Trading for good
Somerville Stock Exchange shares deeds that pay it forward
When the Somerville Stock Exchange opened on March 31, there were no bells ringing, no stock tickers, no harried traders hitting the refresh button.
In fact, the SSE trades in good deeds and donations to charity, not stocks or bonds. Somerville librarian and artist Tim Devin created the project as a way for local people to share the contributions they have made to the community and draw inspiration from others.
“A lot of people do really wonderful, friendly things but you never find out about it,” said Devin, whose previous public art projects include mapping the location of kisses and breakups and posting street surveys on telephone poles. “People often don't even tell their friends. But if you know about all these wonderful things other people are doing, you might be more apt to do that same thing.”
Stockholders can “earn” stock by sharing a good deed such as composting, volunteering, or rallying behind community initiatives. Alternately, they can “buy” stock by donating to one of SSE's nonprofit partners, which correspond to SSE's three focus areas: for community, the Somerville Homeless Coalition; for creativity, the Somerville Arts Council (for which Devin serves on the board); and for the environment, Somerville Climate Action.
Anyahlee Suderman earned stock for her work directing the art program for the Walnut Street Center, which provides residential and day programs for adults with developmental disabilities.
“We're a cooperative, so we try to cross-promote with other organizations,” she said, weaving between art projects at the Creative Union Gallery, which showcases work by adults in the center's programs. “This is a way for us to find potential collaborators and learn from others.”
Every two weeks, Devin evaluates Somerville's community, environment, and creative life and updates stock values based on the deeds and donations reported, as well as other happenings in Somerville. For example, Devin reasoned that the recent controversy over a proposed public housing development in Union Square would bring down the value of the community stock because of tension it caused.
Devin issues stock certificates without any cash value, but as the project progresses, he plans to issue quarterly statements so that stockholders can watch the city thrive and see how others are helping it improve. Eventually, he said, he hopes to document stockholders' contributions in a book, because “A website gets taken down and it's gone, but a book is more tangible.”
Marji Gere, a Somerville-based teacher and performer who's earned stock for several of her creative projects, said for her, SSE “confirms that there are people doing a variety of interesting things in Somerville.”
Scrolling through SSE's community forum online (found at timdevin.com/somervillestockexchange.html), she observed the stories of “not just big events, like the Somerville Homeless Coalition had a fund-raiser, but also small things like an anonymous person bought a sandwich for a homeless person. I like the range of things he's sharing.”
Gere said she sees the Somerville Stock Exchange as part of a broader trend of projects such as handprinter.org that document “not just the negative impact we have on our communities, like our carbon footprint, but how people are taking an initiative to make places more livable.”
Susan Johnston can be reached at email@example.com.