We stumbled upon Emily’s Instagram feed during the pandemic. She’s been called “a skilled facilitator of joy,” which happened to be exactly what we needed in early 2020. Finding that she also happens to be a neighbor, was a huge plus. We finally, had the chance to get to know her and her mission a bit better.
Let’s go way back to your first business Betterish. How do you use this platform to connect with community and who do you work with?
Betterish is all about engaging and building community in more meaningful ways. Initially I did this through a wide range of workshops, consulting, creative storytelling and designing interactive learning opportunities in community and collaboration. I’ve worked with a wide range of community minded organizations and businesses the past few years, but I will admit—definitely in a season of what I call “shifts and wiggles” and figuring out where to take these Betterish bits to next.
At the root of everything I do, it’s about creating exploratory experiences that nourish curiosity, celebrates all voices, and sparks storytelling. How that takes shape and form varies: sometimes it takes place within a zine, in a conversational madlib, or inviting folks to participate in a community-based project where they can contribute something that will become part of something larger than themselves.
Betterish actually started as a blog where I would document and invite others to share how they were doing it betterish—aka: not the best, but honoring the magic and messiness in the mundane; indulging in the in-betweens of it all…and really: exploring the small actions, experiences and lessons that lead to the bigger things. Because when we take time to notice and reflect, it usually has a pretty powerful way of taking us to something better. www.doitbetterish.com
We are in love with your passion project The Meet Cart, “where unfamiliar people become unexpected pals.” How did you come up with this brilliant way to connect strangers? How did this concept evolve during the pandemic?
Social bridging has always been really important to my work as a community engager. And, creative experiences have built connections and opened pathways in my life that have been transformative. Also, straight up: fun. In a world of disconnect and divide, creating light-hearted, playful entry points for people to connect was a goal of mine, and still is. I also have a deep appreciation for quirky, pop-up mobile structures. The Meet Cart was a concept that had been in my head for a few years before moving to Denver, and when I moved here, I used that time as a great excuse to finally put that idea into motion since it would also help me meet people and get to know this community.
Pre-pandemic, I used to cart it around to different places and spaces and facilitate a series of games and activities that would get people to meet each other. During the pandemic, The Meet Cart grew in ways I never ever would have expected. I was able to take some of those games and activities and facilitate them interactively in zoom rooms worldwide. I hosted everything from birthday parties, company happy hours, staff retreats, orientation kick-offs, holiday parties, educational enrichments, baby showers, retirement parties…even remembrance celebrations. Hard conversations, too. The beginning of the pandemic, I hosted “Meetful Mondays” where strangers came together and talked openly about isolation, loneliness and all the tough and tender situations we were all navigating. After the death of Geoge Floyd, Meetful Mondays became “Meetful Mondays: Let’s Talk About Race.” Before the 2020 election, I teamed up with TEDxMileHigh to host “a Time to Connect before we Elect,” in which we had conversations about the presidential election.
The pandemic actually allowed me to expand my work at the Meet Cart to partner with people nationally (globally, too!), and pushed the boundaries on the kinds of conversations that could take place around the Meet Cart.
How can individuals and groups gather at The Meet Cart? Is this something one can book for gatherings?
Yes, yes, yes! You can visit www.themeetcart.com or e-mail me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. E-mailing is the best way to connect, visiting the website is the best way to learn more about what kind of offerings take place.
You’ve been given the honorable title of “people person extraordinaire.” This is something that deeply appeals to us, as we, too, love the opportunity to connect. Were you always this way?
Truly an honorable title! Actually, I was a bit shy as a kid. But various art and creative experiences—particularly theatre, dance, and visual arts—cracked me open in ways where I personally experienced the power of community building: it empowered me, it healed me and allowed me to just be me. I’m certainly energized when I’m with people, but ultimately consider myself an extroverted introvert. I require solid amounts of recharge time to replenish my energy.
Do you find that the people that benefit most from your community building tools are introverts?
Not necessarily. My work, particularly with The Meet Cart, is grounded in this concept that everyone you meet has something valuable to teach you…whether you like it or not, whether you know it, or not. I think/hope a wide range of people benefit from the work. It’s about making connections not only with those around us, but with ourselves, our work, and our intentions. So it’s not only about connection, but also about reflection. And having fun. Which we could all benefit from.
You are also a talented artist, which comes as no surprise. What can you tell us about the Martin Building Mural Project?
Well, shucks… thank you. The Martin Building Mural Project is a dream come true (cheesy, but the truth). I partnered with artist Olive Moya to co-create a mural with community members at the Denver Art Museum (on the ground floor of the newly renovated Martin Building.) The main concept is focused around how the four elements are essential and represent our basic human needs: air (belonging), earth (groundededness), water (letting go), fire (connection).
For the portion representing air, we put a call out for anyone and everyone to submit their “slice of the sky.” We got over 700 submissions that we wheat-pasted to form one cumulative, unified backdrop. One of our goals with this project is to convey how different perspectives can still connect us a whole, and this portion really allows for those connections to happen.
It was important that we encourage people to not only look up, but look down— to think about what truly grounds us in the places we live within and walk upon. To make that happen, we hosted a series of community brainstorms at The Meet Cart that specifically focused on exploring what makes us feel a sense of belonging, a sense of community, and a sense of home. We then took the themes, thoughts, words, & spontaneous conversations captured during these sessions and synthesized them into phrases and questions that you can now find on the pathways leading up to the museum and on the ground floor.
The element of water can be found through Olive’s iconic color pathways, which symbolize the process of letting go—releasing, cleansing, trusting the flow.
And lastly, the element of fire is represented in the moments that are going to continue to spark this entire project: connection. Human experiences and interactions have and will activate the various concepts we’ll continue to explore until October 2024…we’re slated to do programming associated with the themes in the mural until then, which is super exciting.
Finally, I will add: to be able to blend my community-engaged social practice with Olive Moya’s visual art practice has been both a big, beautiful learning opportunity and the ultimate honor.
The creative community of Denver is wide and supportive. Who have you had the pleasure of collaborating with?
It sure is! I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with: History Colorado, MCA Denver, Horseshoe Market, RedLine Contemporary Art Center, TARRA, Babe Walls, Denver Start Up Week, Rebel Bread, Denver Art Museum, Stanley Marketplace, TEDxMileHigh, CBCA, ReCreative Denver, Slow Food Denver, Craftsman and Apprentice, Creative Mornings, Warm Cookies of the Revolution, Denver Public Libraries, Fruits of our Labor, and Town Hall Collaborative.
You’re not originally from Denver. How did you find yourself here?
By way of Simsbury, CT > Baltimore, MD > Eugene, OR > Santa Cruz, CA.After living coast to coast, Denver seemed like the right middle ground spot for my partner and I to sink some roots. And it’s proven to be so!
What can we expect from you in the future?
Just you wait and see! Don’t you like surprises? I highly and sincerely do.
Emily, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us and offer a glimpse into your amazing work. We truly can’t wait to see what the future holds for you and all of your meaningful endeavors. If you would like to learn more, visit www.doitbetterish.com + @betterish on Instagram.