SXSW 2019 – David Byrne “Reasons To Be Cheerful”

David Byrne 13032019-06Just like T Bone Burnett, David Byrne also uses his time  and position for other causes than music and film.  David Byrne’s project is called Reasons To Be Cheerful, and is a multi media project dealing with different social  issues, like education, health, climate, energy,  etc.  At SXSW he held an  engaged and exciting speech on the convergence day about his project.

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Most people know David Byrne from his band Talking Heads and his collaborations with Brian Eno. But he has also worked  with film, as an actor and writing score, having won both an Oscar and Grammys. And now he has created Reasons To Be Cheerful as his own way of dealing with what is happening in the world. The idea is to share success stories from different topics and instead of telling people what is wrong, rather show examples of what is actually working.

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The project is named after an Ian Dury song and is divided into eight different sections, Civic Engagement, Climate/Energy, Culture, Economics, Education, Health, Science/Tech and Urban/Transportation. For each section Byrne finds and posts success stories, like the Bard Prison Initiative in New York where the prisoners can get education while in prison and where they experience a much lover recidivism rate than in other prisons in the country.

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He also mentioned Halden prison in Norway where there are no bars on the windows, where the prisoners have access to a full kitchen where they can learn how to cook with all the equipment they need, including knifes, and also a fully equipped music studio. The recidivism rate here is 20%, which is also significantly lower than for the rest of Norway. The philosophy behind it is that all prisoners are going back to society after thy have served their time, “Do we want angry people, or people  who can contribute to society?”

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Another example of a success story is filed under Culture. A study done by the University of Pennsylvania showed that when cultural institutions were placed in the boroughs of New York, not only did test results in schools increase  significantly, but both criminality, child abuse and obesity went down.

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When it comes to Health, Byrne talked about the Portuguese experiment, when they 15 years ago decriminalized all drug use, treating it as a health instead of a criminal issue, combining it with programs to fight addiction. The result is that Portugal has 3 overdose deaths per million people, while the US has 147. The war on drugs in the US doesn’t work, maybe except for the owners of all the private prisons. Last year more people died of overdoses in the US than the combined US deaths in the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

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What I liked about David Byrne’s approach is that finds the positive signs of change instead of focusing on all that is wrong. Of course, by focusing on the success stories he also puts the light on the failures and things that is wrong, but the positive approach will hopefully attract more people than yet another doomsday prophet. While T Bone Burnett in his keynote before Byrne’s talk held a more dystopian view of the world exampled by the three Internet giants Facebook, Google and Amazon, David Byrne showed us that there is a way to affect change. Both speeches should be mandatory for all decision makers.

All photos are © Per Ole Hagen and must not be used without written permission.

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