Culture curator Bem Joiner works to improve community engagement in Atlanta
Bem Joiner is a community activist and change agent. He calls himself the creative culture curator, because of his work. He is passionate about the city of Atlanta and its growth through grassroots programs and initiatives. He wears many hats, but as a culture curator, he connects creatives with civic and community opportunities. Joiner uses his platform to fight for a more inclusive and innovative Atlanta. He wholeheartedly believes in the creatives and government working together for community engagement to make Atlanta a better place.
Tell me what you do at the Center for Civic Innovation.
I’m the community engagement manager. We are a 3-year-old startup with a staff of seven. We support people who identify as social entrepreneurs, teachers who go above and beyond, urban farmers, mentors. These people who don’t use Instagram have a harder time finding grant money to fund them. We connect those type of people to government initiatives or larger non-profits. The people on the ground don’t have the money, but they are subject matter experts. I’m the middle man finding the audience and funders.
Have you been with the Center for Civic Innovation since it started?
Yes. They started three years ago and I met the executive director through a friend of mine. There was an opening and he told me, “Yes, I’m starting this thing, I’ve heard a lot about you” and it just went from there. The staff has changed years; at our height, I think we might have had eight or nine [employees].
What kind of success story do you have?
The main and most recent would be this Vote Local campaign that we started about a year ago. We partnered with other companies and initiatives and it was about creating voter engagement for the mayor’s race. The percentages were showing that it wasn’t that people weren’t registered to vote, but that people were not voting. What this campaign did was create a site, votelocal.org, that listed everyone, and what their platforms were. It was a pocket site on how to interact with your local government.
Tell me about your campaign, Atlanta Influences Everything.
A friend of mine and business partner, Ian Ford we always had a marketing company and it has changed over the years. When we dealt with marketers, they always wanted a piece of the Atlanta market. Atlanta has this ability to attract people from all around the country, and they bring their culture here and mix it with the Grady baby culture. The larger result of that is this sauce that brands Atlanta. So, Ian came to me saying we should do a shirt saying Atlanta vs. everybody. I immediately pushed back because I see the swag, dances and the slang that everybody else is using and told him if anything we are influencing. Ian immediately said that is it and that is how it started.
Where did you go to school?
I did the M-to-M program from Garden Hills, Sutton and North Atlanta. I came out of North Atlanta in 1997, which helped build my brand locally and beyond, because Atlanta is a neighborhood-based city. I grew up in afro-centric West End of Atlanta but went to public school in Buckhead. So, I’ve experienced Atlanta top to bottom and that’s what made me so confident about saying Atlanta influences everything.
What is the immediate vision for the Center for Civic Innovation for Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ first year in office?
The way we came about was that people were frustrated with the way the city was being run. We’re in a state of planning right now. We are trying to figure out the relationship with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. There are a couple of projects that we are working on. Atlanta is trying to get Amazon. There are a couple of initiatives going to decrease income inequality in Atlanta. What I’m pushing for is more internal. Let’s build up our native base, the public schools towards creative jobs, which Kasim started and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is pushing forward. I’m hoping with the Super Bowl coming in a year that we will be able to do what Houston did and create a community engagement based strategy that will brand local businesses. I’m hoping to see improved community engagement and building a creative future.