The Issue of Creating Across Generations
Myah Overstreet (20) and Jason Wyman (41) are an intergenerational producing team with The Alliance for Media Arts + Culture. They have worked together for over two years co-piloting The Alliance Youth Media Initiatives. Their latest endeavor with The Alliance is The Issue, a new arts + culture magazine designed to inspire a future where we all belong, which was published on January 11, 2018. The Issue is a model of intergenerational collaboration and mutual reciprocity, where diverse voices are artfully represented and joyfully celebrated. You can read The Issue here.
Overstreet and Wyman recently sat down to chat how and why they collaborate and create across age as a means to create a more inclusive future.
What is Intergenerational Co-Creating?
Overstreet: Intergenerational co-creating is creating with an equal amount of decision-making power and, say, with a person from a different generation than yourself; it’s a team of different time periods. The most valuable lesson to be learned in an intergenerational co-creative team is to listen and take notes, because although we are working together, we are learning from each other in an unconventional placement. Although I look up to, learn from, and admire Jason immensely, he also learns from me. Our relationship is a constant cycle of building ideas off of one another, teaching and learning from each other, and producing art like The Issue that has pieces of both of us sewn into it.
Intergenerational co-creation is also setting aside pride, ego, and/or lack of confidence in order to work together. For example, I trust Jason because of his experience and knowledge in this field, but at the same time, he only contributes crucial advice to something when a concept of mine genuinely isn’t a good idea. As for me, I’ve learned that Jason trusts me as well; he trusts my skills and my knowledge regardless of the trust that I have for myself so that we can create great art, build stronger coalitions, and move towards a more equitable future.
Wyman: Intergenerational co-creating is simply creating something together with people of different ages in a manner that treats everyone as peers. This last part—peers—is crucial to the success or failure of intergenerational co-creating. It requires everyone at the table to know how to work with and manage their ego. It requires a certain amount of self-awareness and self-consciousness to not get trapped in old patterns of age hierarchy.
Often, intergenerational work is categorized as seniors and young people working together in some sort of mentoring or learning community. For me, this framework is limiting. It doesn’t create a peer-based relationship, and it removes the middle-aged folks, the ones who are required to act as a bridge between generations, from the collaborative process and places them in a position of service to elders and youth. This position of service is and can be powerful. It also constricts their agency and voice and places them in subjugation to age. And on a subconscious level, this power imbalance reinforces age inequity, the very thing that intergenerational work is supposedly trying to change.
How is co-creating different than mentoring?
Overstreet: The difference is in the meanings of the terms themselves. Mentoring is not creating together—it is simply teaching someone younger than you in the hopes that they won’t make the same mistakes you once made, or teaching them how not to fail at something. Co-creating is cooperating to produce something.
But in many ways, we are a mentorship because of the constant cycle of knowledge that flows between us. I learn life lessons from Jason, while Jason absorbs new perspectives from me. However, we stray away from the term “mentorship” because our relationship is so much more complex. Jason and I are professional equals that produce meaningful work, which is not something that a mentorship program does.
Our relationship is special because I had met Jason a few years before we started working together for The Alliance. I was an intern at the Ninth Independent Film Center in San Francisco, and I was assigned to help Jason with his then-current project, “Where Do You Belong?” At the time, I had just finished my junior year of high school, and college application season was approaching. My mind was non-stop creating visions of my future, trying to find places where I would belong; so not only did the project help others get closer to peace with themselves and what they’ve gone through, the project also helped me sift through the puzzle pieces that are my undetermined future.
This is what makes my relationship—friendly and professionally—with Jason so special. Jason has seen me grow and change. We know each other well and can easily find ways to compromise when creating work. Therefore, when you are looking for an intergenerational co-creator, it should be someone you have grown with.
Wyman: I had the unique opportunity to create multiple peer mentoring programs in the youth development field at the turn of the century. Often, these mentoring programs were tied to job training programs, field building, creative projects, or professionalization efforts. In every instance there was a power dynamic of mentor-mentee even when we explicitly designed it as a peer mentoring program. The archetype of the mentor is incredibly strong.
When Wendy Levy, Executive Director of The Alliance, approached me about building The Alliance Youth Media Initiatives, I knew that only way to be the change we want in this world was to create it with a young person. And that this young person needed to be my peer and work with me as such at every step of the way. This meant not buying into, supporting, or promoting language of mentor or mentoring because naturally people would assume I was the mentor and Myah the mentee.
Instead, we both joined The Alliance as Producers and became a co-producing team focused on creating intergenerational opportunities within the Youth Media field. This partnership has created a deeply transformative practice, one that actively pushes against assumptions and preconceived notions of what is and is not possible. And it is uplifting, inspiring, and motivating. (And sometimes totally challenging because it means constantly destroying your ego.)
Why is it important to create across age?
Wyman: Creating across age is crucial to long-term systemic change because it provides an opportunity to experience equity, autonomy, compromise, collaboration, and agency all through artistic and creative projects.
The one simple assumption that can be made in intergenerational co-creating is that there will be at least two different people of two different worldviews and egos creating work together. This leads then to a core question: What are the best conditions to cultivate a space of equitable and mutual exchange that values both individual and collective contributions, skills, and talents of those creating together?
The answer to that question requires you to know exactly who is going to be co-creating together. There is no simple template or set of standards that will tell you exactly how to answer it. Instead, you have to be open and listen to what each person is bringing to the creative project and intuit the best mechanisms to create together in a manner where all feel seen, honored, and valued. And it is in this space of openness and inquisitiveness that transformative change occurs because the experience and conditions of it can never be duplicated.
Last point: Age is a naturally occurring, linear hierarchy. It is my supposition that as we create more peer-based opportunities across age, we cultivate more equitable opportunities across artificially (or human) constructed hierarchies such as race, gender, and economics.
Overstreet: Creating across ages gives you the opportunity to open up to the past and to the undetermined future of your co-producer’s visions. It is the first step in learning how to tell stories effectively. Your intergenerational co-producer will broaden your audience, your network, your ability to engage different age groups, and your credibility as a storyteller. So, it is important not only for your personal professional network, but also for your project.
Think of it this way: you and your co-creator are the center of a growing spider web full of connections and opportunities.
What is the long-term shift you hope to manifest?
Overstreet: Jason and I hope to set a precedent for creative programs of now and the future. We want to shift the industry standards of publication and youth media in order to inspire true dialogues and storytelling between generations. We’ve recognized that all generations have stories and experiences of value that can potentially and dramatically change standards in our society.
Wyman: Ditto to everything that Myah said. We want to model what intergenerational co-creating looks like, sounds like, feels like. We want to demonstrate that it also produces incredibly moving art and stories. And we know that by creating as peers across the generations we make the world we want right now and not just in some distant future.