Superheroes: Engaging Outside the Walls

by Margy Waller

in Audience & Community Engagement,National Conference

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(This post is a part of the Audience Engagement blog salon curated by David J. Loehr for the 2013 TCG National Conference: Learn Do Teach in Dallas).

It started when superheroes appeared on buildings all over downtown Cincinnati. Suddenly, there they were — with capes flowing from atop iconic buildings like the contemporary art museum, a favorite theater and more. A huge regional weekend music festival was just starting and people noticed. And they were curious.




Festival-goers who checked out the buildings found a large poster with the word “Radius” and a note that said “find yourself in the film” next to a QR code. Scanning the QR code led to a SCVNGR challenge.


SCVNGR (it’s a smart-phone based location game, in case you didn’t know) players were asked to take photos of themselves, their friends, the inside of a shop or bar or restaurant in the footprint of the festival, and more. If they completed the challenge, they got free music downloads from festival bands and a t-shirt featuring the Radius logo (with its iconic local arts venues). They were told the shirt would get them into the premiere of the film for free.

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What happened next was a secret. The producers took thousands of pieces of content created by the arts-goers who played the SCVNGR game (and other games that took place, during a final Friday gallery hop and theatre shows) and created a miniature film set.

The film set would look recognizably like Cincinnati to people who know it. To everyone else it would be like “ Gotham” or any city center – in a sort of comic book style.

And then the producers made a short film – about a character who thinks he glimpses a superhero secretly working to make a neighborhood more appealing. Suddenly there are more people on the streets, more shops and places to go, and arts events and festivals. Our main character tries to find the superhero, and keeps missing him – or so it seems.

It’s not until the end of the film that we (and the main character) see that all of the people at the arts events are the ones wearing red superhero capes. The real superheroes are the arts supporters and goers – they are the ones who are creating a neighborhood where other people want to be.

The film producers organized a red-carpet experience for the premiere of Radius: The Short Film, the world’s first game-sourced film. No one knew – until after seeing it – that one of the producers was a local arts and community organization, ArtsWave.

The arts-goers helped to create the film by responding to and engaging with the call to action that started with super-hero characters appearing on the top of buildings, and continued with a SCVNGR game and social media campaign on Facebook and twitter.

The audience understood right away: engaging with the arts creates a more connected and exciting place to live, work, play, and visit. The arts create memories and change the way we feel about a place.

Here’s what the filmmakers said about what inspired the story: “Radius  was created by Possible Worldwide, a WPP Digital company. The filmmakers were inspired by the Topos Partnership’s ground-breaking work The Arts Ripple Effect: A Research-Based Strategy to Build Shared Responsibility for the Arts.  The year-long research initiative examined the effectiveness of traditional arguments for supporting the arts, and revealed powerful insights into what people value about the arts. The key insight that a thriving arts scene creates a ripple effect of benefits throughout the community such as safer streets, booming businesses, and a vibrant atmosphere became the foundation of an expanded mission for ArtsWave, a Cincinnati-based arts advocacy and funding organization, and the narrative theme of Radius. “

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Watch Radius: The Short Film now. (And be sure to stick around for the “making of” short that at the end.)

This blog salon is curated by David J. Loehr, the editor and artistic director of 2amt. For more posts and conversations surrounding audience & community engagement, and other ways of “thinking outside the black box”, visit the 2amt website, or engage on Twitter at #2amt and @2amt.



margy webMargy Waller is an advocate for creating community through the arts. She is a Senior Fellow at Topos Partnership and former Vice-President of Research and Strategic Communications at ArtsWave. Previously she was Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, with a joint appointment in the Economic Studies and Metropolitan Policy programs. Prior to Brookings, she was Senior Advisor on domestic policy in the Clinton-Gore White House. Before joining the Administration, Margy was Senior Fellow for Social Policy and Director of the Working Families Project at the Progressive Policy Institute. She also served as Director of Public Policy at United Way of America, and Director of Policy Development at Public/Private Ventures in Philadelphia, and a congressional fellow in the office ofU.S. Representative Eric Fingerhut (D-OH). Margy is a frequent keynote speaker at conferences and workshops, presenting research findings for communicating to build broad support for policy goals. She’s appeared in and on numerous media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, Philadelphia Daily News, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, CNN, and Fox News.Margy holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies from Northwestern University and a J.D. from The Ohio State University.