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The thought of 1,000 dolls conjures up images of a whimsical childhood adventure or a collector’s expansive horde of action figures, but a good imagination can think up a wilder dream.  Two professors, Kremena Todorova and Kurt Gohde, inspired by local artist and doll maker, Ed Franklin, have set out to invade the North Limestone corridor with 1,000 dolls made for Lexingtonians by Lexingtonians.  Their colleagues, a group of students from Transylvania University, are reaching out to north Lexington residents and hosting a series of doll-crafting workshops to inspire the necessary multitude of doll makers.  Each doll will be displayed and, then, given away as part of this collaborative art endeavor.

Their project is as much social as it is creative.  Yesterday, as I watched students sit by community members young and old while working on the first 100 paper dolls destined to become wooden figurines, I could see both artistic and social outcomes emerging from the shared work of doll-making.  As stated on the Community Engagement Through the Arts blog, “The goal of this class is to form a relationship with the community by engaging in artistic projects with the community.  The outcome of this will manifest itself in many ways, some recognizable and others not so much.”  The truth is, there is no way to predict how the 1000 Dolls project will shape our neighborhood, the students participating in the class, or the residents who live here day in and day out, but I am eager to support and encourage this creative journey to 1,000.  Let the story begin!

Small puffs of flour went into the air as we stood around the mixing bowl anticipating the fresh biscuits.  As each child waited eagerly for the chance to measure his or her ingredient, it dawned on me that this was a lesson (in disguise).  In the measuring, the waiting, and the following of instructions, these kids were learning teamwork, sharing, and listening skills.  When the dough finally formed in the bowl, we scooped large mounds of it onto a baking sheet and, then, turned our attention toward waiting, once again.  As our biscuits were baking, I spotted a few kids with a telltale smudge of flour on cheek or brow.

A few days before, in a large circle around a toasty wood stove, I sat with a group of students learning about the delicate balance between collecting stories and empowering individuals to tell their own histories.  Here, the exchange of ideas is happening in a much different way than with cooking club; most of the learning is emerging through conversation.  By taking part in Transylvania University’s Community Engagement Through the Arts class, students, anthropologists, artists, landscape historians, and neighborhood residents come together to delve into the fundamentals of community engagement.  Throughout the course of a semester, students attend lectures, work to develop a collaborative art project, host neighborhood art workshops, and experience the dynamics of communication, observation, and research ethics in the local environment.  This year, the project is 1000 dolls.  As a neighbor, I am privileged to come along for  the ride.

The classroom, the student, and the teacher are the three elements present in any one learning experience.  To truly embrace learning as a way of life, one must accept a variety of teachers and classrooms.  The neighborhood itself can be a classroom–a bustling eco-system of store fronts, residences, playgrounds, and sidewalks–and neighbors make great teachers.  This week, I found myself in two very different classrooms–the kitchen and the cozy gathering space.  Wherever you find yourself learning, allow yourself to observe the dynamics of the learning process.  Sometimes learning is messy.  When you truly dig in, try something new, and let yourself fully participate, you may get dirty or make a mistake.  At times, you may feel uncomfortable or inadequate, but you may also be invigorated and inspired.  Let there be learning!

Neighborhood Exchange No. 7

What settings have served as classrooms for you in the past?  Do you find learning to be a way of life?  What have you learned today?  Who is your favorite teacher?

Can some creative folks bring a facelift – and fame – to a forgotten neighborhood?

HERE COMES THE NEIGHBORHOOD is a Short-Form Docuseries exploring the power of Public Art and innovation to uplift and revitalize urban communities. The Pilot Season revolves around the Arts District of Wynwood Miami, featuring an array of internationally acclaimed and locally respected Street Artists, Graffiti Writers and Muralists.”


I mark time by the trees.

Need ideas for a new beginning?  This is part of a series on New Year’s resolutions.  Join me and explore how learning, going green, getting fit, and reaching out can be transformed into community contributions.

