Emily Hope Dobkin, people person extraordinaire, is the entrepreneurial genius behind Betterish, a platform that brings folks together through pop-up creative activities, workshops and just plain serendipity. Her latest invention is the Meet Cart, a street paleteria vending ideas and cooperative brain-play. But in the face of COVID-19, Dobkin had to shift her concept to serve a new socially distanced clientele, retooling the Meet Cart to serve up virtual experiences, from birthday parties to happy hours, with the same hands-on goals.
Her latest tweak? Meetful Mondays, a weekly Zoom affair that Dobkin explains as she answers the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Emily Hope Dobkin: First and foremost: community. Everything I create is meant to be built upon or further shared with people other than myself. I never know exactly how that’s going to unfold, and that trust in both the unknown and in the community is what drives me. I aim to create spaces and experiences for multi-voices, multi-generations and multi-perspectives. More specifically, my muse can be found in candid conversations or reflections that organically lead to learning opportunities and deeper connections in community.
Also: early mornings = my muse. There is a sacredness to the time before the hustle and bustle really gets grinding that I find to be grounding, healing and revitalizing.
And also: unexpected anythings. Finding unexpected colors out in the streets or in nature, funding unexpected connections among people — these surprises have a unique way of sparking my sense of curiosity, wonder and imagination.
And lastly: sources of resiliency. That can look so different and has looked so drastically different during various parts of my life…but when it’s tapped, it’s also a very sacred and extraordinary space.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
The Supremes: Because I feel they’d provide great music and entertainment. And really, I’ve always had a secret/strong longing to be a backup singer and hope I could learn a thing or two. Realizing that's three people right there; oops.
Jim Henson: Because his imagination would take that party to a wildly fantastical place. Also, think he’d sneak in some muppet pals. Muppets + Motown = my kind of party.
Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Because she’s been leading the movement for racial justice in a way that’s beyond essential in making the difference our nation so desperately needs right now.
What is Betterish all about?
Betterish is a platform that creatively encourages people to make better things, better relationships and better days. When we’re not in a pandemic, this happens through hands-on workshops, creative consulting, pop-up events, and designing interactive experiences in community and collaboration. At the root of everything Betterish does, it’s about exploring the small actions, experiences and lessons that lead to bigger things while celebrating process over perfectionism. Amidst the pandemic, I’ve been able to shift some of my interactive work to the digital world by offering virtual celebrations — everything from birthday bashes to graduation parties, as well as company happy hours and Meetful Mondays (more on that soon).
A major goal with all Betterish projects is for people to understand a deeper connection to themselves and each other through some kind of creative experience. Between the rise of new forms of entertainment and technologies, social injustices and the pandemic, we face extreme challenges in the realms of inequalities and isolation. It’s imperative that the work I produce via Betterish unites people in ways that also allows for folks to creatively dig deeper and connect in thoughtful ways.
How does Meet Cart fulfill your mission at Betterish?
The Meet Cart is a mobile structure where strangers can meet, greet and play. It’s where unfamiliar people become unexpected pals. In a world of great disconnect and divide, it’s been important for me to craft this pop-up space where I can facilitate a series of activities that bring people together in meaningful and engaging ways. It gets at the heart of what Betterish is about: connecting people in creative yet also simple, accessible ways.
The entry point is light, but the goal is to spark conversations that lead to productive and reflective discussions. Since the pandemic emerged, I’ve been offering virtual Meetful Mondays as a way for strangers to socially connect during a time of social distancing. It’s free and open to anyone and everyone who’s good with making new friends in a Zoom room on a Monday afternoon.
I've recently shifted those to being Meetful Mondays: Let's Talk About Race. For the foreseeable future, those Meetful Mondays will be holding space to talk about racism. There will be no experts in the room, but just everyday folks hoping to share, learn, unlearn and grow comfortable in the uncomfortable.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the cultural community?
Build a stronger networking tool or means of getting the word out on resources, particularly around grants and relief funds generating now during the pandemic. Also, ways to connect our creative and cultural communities. Heck, maybe it could be through the Meet Cart! But I overall feel there could be stronger channels for connecting and communicating with folks in a way that fosters collaboration, inclusivity and support.
What’s your dream project?
I’d love to partner with more schools, universities and colleges to create a Betterish ambassador program of sorts. My background is in arts education and community engagement, and I really miss working with a team of students. I want to empower young people to instigate their own creative invitations using the power of play, participation and creative exploration. I want young people to learn they can be community builders of the spaces they inhabit by co-creating fun, empathy-building experiences that also make an impact.
Denver (or Colorado), love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I moved here two and a half years ago. I grew up on the East Coast, went to school in Oregon, landed a dream job in Santa Cruz, California, and left that to come here because it seemed like an interesting balance of all the places I’ve ever lived. I love it. I appreciate the openness, the community spirit, the access to nature, the seasons and the excellent assortment of ice cream shops.
That all said, no place is perfect. We are in the depths of some massive challenges right now. I hang onto the hope that our community-driven efforts and actions can truly make a difference right now.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Gosh, there’s a lot, but I will attempt to narrow it down: Olive Moya (for providing brilliantly bold pops of color and the ability to tell stories via shapes and squiggles); Moe Gram (for work that's rooted in empathy, and I admire how she graciously blends the realms of being an artist, educator and community organizer); Delanie and Anna over at the Craftsman & Apprentice (for their exploratory approach to arts education); and the entire Polzin family — they can make anything! I’ve worked closely with Jessica Polzin on a variety of projects, one of them being the phenomenal revamp and redesign of the Meet Cart.
What's on your agenda now and in the coming year?
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Getting the Meet Cart anywhere and everywhere (which to my surprise, has been working in the virtual space). I have some fun public programming and community engagement projects I’m working on with History Colorado, and I’m hoping to continue to collaborate with awesome community-driven organizations like Horseshoe Market, Stanley Marketplace, Rebel Bread, and local museums and libraries. Fingers/toes crossed that I can also get this Betterish work into more schools and universities, even if it means virtually.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Caleb Santiago Alvarado. Caleb is a profound photographer, cinematographer and storyteller.