New Thinkers Take on the Eco Crisis Through Art and Conversation

Artivist Benjamin Von Wong will talk at the next New Thinkers event on April 30.
Artivist Benjamin Von Wong will talk at the next New Thinkers event on April 30. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong
Keo Frazier doesn't get much sleep.

"I'm that person who stays up all night because I have all these thoughts running through my head, just thinking about problems we need to solve," she admits.

While working as a successful marketing entrepreneur and businesswoman, she started an organization called the New Thinkers as an extension of her work. "I was tired of having conversations with friends and groups and not having a mechanism to put action behind the conversation," she says.

The initial spark of the idea came after Frazier attended a meeting with Summit, an event company that offers trips to beautiful destinations for recreational activities and discussions about wellness and global enlightenment. However, Frazier found the biggest challenge with Summit events was their price point. A ticket could cost thousands, and those interested must apply to attend.

"It's quite expensive," she affirms. "I wanted to have those kinds of conversations but on a smaller, more affordable scale so it was accessible to more people."

New Thinkers aims to bring together like-minded individuals who want to make a difference and create change in the world. The group includes members who pay an annual fee of $137 to participate in conversations around problem-solving and to plan events that bring together local leaders and creatives who are making an impact.

The next New Thinkers event is scheduled for Friday, April 30, to cap off a month when people think a lot about environmentalism with the celebration of Earth Day on April 22. Participants will meet along the Platte River for a historical tour led by Councilmember Jolon Clark, then convene at PlatteForum to view an environmental project by the current artist in residence, and to enjoy snacks and drinks provided by chef Lindsay Michael of the Vegan Epicurist. The second half of the event includes a virtual presentation and Q&A with artivist Benjamin Von Wong, who has generated over 100 million views for causes like ocean plastics, electronic waste and fashion pollution, and was named one of Adweek's eleven branded-content masterminds.

Von Wong is known for spectacular, large-scale art installations with environmental messages. His past work includes creating moving photos of a mermaid drowning in a sea of 10,000 discarded plastic bottles, a "Parting of the Plastic Sea" tunnel made entirely of 168,000 used plastic straws, and the "World's Tallest Closet," standing at almost thirty feet high and consisting of the 3,000 pieces of clothing it's estimated one person accumulates in a lifetime.

For Frazier, it's vital to include art in the conversation. During a past event with members of the Central Park Five, she included painted portraits of each man as a young boy, on stage.

"I wanted to show the juxtaposition between the young child and the men these officers inflicted this injustice onto," she says.

At New Thinkers events, art can also serve as a way of opening up the conversation.

"Art allows us to feel something without words. It opens the space for conversation around social impact, because it brings the guard down," Frazier says. "People know they can talk about art without judgment. When you put art in a challenging conversation, it creates a safe space to agree and disagree and come to a common ground."
Keo Frazier, founder of the New Thinkers. - PHOTO BY MARK WOOLCOTT PHOTOGRAPHY
Keo Frazier, founder of the New Thinkers.
Photo by Mark Woolcott Photography
Like so many, Frazier had to figure out how to adjust her events to cope with the pandemic last year, which wrecked in-person gatherings, art viewings and discussions. "I had to come up with something that would pull people together," she says. "With people sitting on so many Zoom calls, I wondered if they would really want to do another one."

She pulled together an event with artist Brooke Feamster that didn't matter if it was in person or virtual. "She's colorblind, so she virtually walked people through what it's like to create an art piece using color by being able to feel the energy. It was something you could never experience, not even in person."

As COVID-19 vaccines roll out, Frazier's hopeful she can create more interactive events in the coming year. "I have some cool events planned, but I still want to be sensitive to people's comfort levels around going out," she says.

Upcoming events include a series with judges to give people a behind-the-scenes experience with the judicial system and a discussion with Ben & Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen on creating a socially minded business.

With the ongoing turmoil in the world and our communities, there is never a shortage of problems to solve.

"A lot of times, people come to me with ideas," she says. "I have a whole list of topics ranging from young entrepreneurs to the state of our democracy."

She adds that one of the perks of being a member of the New Thinkers is making an impact. It's the members who often come up with topics.

"By being a member, you're saying you're committed to taking action," Frazier says. "We have social gatherings and hours of conversation around problems that need to be solved and how we can solve them."

The next New Thinkers event takes place at 5 p.m. Friday, April 30, at a secret location. For details, RSVP online by April 28.
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Kastle Waserman is a freelance contributor to Westword covering music and culture. Prior to Denver, she lived in Los Angeles and worked as a staff editor/reporter for the Los Angeles Times covering music, nightclubs, lifestyles and fashion. She’s been published in the New York Post, Women’s Wear Daily and Fodor’s Travel Books.
Contact: Kastle Waserman