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I'm giving up control of Florida Creatives in Orlando. That's the short version of this announcement. If you have a short attention span, you've now skipped to the end and read the last page of the novel. I imagine this post will be a long one.

Right now, I'm sitting in a Hotel in San Francisco, getting ready to head to the last day of the North American Drupal Conference. This is my third DrupalCon, and I don't imagine I will miss a single one of them in the next several years, barring another volcano disaster, hurricane, earthquake or tsunami. In all seriousness, the Drupal Community has made me repeat a statement I once made about Florida Creatives Happy Hours in Orlando - I bend over backwards to attend our monthly conversations, and I evangelize them non-stop to almost every single person I meet, including here at the summit of the worldwide Drupal community.

I honestly believe every person here at DrupalCon needs, just as much as the folks in Orlando, Brevard and the rest of the state do, a safe, inviting place to share ideas, meet new friends, hatch schemes, and be among your peers. A major goal of Florida Creatives is to help you tap into a support group, and potentially make connections with people that will last a lifetime.

Here's a personal case study, and it happens to be about the birth of this idea:

Story Time with Uncle Ryan
In 2006, the first-ever BlogOrlando was held at Rollins College, put together by the legendary Josh Hallett. Through an interesting course of events, I arranged to meet Alex Rudloff for the first time at the unconference. Alex and I got connected because of his job at AOL. I was testing out one of their products, which Alex helped to write, and his user avatar was a UCF mascot. I was so amazed that a UCF grad was working at such a high-profile company (please, try to remember 2006), and I contacted him. He and I had recently heard about BlogOrlando, and we were very excited to find out about the state of social media in Orlando. It turns out we got in on the ground floor. To this day, I count Alex among my most trusted advisors. If it weren't for an event like BlogOrlando, our paths may never have crossed. This story is so clear in my mind because of the huge and unmeasurable affect it has had on my life.

BlogOrlando 2006 was also where I met John Rife, whom is no less important to the origin and growth of Florida Creatives, and my personal ideas about entrepreneurship, community, social media, and countless other subjects. John, Alex and I rarely see each other, but I always value every minute I have to be in the same space (physically or virtually) as this pair of amazing and charismatic gentlemen.

After BlogOrlando, I had the thought, "What happens now that it's over?" Just having the knowledge of those two people's existence was enough to make me want to make sure there would always be a place for making connections like that, and from the very beginning, I was interested in taking it to the entire State of Florida. It's no secret that Florida has several problems to solve, such as our creative identity, global reputation, shared culture, and heritage to name a few. Our region has a set of unique challenges that many people are trying to apply cookie-cutter solutions to, and they're not nearly as world-changing as they could be. Take a look at our unemployment rate - compared to other states - as just one indication that we're under-serving our local needs.

The very first thing I discussed with John relating to Florida Creatives was creating a massive banner-waving of our unique culture and strengths as a region - what makes Florida the place that it is above all else - the people, and groups, and their collected passion, work, history, and stories - both shared and personal. I called it the Florida Creative Summit, and I envisioned something that resembled the Orlando Fringe Festival, South by Southwest, a 48-hour Film Festival, and a Summer Camp Skit Night. Some of the attractions would be put together by people who have barely known each other for a few days, while others would be masterfully-crafted demonstrations that built on decades of experience, truly standing on the shoulders of giants. Finally, I wanted to be able to invite my mother, grandmother, and all of my friends to at least a small part of this gathering. Now I would say it's not so much important that they can attend in person - TED has taught me the value of recording and sharing these experiences, and how that sharing, and the act of doing so, can inspire every single person on the planet.

John, ever the realist, and already acting as a great adviser, asked me one simple question: How?

  • How do we get these thousands of people to show up?
  • How do we fund it?
  • How do we convince the right people that they belong?
  • How do we get them to share?

I decided that this journey might take (at the time) 2 years or more; here we are three and a half years later with no Florida Creatives Summit. BarCamps, Ignite, and dozens of other events have begun to resemble that original vision, and that's an amazing start. As I learned in my years as a musician, what happens in between the loud and dramatic parts of a performance only serve to enhance those exciting and memorable moments. In traditional music you don't see many pieces - and certainly not entire concerts - that are all fortissimo, all impact. Every art form has similar rules. HERE ON THE WEB, IT WOULD BE COMPARABLE TO TYPING WITH CAPS LOCK ON. Therefore, I tried to decide how to create the crescendo that would lead to the big cymbal crash, the final note, the fermata at the grande finale.

