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When the Foundation was first developing its Heart & Soul program back in 2007, we convened a group of thought leaders from various disciplines to help us define how to improve community planning in America. People who have dedicated much of their lives to change-making in their fields, including social ecologist Jim Kent and landscape architect and sociologist Randy Hester, joined us one late-September day to wrestle with this question: How could we build a radically different chassis for driving community decisions—one that is citizen driven and based on what residents value most?More
I was recently chatting with Lyman Orton, founder of the Orton Family Foundation, about the difficulties of describing Heart & Soul community planning.
The Foundation’s Heart & Soul Principles describe the process as tapping local wisdom through broad engagement, articulating shared values, and taking action to enhance those values.
But how do we delve into what that means specifically in a community? We live in such a charged ideological and political environment that it can be difficult to find words to describe a community process that doesn’t feed into political divides.More
There is no shortage of artists using the tools of their trade to create social change. But each time I run across a story about Lily Yeh, acclaimed visual artist and founder of Barefoot Artists, I am humbled and inspired by her work, using the power of art to revitalize impoverished communities.
As Lily describes in a recent interview with David Kupfer, “Making art in destitute situations is like making fire in the darkness of a winter’s night. It gives out warmth and light; it beckons and rekindles hope. It does not directly solve problems but it creates a fresh, nurturing environment in which new possibilities and methodology can emerge.”
“My work engages people, whose participation ensures its sustainability. This is why I call my art living social sculpture. It usually begins with making art with people; it then expands to include other activities such as storytelling, education, construction and economic initiatives. The living fabrics of communities become the canvas of my work, creativity its fuel, people’s talent and imagination its palette and tools. In the poor communities where I have worked, this process often leads to an improved environment, a better quality life, and a sense of joy and hope for the future.”More
Storytelling and art can be powerful tools to help identify and act on shared values in a community planning process. The Foundation has been working with five communities in the Rocky Mountains and New England over the last three years integrating story sharing or art making into their planning efforts with great results. The process has built new relationships and bridges between divided groups; brought new voices to the project; revealed common values and connections; and built empathy and hope.
In a nutshell, it transforms the planning process.More
From within the soft body of a squid emerges a hard tooth-like beak, as described in this report from the journal Science. This beak enables the squid to eat mollusks and is apparently one of the toughest organic materials around, and yet it’s somehow merged with what the report calls the squid’s “soft buccal envelope”—the soft, fleshy part of the creature. How does this work? How does something so sharp and pointy connect to something so squishy? It turns out there’s no specific place where the hard part ends and the soft part begins; rather, the beak is composed of materials that exhibit a gradient from hard to soft. It is this essential adaptation that enables the squid to eat what it needs to survive.More
The Maine Arts Commission has launched a new initiative called Creative Communities = Economic Development, which makes “substantial awards to communities that will allow cultural organizations to become strong partners in their communities’ development, leveraging collaboration between cultural, municipal and economic development interests.” Executive Director Donna McNeil says she was “tremendously inspired” by the Foundation’s Heart & Soul work in Maine (and by Bill Roper’s talk last year at the Friends of Midcoast Maine’s annual meeting). McNeil wants to give the arts and culture sector a voice in larger community economic development planning, where they are usually undervalued or overlooked.
The project will help put the State’s Quality of Place Initiative into action, “putting your money where your mouth is,” so to speak, by offering two $50,000 grants to Maine cultural organizations in partnership with a municipality. Successful applicants, “should be on the precipice of redevelopment with culture as a central player and demonstrate that these funds will function as a ‘tipping point.’” Other criteria include a commitment of leadership, collaboration, and public engagement, including youth.More
The late urbanist, writer and activist Jane Jacobs lives on through the work she accomplished in life. Most know her “as the ultimate champion of cities” and for opposing neighborhood demolition. In her landmark work The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), Jacobs saw urban “improvement” projects for what they really were: urban emasculation projects that left entire districts barren. And now, three years since her death and a year plus into the economic downturn, people are taking another look at her economic ideas.More
I’ve been reviewing the case study of Moss Point, Mississippi—a partnership between this Gulf Coast town of 16,000 (mostly African American) and the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) in Montpelier and have been really impressed by ISC’s work. Similar to the Foundation’s Heart & Soul program, ISC offers resources, coaching and training, and a certain methodology for community action and public engagement. They, like the Foundation, also serve as a catalyst for change.More