Tampa’s Ryan Swanson, Founder and CEO of The Urban Conga design firm, will be representing the United States in England as part of a program aimed at making cities fun places to live and work.
Swanson was one of 15 chosen from a field of 544 candidates across the globe for Creative Producers International’s 2 1/2-year empowerment program starting in October in Bristol, England. The goal is to enable creative producers to learn from each other what makes cities “more playable, more activated at that street level,” Swanson explains.
“I’m excited to go and learn ... and see how we can integrate our work,” he says.
Swanson originally became connected to CPI through social media, and actually was a finalist in the competition for the last two years. “The reason I got selected is because of what I’m doing with The Urban Conga,” he says.
Swanson, who holds a master’s degree in architecture from the University of South Florida in Tampa, initially founded the firm three years ago with a couple of colleagues. Funding for projects usually comes through the cities, private organizations or a grant.
As one of the 15 creative chosen after Skype interviews, Swanson will participate in a three-week lab, participate in the Making The City Playable Conference in October in Bristol, produce a project, and meet for another conference in Japan. The group includes several from the United Kingdom, as well as representatives from Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Ireland, Australia, South Africa and Denmark.
“They fund me going out there,” Swanson says. “We get paid a small stipend to come back and implement a project.”
Creative Producers International is a talent development program led by Watershed, a Bristol-based organization enabling artistic vision and creative collaboration worldwide.
On the home front, Swanson built ping pong tables in Lykes Gaslight Park and a musical bench, which can be played similar to a marimba or xylophone, near the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. Another project was a dominos/chess table for Ybor City. Additionally, he has worked in areas such as New Orleans and Fort Lauderdale.
His innovation has captured a lot of media attention from news outlets like PBS, The Atlantic and Fast Company.
A 29-year-old, he strives to help people engage with one another in the simpler ways they did as children, instead of spending their time eyeing their cellphones.
“No one really talks to people. No one really physically engages with people in pubic spaces,” he says.
The young and the seniors seem the most receptive to playing, the middle agers more hesitant. But when the middle-aged decide to play, they linger the longest, he says.