Todd Lester is the founder and Executive Director of freeDimensional (fD), a platform of collaboration linking community art spaces to social justice movements globally. fD conducts advocacy on behalf of vulnerable groups and produces tactical media to illustrate critical, contemporary issues. Todd recently completed a fellowship in Forced Migration & Refugee Studies at the American University of Cairo (AUC) and a term as Young Scholar with the Organization of American States (OAS). He is currently a fellow at the Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement in Cairo. Previously, Todd has worked with Reporters Without Borders to establish its New York City communications desk and as Katrina Relief Project Manager for FilmAid International, for which he designed and implemented the organization’s first domestic and natural disaster response intervention. Before that, Todd was Information & Advocacy Manager for the International Rescue Committee in Sudan. He holds a Masters of Public Administration from Rutgers University and is candidate for Doctorate of Public & Urban Policy at the New School for Social Research from which he received a Film Production Diploma. Todd is a Project Leader at the World Policy Institute and a member of both the 21st Century Trust and Think Tank 30. He serves on the International Advisory Committee of the Club of Rome. In 2007, Todd enrolled in the Summer Institute on Forced Migration at the Refugee Studies Centre of Oxford University in order to prepare for the technical assistance role freeDimensional would play in supporting the growth of a Multicultural Council in Cairo. In keeping with this new organizational direction, fD is working with The Townhouse Gallery to share this model for community outreach with other cities in the region experiencing large influxes of new refugee and asylum-seekers and for which there are interested community arts spaces.
The freeDimensional network was born of a dilemma: the need for accommodation experienced by culture workers-in-distress. Therefore, fD developed a system to partner residential artist communities with human rights and freedom of expression organizations in order to facilitate rapid response, creative safe haven. Over the past three years, freeDimensional has recruited approximately 50 partner sites and supported over 30 artists, activists and citizen journalists-in-distress from 20 countries. In 2008, fD broadened its scope of placement by partnering with more than 25 nominating organizations and distress funds to holistically support individuals-in-distress with variations on the Creative Safe Haven service, training opportunities, and information advocacy.
The lessons learned while accommodating individuals-at-risk are useful in developing services for communities-at-risk. As the fD network evolves, partner sites have begun to share models for working with vulnerable groups in their communities. fD is helping to build capacity in these local initiatives and use their experiences to develop toolkits for community outreach. This is a profound learning cycle for fD during which regional offices in Cairo and Sao Paulo are being set up. During this period, fD is also attempting to create additional staff roles in order that the organization may continue to provide critical support for culture workers and vulnerable groups-in-distress, and successfully scale-up the impact of the network that has been established.