The answer came in an instant: Florida Creatives Happy Hour. Several of my past experiences made me realize the value of simple gatherings of likeminded individuals. Since I started hosting them in December of 2006, my belief remains strong that in-person social gatherings are absolutely essential to the health and growth of a community. Right now at the DrupalCon, many people who have worked together -shared blood, sweat and tears - are meeting for the first time face-to-face, and they would all tell you how amazing the experience is.

Sidebar:
I was talking to someone here are DrupalCon about the similarities between this event and a tour of the Grateful Dead. The parallels are striking, and probably too numerous to mention. I see our monthly gatherings of Florida Creatives Happy Hour at local watering holes around the state with the same eyes that my Drupal friend and I used to compare the Drupal Community to the Dead-Heads.

Sadly, in the last year, I have not been able to attend as many of "my own" Florida Creatives Happy Hours in Orlando as I would have liked, always because of travel. In Orlando, my lack of attendance is a major failure, and a number of problems face the group on these days. The events are not very well-attended, new people may not recognize anyone, as they may be looking for me in particular, and the following day brings several comments to the website with lost and confused Creatives looking for answers. This is truly unfortunate, and a definite sign that the Orlando group has a serious "bus problem". If I get hit by a bus, or even if I'm out of town, nobody has the responsibility to take my place. The number of travel days on my calendar will be increasing in 2010 and beyond - my business providing training on-site and my involvement with the Drupal Open Source community will continue to pull me out of Orlando, creating unavoidable conflicts.

There is a great solution, and that is, simply put, you.

If you're reading this post, chances are you've been to an event, met me somewhere out in the world, or are possibly here for some historical perspective. (If you are from the Future, have we created the Florida Creatives Summit yet? I'm dying to know how that turns out!) It also means you are a member of this community, and that has many ramifications.

In a very Starfish and the Spider way, every member of this community has the same level of responsibility as everyone else, as well as the same ability to use the resources of our community for your own purposes. When I say that, I'm describing the ideal scenario. The Orlando group has not been operating very close to the ideal, however, and that is completely my fault. Say what you will about my contributions, but my one largest failure is that I have not created an environment that distributes the responsibility properly. There are many models in the world for coordinating the actions, and owning the hearts of, a group of people, and I would like to see them flourish here at Florida Creatives - some are well-tested and others are emerging. I know that whatever our group looks like in the future, there will need to be more than one person doing the job I have been doing for the last three years in order to ensure we can maintain the atmosphere and grow the community.

I have been talking to the active, passionate people a bit in the last year about how to hand over the responsibility, and I wonder if I shouldn't just treat them like baby birds leaving the nest. Ready? ::push!:: If you feel like you have anything at all to contribute, such as adding links to the wiki, keeping lots of cool events in the calendar, bringing name tags and greeting new people, or even keeping people up to date on the various and sundry web communities - Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouNoodle, Upcoming, and new possibilities that may not yet be realized. Sometimes during the week of an event, I wonder how effective it all really is, but then 6 o'clock rolls around and people start showing up.

I've been really proud of the number of new people we get coming to events every month because of referrals from friends and coworkers, but I wonder if there aren't a few simple things we can do to retain those new people and make them want to come back, get them to create a profile on the website and start talking about the cool projects they work on, or ideas they have for new creations.

At the possibility that I leave someone out, I'd like to extend a thanks to the following members for being "out there" and constantly showing up for conversations. It's also an invitation to volunteer some time in order to keep our meetups healthy. Erik Baldwin, whose work has been helping to spruce up the website. Karie Sue Brown, who seems to be involved in 17 things at any given minute of the day but still has tons of energy, which is inspiring by itself. A new friend who hasn't been active in Florida Creatives, but I really hope will be, is Elizabeth Farmer. Adam Wiggall, Terry Pappy, David Rogers, Gregg Pollack, Cory Collier, Steve Matheney, Josh Blount, and so many other awesome and inspiring people here in town - the point is that their faces are so important to making everyone feel welcome, and that they can share freely.

Our next meetup will actually be during the Orlando Fringe Festival, and I've decided to mix things up by holding an Ignite / Pecha Kucha / Battledecks event to get people used to sharing in short bursts. More info on this will come very soon, but I wanted to mention it here. In the past, I was unsure about how to make the events more structured without losing the social atmosphere, so we'll call this May event an experiment. There will still be plenty of time for Happy Hour, but there will be some "show and tell" too.

The next step is really to just talk. I feel like I've said tons at this point, so now it's time to hear from all of you. This is really all about you, if I haven't made that painfully obvious. Let's build something, and then get on to making the Creative Summit happen!