If you are the indecisive type who has yet to come to a conclusion on a resolution for the year ahead, allow me to make a recommendation:  Reach OUT!  In my experience, each moment given in service to the community is an investment that gives abundant dividends.  As I watch relationships grow, imaginations expand, and individuals reconcile in my neighborhood, I experience greater understanding, forgiveness, creativity, and endurance in my own life.  For those in need of a to-do list:

12 Ways to Reach Out in 2012

  1. Help a neighbor in need.
  2. Share stories, tools, recipes, favorite books, and new ideas.
  3. Cook for new moms & neighbors.
  4. Talk to someone you have not spoken to on your block.
  5. Build a home, a relationship, or a birdhouse with a younger neighbor.
  6. Celebrate block-party style with the people on your street.
  7. Welcome folks into your home with a potluck or a simple get-together.
  8. Read a book with someone learning how to read–or a book club.
  9. Grow and help plants to grow, too.
  10. Create something with or for your community.
  11. Get out and about, and see what you discover on foot or by bicycle.
  12. Restore something, and give it new life in your neighborhood.

This year, instead of putting your resolve toward a strictly personal endeavor, choose to spend your time on others and see what happens.  You may very well discover a simple truth spoken simply by Fred Rogers, “How important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of!” In the year to come, I will continue to share new thoughts, discoveries, and stories about people along my journey and, together, we can learn how to live the neighborly way.

Need ideas for a new beginning?  This is part of a series on New Year’s resolutions.  Join me and explore how learning, going green, getting fit, and reaching out can be transformed into community contributions.

The new year marks a notorious checkpoint for many westerners.  We examine our progress toward goals and our strategies for implementing them, we alter our attitudes and monitor our waistlines according to the latest trends.  In general, our resolutions for fitness and wellness are individualistic.  With the goal of maintaining a healthy weight by being more active, eating a better variety of foods, and taking better care of ourselves, we set out on a personalized fitness regimen January one.  Often, we deem fitness something to be achieved privately, but many have begun to recognize that the key to real change lies in creating a community in which we join together in the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle.  After all, peer pressure works both positively and negatively.

If you’re hoping for a more balanced approach to daily habits, consider making healthy choices a part of your community activities in 2012.  Get active by inviting a neighbor to walk with you weekly or find local kids to play tag with at the park.  Take this opportunity to find a friend with whom you can attend a jazzy aerobics class.  Locally and nationally, the YMCA is a great place to start.  Group fitness classes, health challenges, and camaraderie are a part of the mission of the Y as an organization.  However, in my neighborhood, The William Wells Brown Community Center is known for its committed exercise enthusiasts.  Local columnist Merlene Davis shares stories of her stalwart exercise buddies who get active even when facing physical difficulties.  The Zumba class at the center serves as a serious dance party for folks around the ‘hood.  It’s hard to resist the chance to get fit while having fun!

Here in the East End, another project is underway that is getting people fired up about eating right.  Food Works East End will be working to share all the best information about food in a creative fashion here in our neighborhood!  If you’re in search of healthier eating habits, consider starting your own recipe swap with other conscientious cooks around the corner.  Host a monthly cooking party to test newly discovered meal ideas.  In addition, check out a cookbook from the public library and venture a few shelves over to scope out the gardening books.  Gardens are a great source of inspiration for both healthy eating and community connections, so why not start your own?  If that’s more than you bargained for, visit a local farmers’ market and get to know local food growers.  If you haven’t found a good source for food ideas in your neck of the woods, ask around or get something started.

Making lifestyle changes can be challenging, but, as humans, we have one great force we can tap into to get motivated:  pleasure.  Become a part of a community and you may very well discover enjoyment in healthier habits!

By Thad Salmon

Need ideas for a new beginning?  This is part of a series on New Year’s resolutions that contribute to the life of a community.  Join me and explore how four New Year’s resolutions can be transformed into community contributions.

“We’re going green.” Individuals, businesses, and even governments advertise their resolve to save our planet. What would the world look like if we genuinely followed through? Many people will agree that it’s right and good to minimize pollution, avoid littering, and generally preserve the planet for the sake of posterity. Each person, however, chooses by what methods and to what extent they will pursue environmental action.

