When despair hits an entire town, what to do next

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 me. 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 people of Delmont completed and hung a cardinal in 1,400 trees. 

What I love about this: 

  1. Everyone in town could contribute in a small but meaningful way. There were many chances to get involved from the idea stage, to making birds, to painting, to hanging them out, to even being a host to a bird in a tree on your property. 
  2. 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. 

If you’re feeling inspired by the cardinals, you can read more about them in these two news stories: 

More than just feeling inspired, I want you to think about your community. What are some issues or feelings that art or creativity could help you address in your town? 
Keep shaping the future of your town, 

PS –  Remember last week we talked about mini-events you could hold in your town by Thursday? Here are more ideas from your fellow readers: 

LOVE #3, the beach party. We hosted one in our little cafe in a town of under 100 (Cope, CO- and we were the biggest (usable) building besides the church) years ago. Kiddie wading pools, beach balls, Hawaiian shirts, fun foods and grownup-kid friendly drinks, in the middle of a snowstorm. It was so much fun, and it broke up winter boredom. 

Game night: the bitty community of Butte ND with 40 people +/- hosts community coloring afternoon with those fancy coloring books. Nearly everyone goes. 
Katy Kassian 

One of my neighbors organized pop up popsicle parties for our neighborhood the past two summers. Everyone just brought their favorite flavors and stashed them in big coolers. We all met at one intersection, and it was a great time. Neighbors reconnected, the little kids made new friends, and no organization was required other than sending out the invites by email. It looks like this might expand in late November with a pop up hot chocolate party.
Colin McKnight