A little over a year ago, Susannah Brinkley and a friend launched an experiment. They hoped that it would help them — and others — learn a lot more about all the cool places and amazing people that can be found in the Triangle. All they needed was a smart phone, an Instagram account and the help of hundreds of strangers.
And guess what? It worked.
Brinkley, a 2011 graduate of NC State’s College of Design, and her friend, Brittany Iery, recently celebrated the first anniversary of RDU Baton. Brinkley and Iery describe RDU Baton as a collaborative photo project in which strangers with only one thing in common — their love of the Triangle — spend a day taking photos of places and people that make Raleigh, Durham or Chapel Hill special to them. They then use Instagram to share those photos with the 2,000 people who follow RDU Baton online before handing off the virtual baton to someone else to do the same thing the next day.
“It’s a neat way to discover new parts of where you live,” says Brinkley, a freelance graphic designer. “I had lived in Raleigh for six years, and had my own little corner. It’s really nice to be opened up to other people’s little corner.”
When Brinkley took the baton recently to celebrate RDU Baton’s first anniversary, she shared photos of the “Listening Vessels” near the Brickyard, a cup of coffee she enjoyed at Scratch Bakery in Durham, a view of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens and the pizza she enjoyed at Lilly’s Pizza in Raleigh’s Five Points for lunch.
Others have recently shared photos of an alley in downtown Raleigh, a scene from the Kings & Queens Bowling League and the insides of a gym in Seaboard Station. One recent “runner” proudly posted a photo of an NC State cup. “Gotta show some pack pride,” she wrote. “I’m so glad to be part of this wonderful community of Raleigh. I have met some truly amazing people here!”
About 250 people took turns holding the baton during the first year. Brinkley and Iery manage the project in their spare time, so they only hand the baton out on weekdays. They also ask that those holding the batons steer clear of an Instagram staple – the selfie (or self portrait, for those not familiar with the term).
“We want people to enjoy their day with the baton,” Brinkley says. “We want to see a normal day in their life, showcasing the things they like to do.”
There are a few other rules — post only photos you took during your day with the baton, don’t post more than 6 to 8 photos during your day, and write captions to let others know what they are seeing — but Brinkley and Iery otherwise leave it up to each day’s photographer to decide what to shoot and share.
“Personally, I like to hear their stories,” Brinkley says.
Brinkley and Iery got the idea from a similar project in New York known, appropriately enough, as NYCbaton. They got permission to start a similar site in the Triangle, and have been surprised and pleased with the results so far.
“We like to watch where the baton is going,” Brinkley says. “One time we were out to eat together, and we looked on Instagram and someone had posted from the same restaurant where we were. That’s so awesome.”
RDU Baton has tilted toward Raleigh, Brinkley says, with few submissions from people in Durham and Chapel Hill. Brinkley says she hopes that changes, and that they welcome “runners” from anywhere in the Triangle. Slots in November have already been assigned and there are about 30-40 people are on a list waiting their turn with the baton.
Brinkley moved to Charlotte, N.C., earlier this year. But she has no plans to abandon RDU Baton, at least for the foreseeable future. She enjoys being known as a “baton girl.”
“It’s cool,” she says, “that people are excited about it.”