Webster City, Iowa hosted an international photojournalist, Brendan Hoffman, in residency at the Daily Freeman Journal, the local paper.
A town of 8,000 people managed to take a 6 week free class on Using Photography to Tell Your Stories, view an exhibition of War In Ukraine, and personally visit with the photojournalist Brendan Hoffman and share ideas for stories in the community.
The Old Way
I bet you believe we had a ton of meetings, had to fund raise to bring this man in from the Ukraine and host him for two months, and spend lots of money on exhibition space and marketing as well. It would be the same ten people who would write the plan, and there would be no room for change in the plan.
If we’d written a formal plan, that is exactly what would’ve happened. We would’ve had to reach out to the city officials to get permission to bring him to town. The meetings would’ve taken a year to figure how to fund raise, where to put him, what location could the exhibit be at, how would we help pay him to be in residency at the paper, and how to get the exhibit shipped here from another country. We would’ve needed committees: marketing, advertising, housing, fundraising, location and more.
That would’ve been the old way to plan for this kind of a big deal. By the time everything had been handled, many folks would’ve dropped out and been frustrated. Too much red tape.
The Idea Friendly Way
However, that’s not how we did it. We used the Idea Friendly Method.
Brendan Hoffman and I had stayed in touch via email since 2013. He visited once in 2015 and we had organized a photo walk that time. He told me he wanted to come back, and he’d like to have a residency at the paper.
I pulled my crowd together. The editor at the newspaper, the president of the adult education workshops group, and me. We knew this would be a great opportunity for our town. How could we make it happen? Grants, donations, marketing. The ideas began to flow.
We needed Brendan to help us Build Connections. He had applied for two grants that he received, and he shared another one we could apply to. He also wanted to teach a 6 week course on using photography to tell your story. These conversations happened mostly online via email, Facebook messenger and texting. He lives in Ukraine and he can’t just stop over! It was a bit chaotic, but we figured it out.
Then we took small steps. We didn’t need to get permission from the city. Often you think you do, but just as often you really don’t. The Freeman Journal newspaper wrote the Facebook Journalism Grant request and they got it! We added an Embedded Community Experience to the project to do more outreach to minorities and youth. Legacy Learning Boone River Valley (adult education) created the photography workshop. They spread the word and over 30 people showed up for that.
Once Brendan was here, our crowd thought it would be nice to add an exhibition of his work. There was grant money, and several of us chipped in to get his work shipped here. A friend of ours had an empty storefront he let us use for one week. All we had to do was ask him. We’re a small town! Asking often works.
The exhibition was well attended by locals, and out of towners. The week before the exhibition was scheduled to open, we decided we should have an Opening Reception. Volunteers were called and cookies were made! A local church gave us chairs to use. Hy-Vee donated wine. Mornin’ Glory donated coffee. It was a nice addition to the first night of the exhibit. In fact it was a lot of fun and people learned about Ukraine and war with Russia in a manner better than any lecture.
The last week, we decided to do a closing reception too! Again, folks had ideas, and just donated their time, gifts and products. All of us used local ways to get the word out, and social media and the newspaper. Because the first reception was talked about, the ending reception was great too.
This project has ended up looking nothing like a written plan would’ve looked. That stodgy plan would’ve tied our hands and not allowed for changes midstream. It would’ve died by committee.
The biggest takeaway is we did write a plan. AFTER the event was over.
We shared the steps we all took, we were able to talk about what worked well and what didn’t work at all. It was no longer a wish that we could do this. It was a fact we completed it. This is a plan that others can look at, learn from and try something on their own knowing that it will involve more people taking small meaningful steps It will be chaotic, and that’s ok. And it’s more fun to create good things on the fly!
This article was first published at SaveYour.Town and written by Deb Brown