"Scenius" and Creative Communities

It's been four months since we opened the doors at NEW INC and began our journey of building an incubator for the art, design, and tech set. Truth be told, we didn't really know what to expect when we embarked down this path, but we had a hunch that if we convened a smart and talented creative cohort with ambitious ideas, put them in a space together for a year, and armed them with some basic tools for success, amazing things might start happening. And in this short amount of time, we’re already beginning to see how this thinking is taking shape.

We curated the mix of individuals and teams at NEW INC with the intention of creating a diverse ecosystem of disparate but complementary disciplines, skill sets, interests, and models. We looked for people who were eager to learn and equally eager to share their knowledge. The result was an almost immediate, magnetic, and ecstatic eruption of synergies, collaborations, and cross-pollination. Within the first few weeks, almost every person at NEW INC was hatching some plan for collaboration with another group or member. Naturally, some of these sparked stimulating conversations and then fell by the wayside, others are starting to mature and come to fruition.

This notion of cross-pollination and collective ingenuity isn't necessarily a new or a unique one, but nevertheless an incredibly powerful one. It is perhaps best summed up by Brian Eno's beautiful term "scenius." According to Eno, “Genius is individual, scenius is communal.” He explains: 

I was an art student and, like all art students, I was encouraged to believe that there were a few great figures like Picasso and Kandinsky, Rembrant, and Giotto and so on who sort-of appeared out of nowhere and produced artistic revolution.

As I looked at art more and more, I discovered that that wasn't really a true picture... the sort-of "Great Man" theory of history - they were called "geniuses". But what I thought was interesting was the fact that they all came out of a scene that was very fertile and very intelligent.

So I came up with this word "scenius" - and scenius is the intelligence of a whole... operation or group of people. And I think that's a more useful way to think about culture, actually. I think that - let's forget the idea of "genius" for a little while, let's think about the whole ecology of ideas that give rise to good new thoughts and good new work.

The word “scenius” removes the notion of “genius” from our thinking about how ideas are formed, instead giving precedent to the scene from which they are born. This credits “the power of collaboration within systems” rather than continuing to promulgate the “Great Man” theory, as described by Eno above.

At NEW INC, we believe what really makes the space what it is are the members that comprise our community and the ideas and conversations that are generated in this gathering place. Of course, you need space, equipment, materials, and infrastructure, to make things. But that seems almost secondary to having a community of people to share ideas, ultimately making each other’s work stronger, more multidisciplinary and rigorous, through knowledge and skill-sharing.

And this is why Eno came up with the word, “which describes the power generated by a group of artists who gather in one place at one time...It suggests that the quality of works produced in a certain time and place is more indebted to the friction between the people on hand than to the work of any single artist.” 

A new kind of scene that responds to both the changing landscape of art making and professionalism giving way to entrepreneurship is in order. It’s still early days for NEW INC and only time will tell what sort of contributions this program will make towards helping steer a course through these tumultuous waters. For now, we’re focused on building a strong foundation — we’re investing in our community, in cultivating our “scenius” — for that’s what will ultimately set the stage for what we aspire to become: a hub for creative practice where critical conversations about art, technology, culture and entrepreneurship can take place and transformative ideas can become a reality.