Art in the Rural

Art projects, events and pieces are often the last thing towns think of when it comes to economic development.There is a bit of a tendency for people to think of art as something other people do. If they think of art in their community at all, they think of murals or art exhibits. 

Art is far more than just visual! In rural areas our cultural arts are often expressed through music, craft, food, and ways of doing things. These are things all of us do! 

I do some work with Legacy Learning Boone River Valley in Webster City, Iowa. We offer workshops that foster appreciation of our environment, our local mixed heritage, and the abundance of local artists and artisans. 

Some examples include

  • the Scandinavian threadwork craft of Hardanger, 
  • Pine Needle Baskets one of the oldest known Native American crafts, 
  • heritage wood crafts including bowl making, chair caning, and cabin building, 
  • classic Mexican cooking with our Hispanic community members, and
  • our most excellent Laotian community making egg rolls.
Art and culture has to be more than preserving the past.

Arts are very much part of our present day life. 

Legacy Learning also offers pottery classes with a variety of glazing options, several opportunities to explore welding for artistic structures, painting with a variety of media (including local Iowa soil!), copper repousse, and rug making.

These are useful present day skills. I took the rug making course, and now I’ve made dozens of rugs for friends and family!  You can buy a rug – but it’s so fun for me to hunt for special fabrics, create rugs with special people in mind, and people love receiving something made with love! 

We also brought in our first Artist in Residence.  Cord McMahon set up a studio in an empty downtown storefront, which showcased his work with ink, paper and fabric.  His specialty is animals! The storefront was often full of live animals. Lots of locals commissioned him to draw their own dogs.  Not only did this create revenue for a new artist, it brought excitement and new people to town. They spent on gas, food and shopping and experienced the town in a new way. 

Arts also help us to imagine our future

In 2017 Legacy Learning offered our first workshop on construction rehab skills.  Would you think of this as an art? Well, it’s definitely a craft. Webster City is primed for a population infusion as we move toward new nearby processing facilities, and many downtown buildings could be repurposed for living facilities. The “Build a Wall” class taught a few of the necessary skills for rehabbing such areas.

In Akron, Iowa, in a basement, you’ll find the Old Geezers Club. In modern terms, it’s a makerspace. A group of old guys brought their woodworking tools and supplies and are slowly filling up six rooms with them. Their goal is to connect with young people to pass on their skills and make them relevant in the present day. They don’t think this is art at all! But you know what? It sure is. It’s art and creativity and craftsmanship and it matters to their culture. 

Made in IowaSaving the movie theater in Webster City changed how people viewed their future. People’s view of Webster City was negative and full of oh poor me when the main factory closed. 

The closing of the theater was the last straw. Enough! The town rallied to save the theater – the one place everyone could go to. They raised a quarter of a million dollars in one year, mostly in tiny bits from individuals. The theater was saved.

The process of doing all those events really staked a claim on being a town that was NOT dying, one that had a future. 

Now what? What other ways could they use this theater for the community? Monday nights are events besides Hollywood movies: the Square movie, Home by Mark Horvath,  and local productions too.

https://squareup.com/dreams/webster-city 

http://athomedocumentary.org/

Art as healing

Delmont, South Dakota (pop 234), was struck by a tornado in 2015. Several people were injured, and the whole town was evacuated for safety. You could forgive the people of Delmont for despairing for the future of their town. 

Clean up and repairs started, and the town slowly made progress on recovering. In the months after, community members were meeting to talk through ongoing recovery efforts. 

Kenny Sherin, South Dakota State University Center for Community Vitality, was there for the meetings, and he shared this story with my collaborator. At one of those community meetings, he suggested they consider doing an art project to bring people together and continue the healing process. They liked it and decided on the cardinal, a symbol of death, birth and renewal. 

Some people got together and made a template for wooden cardinals. Students in the high school shop class helped cut out over a thousand cardinals. Community groups like the Girl Scouts got together and held cardinal painting parties. 

Together, the 234 people of Delmont completed and hung a cardinal in 1,400 trees. 

