There are times in your life when you sit down and inspiration presents itself and knocks you out. Sometimes the trick is to sit still long enough for it to find you. I'm known for having the concentration of a house fly, always bouncing from one thing to another, never sitting still, totally unable to concentrate for more than three minutes. But last week I sat for an hour and a half with two old mates from Mother Jones and listened, rapt, to the story of a man named Andy Patrick.
Andy Patrick was a born entrepreneur. When most kids were proud just to have their own lemonade stands, he organized the kids in his small Ohio neighborhood and created a chain of lemonade-stand franchises. But, like many natural entrepreneurs, he was never just about profit. He was -- and remains -- an activist with business acumen, an entrepreneur with heart.
In 1992, at 30 years old, Andy started a volunteer movement, Mad Housers of Chicago, to build temporary huts for the homeless. That idea got him on the national news, and on the bad side of the city government. (After a very public debate on the huts, in which one prominent newscaster asked Mayor Richard Daley if conditions for the homeless in Chicago were, in fact, on par with some Third World countries, Daley had the huts bulldozed in the dead of night, citing building codes.)
Andy, ever the eclectic, went on to co-found one of the first major Web-design companies, Adjacency, which was known for its innovative approach to Web strategy. In 1999 Metropolis Magazine named Andy one of the top 54 experts on the future of design. But in 2000, Andy dropped out of the dot-com rat race.
A vibrant, passionate, and, above all, compassionate man, Andy was bound to get up to something groundbreaking, and fast. And he has. His new project is the FiftyCrows Foundation, a creative amalgam of documentary photography and spoken narratives with social justice and education at its substantial heart. Among its projects are The FiftyCrows Gallery in San Francisco, which opens this spring, and the International Fund for Documentary Photography, a prestigious program (originally created in 1989 by Kerry Tremain, then of Mother Jones magazine, and renowned documentary photographers Michelle Vignes and Ken Light) that makes annual grants to working photojournalists around the world.
But Andy is taking the idea further by using the power of the images of the world's great visual storytellers to inspire and enable people to act. Right now, Andy is percolating an idea for an activist Web site unlike any other that would fit in seamlessly with other FiftyCrows projects and maybe even serve as the model for future activism online.
You can bet that whatever its incarnation, it will change the way you think about what you thought you knew. Because that's Andy's great gift.
That, and being able to make me sit still for 90 minutes.
Stay tuned to the FiftyCrows Foundation Web site, where big things are planned for January.