Long defunct organizations/groups/movements that have come to life
July 23, 2022 9:36 AM   Subscribe

I recently "inherited" a failing co-op/collective/school that has existed in crisis since its inception roughly a century ago. I believe it has everything it physically needs to thrive and grow into something amazing. Some folks claim this is "impossible" (with good reason) - but there is a sense among the whole that we can pull this off. Can you provide me with some examples of similar organizations/movements/businesses/schools/etc. that have found phoenix-like success after such a history?

This place is beautiful - think of land and physical capital - it could be the perfect place for retreats, camps, schools, farmer's markets, really anything you can dream of where people come together to cooperate and learn. For reasons that I won't get into here (but that I am confident I have a comprehensive understanding of) they have operated in "crisis mode" and "scarcity mode" since their beginnings nearly 100 years ago.

I am not looking for advice on how to save a dying institution, I'm asking for specific, historic examples of dying institutions saving themselves.

I have buy-in from stakeholders. I have resources. What I don't have are examples of similar resurrection events. Has a dead town ever come back to life? Has a movement founded on shaky ground ever stabilized and taken off? Especially after a century of distress?
(I am painting with a very broad brush. There were a few periods of roughly a decade each when things went swimmingly - and these are the periods I am fervently sharing with the nay-sayers and doom predictors and "we've never had any success"-types.)
posted by Baby_Balrog to Human Relations (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: DSA is an example of this. While at its creation in 1982 it was one of the larger socialist organizations in the US, it swiftly entered a period of decline and stagnation. This ended in 2017, when it began to experience dramatic exponential growth, especially among young people. That momentum hasn't been consistently sustained but there are no signs that it will ever revert to its pre-2017 state. Decisive factors behind the revival seem to have been: 1) growing public prominence as the left wing of the Bernie campaign and subsequently around other issues in both local and national politics; 2) smart and creative use of social media and the social networks largely of young, educated urbanites (also a liability for a socialist organization of course) 3) decline of rival organizations amid a growing interest in left-wing politics, in part because of widespread disillusionment with "democratic centralist" organizational models.
posted by derrinyet at 10:09 AM on July 23, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, absolutely. Bisbee, AZ and Madrid, NM immediately come to mind, as well as a few other small communities in NM. Without more specifics of what you’ve inherited, it’s hard to say how much of an overlap there is — but both quickly grew because the right-spirited kind of people could live there inexpensively enough to afford extra time to building the community and the vision.

Neither of these are institutions, but they are communities that grew up around a common ethos / vision.

If you want to share more, I’d be interested in hearing more specifics about what you’ve inherited.
posted by Silvery Fish at 10:20 AM on July 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I get the sense thus isn't exactly what you are describing, but I had my wedding at a historic property that has been many things throughout the decades- summer camps etc. It seems to have changed hands from one university to another and is currently used as a conference and events center. The Warren Center in MA.
posted by emd3737 at 11:14 AM on July 23, 2022

Best answer: OK, I can't be specific, so it's not exactly what you are asking for, but I am doing this now for the second time (two different organizations). It's really hard, some people will hate you, and no-one will thank you. But one reason I'm doing it once again is that it does have its own satisfaction when you succeed, and I don't regret it. Obviously I don't know if I will succeed this time, but don't do it if you aren't prepared to sit tight for several years. Also, what you think is the solution now probably isn't when you find it: be flexible as well as strong.

Come to think of it, there is a folk high school in Denmark that might fit your bill: Krabbesholm Højskole. It also has a long history, and was never a succes until the former (till recently) head took over. He had a singular vision and also the drive to make it happen, now it is a huge succes.

A folk high school is a school with no credits. Danish people typically attend them between high school and college, but also when they are adult, and sometimes as a family thing, for inspiration and enlightenment. There are many different formats and contents, Krabbesholm specializes in the visual arts, but there are folk high schools for sports, for the environment, for film, for philosophy and many, many other things.
posted by mumimor at 11:37 AM on July 23, 2022 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: These are wonderful, yes!! Keep them coming! I'll be reaching out to some of you and thank you!
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:49 PM on July 23, 2022

Response by poster: Again: I am not looking for advice on how to save a dying institution, I'm asking for specific, historic examples of dying institutions saving themselves.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:49 PM on July 23, 2022

Best answer: One more (inspired by some of the other comments) — there was a big church in middle Ohio that was completely re-purposed — when I was there, the sanctuary had been converted into a dance and performance space, but the upper floors housed a meditation center, and the basement was used for AA/ NA meetings, a community health check and wellness center, a food pantry and a lending library, depending on the day of the week / month. It was the first time I felt I had entered a place that had been designed in close collaboration with the surrounding micro-community, rather than a feel of an organization coming in and deciding what they thought the community ‘needed’.
posted by Silvery Fish at 3:19 PM on July 23, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Check out the story of Jaime Escalante.
posted by Melismata at 3:22 PM on July 23, 2022

Best answer: Antioch College in Ohio actually closed due to lack of capital, but recently reopened. I think they had other campuses that stayed open, but the Ohio one is the one with all the history.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:27 PM on July 23, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: There’s the story of Wardenclyffe, which was saved by an online grassroots campaign led by The Oatmeal webcomic.

If businesses count as examples, Marvel Comics (arguably a cultural institution) went from declaring bankruptcy in the mid-90s to being purchased by Disney for $4 billion in 2009.
posted by castlebravo at 4:35 PM on July 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: growing public prominence as the left wing of the Bernie campaign

I was just at a DSA event today (in Vermont) and told one of the older time DSA folks about this and they said yeah their average age is something like 27 now and it's WILD.

One of the things that makes this hard (sometimes) with organizations that have land in the US is that taxes in states-with-taxes can require cash money to pay the taxes while most of the capital of the org is in buildings and land. The way many groups work around this is by either getting non-profit status or getting run by an org with non-profit status.

You do see this often with educational organizations that have been able to pivot sometimes. In Vermont the Vermont College of Fine Arts has been able to do this over time (it's had ups and downs). There have also been towns in Vermont that have had a renaissance. Grafton Vermont is one. Glover Vermont is another. The former was "saved" by a lot of capital investment and a re-visioning of the place as a place where fancy people could recreate. Glover was saved by Bread and Puppet and a regular influx of hippies. These are similar but not the same. Other types of places are religious retreat centers with dwindling membership, family homesteads that have money to go with them but not MUCH, and schools like Goddard that switch to low residency but still need to do something with the buildings. Sometimes they make it work, sometimes they wind up on Abandoned America.
posted by jessamyn at 5:14 PM on July 23, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Its crisis was relatively short-lived, but perhaps the story of students organizing to save Hampshire College in 2019 will be inspirational to your group.
posted by hovey at 6:25 PM on July 23, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Karamu House in Cleveland has been in existence since 1915. It is the oldest African-American theater in the United States. Langston Hughes was an alumni, and premiered several of his plays there. The space and organization also served at various times as a community center and a home for other arts endeavors.

By 2016 the organization and buildings had endured decades of decline - to the point where they lost their non-profit status, due to failing to file the proper paperwork. New leadership and fundraising led to a major rebuild and reorganization project, with the third phase due to be finished by the end of the year.

Thriving in Fairfax: How Karamu House got its groove back - a somewhat detailed look at the process from 2018, and Karamu House to complete renovations, add community spaces, and return to live theater, an update from 2021.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:21 AM on July 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

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