Art helps communities address issues and feelings that are hard to reach with things that are only practical and logical. People in town talked about the spark of color, the symbolism and the sense of community recovery. It’s just as important to defeat the feeling of despair as it is to rebuild the infrastructure. 

I encourage you to take a look around you, appreciate the art in the everyday and share the beauty of art in all its forms.

Moments of beauty — be it music, art, nature, or an act of kindness — can take you out of a space of weary familiarity. Beauty, in whatever form it takes, can interrupt a pattern of behavior or a way of thinking and cause us to stop in our tracks and take notice of it. There are people holding out on the toughest frontiers of existence, surrounded by misery, but yet somehow sustained by a moment of beauty.

Michael Freyer, author of The Subversive Power of Beauty

Human Behavior and the Idea Friendly Method

How does Human Behavior affect how we use the Idea Friendly Method?

The Idea Friendly Method is simply stated as

  • You find your Big Idea and
  • Gather Your Crowd around accomplishing that idea,
  • You turn that crowd into a powerful network and Build Connections and then
  • You and the crowd take Small Steps to accomplish your big idea.

We use this method at SaveYour.Town to help small towns step into their greatness and make opportunities available for more people to participate.

Are we all sheep now? But what about human behavior and the way people are? Can we use the Idea Friendly Method more often? Will human behavior stop us?

According to behavioreconomics.com, the three laws of human behavior are:

  1. People tend to stick to the status quo unless the forces of friction or fuel push us them off their path;
  2. behavior is a function of the person and their environment;
  3. every decision includes tradeoffs and the potential for unintended consequences.

The Idea Friendly Method addresses the first law.

Most plans for towns are created by a few, in a backroom, with no input from the community until it is all done. The plan is so huge, there is no room for failure. This has been the status quo and this behavior worked in the past. It no longer works today. With the advent of technology, and access to it for more people, the forces of friction are at work in your town. Most of us want to see our towns thrive, grow into the future and be the kind of place we want to live. A place where we have choices and we get to try out our ideas. Those wishes, thriving, growing into the future and implementing ideas, are the fuel that helps us to push the status quo off it’s path.

Rule number 2 finds us in a sticky situation.

We are in between the Old Way of doing things and the Idea Friendly way of doing them. Are you willing to be one of the people who help change your environment? Do you wish to have a town that is forward looking and a place for your kids and grandkids to grow up in? These two questions lead us to think about our environment. You have a direct effect on your environment. If you accept the status quo, your environment will not change. Being in the middle at this time in the world offers us the opportunity to choose, willingly, which Way we want to be. Then we change the status quo or we stay in it.

The third rule is addressed by the Idea Friendly Method too.

By taking small steps the exposure to failure is reduced. If we do fail, it’s not a loss. It’s an opportunity to change it, fix it or let it go.  Exposure to small successes propels us forward with even more energy.

You also have the opportunity to involve many people making the decisions, trying out their ideas in a small way. That’s the first step in Idea Friendly, gathering your crowd. You simply share your big idea and invite a crowd to join you in accomplishing it.  It’s an easier way to accomplish your big goals by doing so with your friends and people who think like you.

The final step is Building Connections.

It’s the point in working on your big idea where you begin to ask questions that start with ‘who do you know that’. Building this powerful network becomes a joyful action, instead of counting on the six men in the backroom being the decision makers.

We know that community happens when people talk to each other. We know human behavior can be changed by conversations.

We know many towns are becoming Idea Friendly. Will you be one of them?

 

Want a coffee shop? Start small

Brandon and Alicia had this idea that the old bank building they own just might a good coffee shop with WiFi. They looked at prices for all the equipment, got ideas for other vendors to go into the location, and started planning big.

But how do they know it will even work as a coffee shop?

I encouraged them to slow down and take some small steps first. Try it out. See if there is a product and a market.

Gather Your Crowd

They talked with a few friends and decided to offer coffee a couple of days a week during the month of May. Both of them work during the day and they can make the coffee and get everything set up.

Build Connections

They would need help from someone just to be in the space. At a public meeting they asked if anyone wanted to come sit in the cafe for a couple of hours. Volunteers lined up to make it happen! They are also using mobile hotspots from the local library during this test phase.

