coordinator: Todd Lester

fD is a network of community art spaces, which as a whole acts as an incubator for practical, creative solutions to contemporary human rights issues. The freeDimensional network was born of a dilemma: the need for accommodation experienced by culture workers-in-distress. Therefore, fD developed a system to partner residential artist communities with human rights organizations in order to facilitate rapid response safe haven and related services. Since 2005, freeDimensional has recruited approximately 50 community art spaces on five continents into a horizontal network for this purpose. During this period, fD has supported over 30 journalists (print, publishing, cartoon/caricature), artists (novelists, poets, painters, filmmakers, musicians), and activists (advocating for prison reform, environment, transparency, LGBT rights, youth engagement, ethnic self-determination) from over 20 countries with this service.

As the fD network evolves, member centers have begun to share models for working with vulnerable groups in their communities. This period is a profound learning cycle for fD during which we have set up research desks (network-in-residence sites) in the offices of our Cairo and Sao Paulo partner centers, The Townhouse Gallery and Casa das Caldeiras. We are attempting to better define our actions and services into the following continuum of support: (I) fD provides resources and safe haven for oppressed activists and culture workers. (II) fD provides technical assistance to community organizing by and on behalf of vulnerable groups within the same communities of fD member centers. And (III) fD engages the creative industries and mainstream media to illustrate critical, contemporary issues and thus influence policy-makers.

In light of the questions on openness, ownership, motivation and object/goal posed on page 5 of the Winter Camp concept paper, fD has determined that well-defined financial and human resource strategies are necessary in order to perform the network’s current functions. We are in a new period of transparency by which members are ‘experiencing’ the ownership that was ‘theorized’ in past phases of growth.

We often question whether the nature of the work (safe haven) that we have become known for is too urgent to be left to a voluntary network. If not, then we must define how to compensate members at times when we do have funding. It occurs to us that it is often hard to define and uphold meritocracy in this sense.
We have been told by partner centers that the network looks well-funded from their viewpoint (nice website and materials, travel) and this dis-incentivizes their voluntary support. Therefore, we are interrogating how to bring the administrators of member centers into full member status and ownership of the network.

It seems that we (like other horizontal networks) are ahead of the philanthropy curve. Many foundations we ask to support us, want to know where our ‘office’ is located. When we tell them that we have a mobile ‘network-in-residence’ concept, it is sometimes treated as a gimmick.

There are miscommunications and conflicts that arise in the network and we need a protocol for addressing these without them being taken personally by members who are (in that period) giving more of their personal time. These issues usually pertain to territoriality, the acquisition and expense of social capital, and the reality of a multicultural approach.

One of our members is an excellent guitarist, songwriter and singer


Todd Lester / Sao Paulo
Joel Borges / Sao Paulo
Stefan Barbic / New York
Arthur Bouie / New York
Adham Bakry / Cairo
Max von Duerckheim / Washington DC
Ariane Moore / Ithaca
Shira Golding / Ithaca
Issa Nyaphaga / Paris or New York
Niki Singleton / Canada

Todd Lester is a founding member of the freeDimensional (fD) network. Todd recently completed a fellowship in Forced Migration & Refugee Studies at the American University of Cairo (AUC) and a term as Young Scholar with the Organization of American States (OAS). He is currently a fellow at the Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement in Cairo. Previously, Todd has worked with Reporters Without Borders to establish its New York City communications desk and as Katrina Relief Project Manager for FilmAid International, for which he designed and implemented the organization’s first domestic and natural disaster response intervention. Before that, Todd was Information & Advocacy Manager for the International Rescue Committee in Sudan. He holds a Masters of Public Administration from Rutgers University and is candidate for Doctorate of Public & Urban Policy at the New School for Social Research from which he received a Film Production Diploma. Todd is a Project Leader at the World Policy Institute and a member of both the 21st Century Trust and Think Tank 30. He serves on the International Advisory Committee of the Club of Rome and was recently named an Architect of the Future by the Waldzell
Institute. Todd is an adjunct instructor in Media Studies at the New School.

* Whereas I am ready to assume coordination, there are others in the list who have offered to carry this role/title.