I sometimes imagine myself taking this to the extreme. What if I stop using electricity? What if I never drive a car again? Could I make all my own clothes from locally-produced materials? When we moved into our first duplex apartment, I gleefully watched as our electric meter spun at one-quarter the speed of our neighbors’. If it weren’t for my wife’s moderating influence, I might end up as a very environmentally friendly hermit! Though my intentions are mostly good, my actions might fail to improve life for anyone.

It seems a healthier approach might begin with a meaningful relationship. Whether it’s a group of people or the place that you care about, get involved and figure out how to make life better in your own environment. You may find that some changes in your personal habits and activities have a direct impact on the lives of those around you. Colin Beavan, of “No Impact Man” fame, dedicated a year to minimizing his family’s negative effects on the environment. Through this experience, he came to some important realizations about how we should see our priorities:

“At their root, most religious philosophies say do less harm, yes, but they also say do more good. There is a limit to how much less harm I can do. But my potential for good is unlimited. All of our potentials for good are unlimited.

The question becomes not whether we use resources but what we use them for. Do we use them to improve lives? Or do we waste them? My life itself is a resource. How shall I use it?”

One of my favorite ways to “do more good” is by volunteering with a local community gardening nonprofit called Seedleaf. In warmer months, I walk two blocks to the garden on a Saturday morning. I meet new friends, help produce healthy food for myself and neighbors, and contribute to the beauty of the block. When I get home, I’m even more excited about using fresh produce, composting, and supporting local growers! For some wild stories of city-dwellers with plant power, check out this guerilla gardener and these guerilla grafters.

For some quick ideas, read these resolutions for “The Eco-Slacker”. An easy one is to walk or ride a bicycle for short trips. It’s easier than you might think. The folks at Broke Spoke, or your local bike shop, will be more than happy to give your ride a tune-up, and you’ll be more likely to converse with neighbors when you’ve escaped the confines of a car!

If you’re considering greening it up in the new year, here are a few tips. It’s important to challenge yourself in reasonable ways. Start with small steps, and don’t despair if you aren’t an overnight eco-hero. As you decrease your consumption and waste, continue to think about how you’ll make an increasing contribution to the well-being of your place and its people. If you have any thoughts or questions, leave a comment!

Today marks the dawn of a new year.  With 2012 freshly upon us, many find new enthusiasm for ideas gone dormant.  After a few weeks of celebration, hibernation, recovery, and reflection, we are at the peak of our resolve and, thus, we make New Year’s resolutions.  However, a wise woman once explained to me that resolve is not just what motivates us to start something new or kick start a project–it is the determination we find to stick with something when it is no longer easy to do.  This resolve–the spirit that prompts us to steel our faces against the February blues and the temptations on the horizon–is what one needs to truly make change.  Beyond true resolve, one can find enthusiasm.  Do you have it in you?

This year, resolve to make a contribution to the life of your community.  Whatever your passions or interests, you can find a way to incorporate neighbors and community members into the experience.  Need ideas for a new beginning?  Join me as I explore how four New Year’s resolutions can be transformed into community contributions.

Resolution 1

I wonder what would happen in the year to come if we each took more time to learn from one another and share our knowledge.  Somehow, I imagine we would gain something more than a new skill set.  I love to learn.  I find nothing more satisfying than discovery and growth.  However, there are times when I get distracted and let my imagination fall asleep.  In these moments, it helps to have someone alongside whom to learn.  Pupils and fellow students kickstart curiosity.  What if we transformed our neighborhoods into forums and allowed our neighbors to become fellow students?

Beyond the classroom, in the wide world of adulthood, I have had to work to make room for learning and fight the temptation to maintain the status quo.  One delightful thing I have learned along the journey is that there are many ways to engage new ideas.  You can take a class, read a book, track down an expert, or join a discussion group, but, for many, the most satisfying mode of discovery is experience itself.

Seek out experiences to boost your knowledge, but look no further than your backyard.  That’s how you build relationships!  In my neighborhood, there are knitting groups looking for new members, non-profits like The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning offering great classes taught by local experts, and Habitat for Humanity projects in need of fresh builders.  Budding gardeners are a welcome sight at community gardens throughout the growing season and community bike shops give you the chance to pitch in with bike repair while learning about bicycle maintenance.  In the coming year, learn a thing or two by taking advantage of the natural resources in your neighborhood–the people!


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