Take Small Steps


Now during the month of May they will be open from 9 am to noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays
. So people can come by and get a cup of coffee, free will donation. This time frame will allow them to see if it’s a good time for a coffee shop. Maybe they will need to adjust to later hours. They’ll try different coffees, see what people like. These small steps are much more cost effective for a trial and will give them valuable research into creating their business.

That’s how you start a cafe with WiFi the Idea Friendly way.

Say Thank You

Support your businesses with a thank you. A small group of us stopped in to the Pancake House in Paulding, Ohio just to tell them thank you! They are more than a pancake house, they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. And they are local business owners providing a much-needed service in your community.

I get asked often about how we can get our communities more supportive of the local businesses. It starts with small steps, just like this. Be thankful. Say it out loud. Have no agenda with your thanks either.

We know for sure community happens when people talk to each other. Start with a simple thank you.

Paint the Streets in Your Small Town

Arts R Alive, a local group in the small town of Webster City, Iowa, bring sculptures to West Twin Park. They together in 2015 and thought it might be fun to paint the streets as a way to do a little fund raising.  18 x 18 squares were laid out, businesses and organizations were invited to buy a square and come down and paint.  The funds raised went for the long term care of West Twin Park where the Sculpture Contest is held. The painted street borders the park.

The Mayor had leftover paint from clean up day that first year.  A truckload of leftover paint would’ve cost thousands of dollars to take to the landfill.  What a great way to use the old paint! He brought some of it down for the painters to use, at no charge.

Check out the short video the Chamber of Commerce created off some of the work and imagine what your town could put together if you decided to paint the streets!

Weed Whackers and Window Cleaner Ninja

I visited Roscommon County, Michigan and toured a few empty buildings.  On one corner, a major intersection into town, there was an empty building on each corner.  We talked about building possibility, working with the county and the town and hosting a tour.

Next to one of the buildings that needed to be torn down  was an old restaurant, still in operation.  The entrance everyone uses is on the back side by the parking lot.  However, the front side is what visitors see.  It is full of weeds and the windows are dirty.  I suggested the committee get together in the early morning light, bring their weed whackers and window cleaners, and take an hour to clean it up.

Then they could send a nice letter to the owner thanking him for keeping a long standing business open and being a part of the community.  Business owners are busy people and sometimes things fall through the cracks.  No need to remind him of that, he knows.  What he doesn’t hear often enough is “thank you”.  

Do you have location in your neck of the woods that needs a Ninja team?

Using the Entire Town to Fundraise

Akron, Iowa has a big idea of building an aquatic center. They knew it would cost a lot of money. They will write grants and apply for different kinds of funding. However, without full support of the community, those requests won’t go very far. 

Some of the small steps they are taking to raise funds and involve the community are:

  • 2 National Honor students went to the elementary grades and started a penny war between classes. The winning class got a popcorn party and a pool party (at their current pool). A penny party is when students bring in their pennies, and the class with the most pennies wins.
  • The mayor and her assistant went to two 8th grade classes and explained the aquatic center project. Their teacher introduced coursework that involves  presenting a plan to the swimming pool committee. The class members will be divided into groups of 3 and the best plan from each class will be selected. The goal is that the best plans will bring in $1000 to give to the aquatic center project. (I did suggest they use all the plans!)
  • A few ladies downtown got together and held a Spook Spectacular.  They had about 250 pumpkins donated. They set up various sized tables so young people as well as adults could decorate pumpkins.  The decorated pumpkins were placed all over town! Plus they had children’s games, free s’mores in the shapes of pumpkins, ghosts, etc. There was also a food truck, plus free hot chocolate. Then at 6:30 they had a movie at the opera house for kids, all part of their swimming pool fund raising activities.
  • The City of Akron Pool Committee hosted Wreaths for a Reason, a wreath silent auction. Each individual, community organization, church, business, etc., was asked to decorate and donate a wreath. Another fundraiser for the pool.

They continue to raise money, from literally pennies to thousands of dollars in ways that everyone can participate in. No idea is too small, or too ‘incorrect’. All the ideas are accepted, and everyone that can participates. 

