Matt Colaciello Williams
Owner / Creator
The Global Workshop
Interviewed and photographed by Tiffany Manning
Matthew Colaciello was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1986. He grew up in a culturally rich, artistic household of modest means. His mother taught acting and performed, and his father was a music teacher and musician. They moved to Florida when Matthew was seven. Some of his favorite childhood memories involve the tradition his parents created by opening their home every few months to host a house concert. New and exciting musicians, poets, and visual artists were invited to perform and display works to audiences of fifty to sixty people.
As he grew, Matthew devoured books on culture and world traditions, and by the age of sixteen, he was studying abroad, living in Spain with an art history professor from the University of Madrid. As a teenager, he had no perspective as to how good he had it, but now he is able to reflect on all the extraordinary experiences that shaped him into the Renaissance man he has become.
You are working on many exciting projects right now. To give our readers an idea of who Matt Colaciello is, give us a quick rundown of your current projects.
I’m a social entrepreneur and artist determined to make one-hundred percent of my living from business that builds a more just world. My company, The Global Workshop, brings live performances, art, and workshops into schools and colleges to put science and social studies curricula into real world contexts. I create educational media through long-term collaborations with indigenous communities around the world. Alongside that, I create social media content for non-profit organizations. Right now, a pilot version of a traveling exhibit of my photography and video is up at the Maker Space in the Main Branch of the Jacksonville Public Library. It features portraits of youth, elders, and community leaders living on what I call the “frontlines” of climate change in four different corners of Asia. These are people I’ve collaborated with for years now. Americans need to hear their stories, especially when we have so many elected officials who refuse to acknowledge climate change.
Let’s go back for a moment and dive deep into all the things that have made you who you are today. Tell us about your history.
My journey to age thirty has involved a lot of living abroad – in Spain when I was a teenager, and in West Africa and India when I was in college at Northwestern University. After graduating, I returned to India on a fellowship from the Buffet Institute for Global Studies. That was the beginning of another six years in Asia. I worked on human rights campaigns in New Delhi and spent a lot of time in Buddhist monasteries. For a few years, I saw myself becoming a social justice monk, an activist in robes. Eventually, my passion for building cross-cultural understanding led me to the role of a teacher. I spent four years running study abroad programs for American students in remote parts of India and Indonesia before coming back to the U.S. last year.
Your main project right now is the Global Workshop. Tell us more about that.
The Global Workshop is a platform for my teaching and environmental advocacy. The multimedia assemblies and participatory workshops I offer bring the world to students through storytelling, interviews, video, and real-world scenarios. My assemblies offer students the rare opportunity to hear from their peers in communities on the forefront of social and environmental change. Workshops put students in the shoes of scientists, development practitioners, and indigenous community members to engage in dialogue, apply their learning in global contexts, and practice solving the greatest challenges of our times.
You’ve been quite active on social media recently, which is unusual for you. What is driving this recent push?
Without guidance or curation, social media often ends up feeding back to us exactly what we already believe. I’m using social media to open portals between Americans and people in the global South. What you learn may surprise or unsettle you. It may even move you to look for ways to change your life. And that is exactly my goal. Everything we do as Americans, from our consumption habits to our voting choices, effects every human being and all life on this planet. Borders may restrict the flow of people, but U.S. policy has no edges. Emissions don’t stay neatly within the territory of the countries that produce them. Social media has the potential to wake people up to this interdependence and that is why I’m using it.
You moved back to Jacksonville a year ago. What brought you home?
When I started saying I might move back to Jacksonville, my family and American friends were surprised. “From Java to Jacksonville?” I was getting a lot of that. My friends in Asia were less incredulous. They had worried for years that I was missing out on the lives of my family back home. In the end I decided to return to Jacksonville, not just to be close to family and friends, but also because I thought it would make a good launch pad for the next phase of my life’s work.
What do you love about Jacksonville?
I love my people here, friends and colleagues, old and new. They have been extremely supportive since I came back. As an example, people from the community stepped up to contribute the bulk of the $10,000 I raised to jumpstart The Global Workshop last summer. And the love and guidance they’ve offered me is immeasurable. I’m so grateful for that.