and development firm that focuses its efforts on building local economy, value-added services, and making design and technology accessible, friendly, and usable on a practical level for client/collaborators trying to negotiate a sea of predatory ventures.

Your Gift, and Ours

Your generous donation, along with matching funds—many of which are already committed or in negotiation from and with individual and philanthropic donors who will exceed what we raise here (provided we meet our funding goal) will enable us to bring We the People into initial implementation.

You may have some questions...

Match Funds are not currently available.

Previous donations matched by:

    • December 31, 2011 Sydney Walter Community Member

      Lovely and intriguing. Syd Walter

    • December 31, 2011 David Cantor Community Member


    • November 04, 2011 Diane R Karp Community Member