There’s been no giant committee organizing everything. There’s no permissions you have to get granted. The committee of negativity is being ignored. And excitement grows!

 

No one person gets to decide

We no longer need a few leaders to make all the decisions.

All the people get to do things. Got an idea? Go for it.  And try, test, try again, test again, and refine until it works.  Or it doesn’t.

No need for meetings. No need for permissions. No need for drama.

The future is now.  This is happening RIGHT NOW. Things are getting done, and done well and excitingly.

Are you one of the ‘old timers’ and won’t let go of the past? Or are you one of those ‘new timers’ working in the here and now to make things happen?

It’s an easy concept. Just go do it.  However, it’s not always easy to break away from what you know. I’m encouraging you to go give it a try. Take a small step. Try something. Remember, you don’t need anyone’s permission or for someone else to make a decision for you if it’s right or not.

Here’s three stories of people who are doing things. \

Akron, Iowa residents are talking about the empty buildings, the businesses for sale and spaces for businesses to share.  They aren’t holding meetings, waiting on decisions, hoping the right person will find them.  They are just telling everyone they know ‘we’ve got these possibilities and you want to be a part of it.’ And people are coming out of the woodwork to take advantage!

Kristen Simons in Belle Fourche, SD  posted this on her Facebook page. Who on my Facebook list are artisans? Bakers, artists, woodworkers, painters, upcyclers, cooks, etc? I’d love to hear more about what you do – and if you aren’t one, would love recommendations of who I should connect with in this community. Imagine what she’s going to do with that information (and there were already lots of responses!)

Erin Criss, my friend who has had a home based business since 2004, made a simple decision. She’s no longer going to work with people she doesn’t like. She didn’t ask for permission. She didn’t cry about it. She just said “I’m doing it my way” and got to it. She’s already making a difference in her business helping people.

Don’t wait for someone to tell you it’s okay to do it. Just take that small step, and do it. 

What will the future look like?

Location doesn’t matter in the future.

You can work from anywhere. Work will be competitive and informal/hands on education will be valuable. Artists will be in good shape and Dr’s will see more robots replacing them.  It will be the networking economy and we will need people who can connect with robots.

Empathy, communication skills, management and leadership skills and entrepreneurial skills are going to save you.

We will need lots of cross pollination with business and schools. Find out what your expertise is and find a way to bring it to the community. Those who hand make items, or manufacture items by hand, will be good. Artists should be fine.  Innovation wins.

When is all of this going to happen?

Let’s look at the numbers predicated on research:

  • by 2025 one in three jobs will be robot replaced, displacing 140,000,000 workers.
  • By 2020 millennials will be 50% of the workforce, and by 2025 it will be 75%.
What does this mean for rural?

Figure out how to connect digital to physical and provide the space for it.Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous machines, augmented reality, data management – all of these things are here already. How can you make more room for them in your small towns? How can you provide a wonderful empty building for living and working in your town?

Learn how to use augmented and virtual reality. Workers are now training in real time with virtual reality. A car mechanic can watch an engine being repaired and it appears in front of him virtually. He can work on his own engine at the same time. Learn how to fly a drone, get a license and think of all the opportunities coming: rural deliveries, transport blood in rural Africa, building virtual and augmented reality for clients, to name a few.

Businesses working with students, kindergarten through college, will be vital to provide workforce, ideas and skills. They are the future, and they are here now.

Think differently about farming. Vertical farming will show up in lots of places. People want to be more responsible for they eat. Organic farmer will go to a new level. How you can use that in your small town? What kind of robotics will be need to be built to plant and harvest the crops with no humans? There will be 4 billion more people on the planet by 2025, and we will need to feed them.

Idea Friendly Towns will be the most prepared for the future.

The ability to live in the present and prepare for the future will matter. The crowd will create new ideas, and be more innovative. The future will be built by people working together, and we will get there by taking small steps.

 

Your Gift from Becky and Me

We know that the Idea Friendly method works in small towns just like yours.

You can learn all about it by watching this video. You’ve got through December 31 to watch it. Invite others to join you!

Happy Holidays!