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7 comments

 
Erik Baldwin wrote 7 years 23 weeks ago

I'm definitely willing to

I'm definitely willing to stand up and start doing more to build our community. The happy hours are great, there is always a diverse set of individuals in attendance who have more in common than onlookers would think; We're all longing to make a difference in the world! I would absolutely love to see more new faces in the coming months, which is very possible. We all have friends, coleagues, acquaintences ... people we know that share our ambition for changing the world around us. How hard is it to invite some of those people we know to the next happy hour? not very! What does everyone else think? The FL Creatives community has lots to gain and nothing to lose by growing and developing further. Lets make it happen!

ryanprice's picture
ryanprice wrote 7 years 23 weeks ago

Erik, you and about 20 other

Erik, you and about 20 other people have "moderator" privileges on this site already. If you come across something you can't change, edit, or fix when you're logged in, let me know. Since you are sort of helping with the webmaster duties, I'll also get you the "super admin" password. If anybody else needs it, myself and Eric Marden are kind of the gatekeepers there.

I need to add the event for Battledecks at the Fringe Festival for May 24th, but I invite you to take action on the regular 3rd Monday happy hour. Actually I just realized that Fringe does not interfere with 3rd Monday this year... this is the first time in 4 years that's been true.

Here's what you do:

  1. Go to a past Happy Hour, let's say April or March. You can find old events by hitting the Event Calendar, or through the Communities directory - old events will be in the right sidebar.
  2. Hit the "Clone" link in the tabs above the event title.
  3. Change the title (it will say "Clone of Florida Creatives Happy Hour #xx")
  4. Change the date (if a new year is starting, make sure you roll 2010 over to 2011)
  5. The location and some body text are already set. I try to edit the body text every 2 or 3 months. If a bigger event is coming up, like BarCamp, BlogOrlando, etc - I will try to name-check that in there.

I am going to make a Help wiki page for this process, so other people can follow it.

 
Geoff wrote 7 years 23 weeks ago

You are one eloquent dude.

You are one eloquent dude. Thanks for trying to create a haven, even in the face of the Void. I can't tell you how many times I sat at work and watched the 6pm swing past, or sat in sleepy rage while another likemind coffee doo wop passed unjoined.

You have a stunning amount of passion and intellect. Go attach it to anything, and it will be better for you having done so.

ryanprice's picture
ryanprice wrote 7 years 23 weeks ago

Geoff, If you haven't seen

Geoff,

If you haven't seen the link for New Media Orlando Meetup on May 11th, I'd invite you to take a closer look. This is a re-re-attempt at getting together the local community of podcasters, videobloggers, indie news writers, and anybody else who pushes out content in a professional or semi-journalistic way.

Our first few meetings will probably have an impact on the future of that meetup, but I bet things will change once the UrbanThink! re-opens - I can't say much about that in particular just yet, but I think you and the other SomaCows should be keeping your ears peeled.

 
Travis Webster wrote 7 years 23 weeks ago

Yo Ryan, I hear you loud and

Yo Ryan, I hear you loud and clear on this. We are doing some big things here in South Florida and I will be back in Orlando in September to begin replicating it there. Let's talk soon.

ryanprice's picture
ryanprice wrote 7 years 23 weeks ago

Travis, I'm glad you chimed

Travis,

I'm glad you chimed in here. I know the Ft Lauderdale meetup could be something great - there are so many talented people in the wings down there - but I also know several people are also trying to start their own movements.

I'm glad to hear you're coming back - is it to stay (at least for a while)? At the same time, if you are coming back, that might be because something down South didn't work out. We should talk about it soon.

What I'd love to see is just a few people writing about Florida Creatives on their own blogs, twitter streams or other profiles - taking this group viral. 3 years ago, a few people asked about starting something similar in other states, like Michigan and Illinois. That's certainly possible, but I can only give advice - I can't be in 7 places at once. That's why I want to take a step or two back from my home city, and let it take on a life of its own. I think Gainesville, Lakeland, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Sarasota and Southwest Florida are all good candidates for a sister meetup, and I've started reaching out to those places. Any in-roads you have there or further into South Florida would be a great help to the movement.

 
Karie Brown wrote 7 years 22 weeks ago

Ryan, thanks so much for all

Ryan, thanks so much for all the work you have done. I'm totally behind your vision for our community and am personally thankful for how you have supported not only the community but the individuals who make it up. I agree, these meet ups have been SO helpful in accomplishing any crazy idea I get. Orlando CANT go without these meetings. I will help do anything I can to help sustain it.

Karie

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