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How can creativity be utilized to bring community members together? In what way does creativity contribute to our collective identity and shared memory? Find out how a community art garden puts creativity to good use.

The racing past of Kentucky and the history of this place are deeply intertwined.  At one time, you could hear the sound of hoof beats echoing through my neighborhood.  A racetrack stood along what is now called Race Street and the winningest jockey in the world, with the highest victory rate of all time and three Kentucky Derby wins, lived but a few blocks from where I reside.  Isaac B. Murphy and The Kentucky Association racetrack are names that recall a time when African American athletes were revered in the sport of horse racing.  Now, some 150 years after Murphy’s birth, this neighborhood is trying to establish markers of remembrance in the landscape and recall a past once obscured.

Remembrance has many facets.  We can engage our past through the gateway of investigation, with celebration, or by utilizing the imagination.  Often, projects are developed based on a certain aspect of this triad.  A historic preservationist may focus on investigation to bring a biography to life or a community may have a celebration and hold a festival in honor of their heritage but, every so often, an idea unfolds that creatively blends the many elements of remembrance.  For my neighborhood, such a project exists.  The Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden is envisioned as a place where creativity can integrate investigation, celebration, and imagination into the physical landscape.

With this dynamic garden as a starting point, The East End is remembering Isaac Murphy in new ways.  It began last  summer with a creative investigation and several innovative celebrations.  To start things off right, neighbors were invited to join a community-style archaeological dig at the future site of the garden.  While digging and discussing, they discovered horseshoes, artifacts, and a large section of a foundation.  Through this investigation, researchers confirmed Murphy’s home sat on the same spot.  This event allowed community members to access both shared memories and physical objects that brought Isaac Murphy to life.

Photos By Geoff Maddock

Later in the summer, the Isaac Murphy Bike Club brought kids and bikes together for a good, old-fashioned bike safety course. During three workshops, participants learned about the rules of biking from safety officers, practiced riding in loops around a basketball court, and tasted the need for speed Murphy might have experienced on horseback.  They earned bikes with their hard work, and, along the way, encountered the story of Isaac Murphy in new ways.  No longer an obscure figure, he is the man who once lived down the street on the foundation now uncovered and, like they, he knew how to ride.

Throughout February, community members gathered once again to participate in creative remembrance.  This time, we gathered around art proposals at The Land of Tomorrow gallery and feasted our eyes on forms of remembrance born of the imagination.  Five artists created proposals for a signature art piece to commemorate Isaac B. Murphy within the memorial garden.  I was reminded of the garden’s design statement as I examined the work: “The park is designed to be SEEN, the park is designed to be USED and the park is designed to INFORM. Most importantly, the park is designed to be a place of ENJOYMENT.”  I am grateful that a purpose of this park is to bring enjoyment to our neighborhood and I am excited that art is such an integral part of how that will happen.  As we experience art, we are invited into remembrance as we enjoy.

Each of these expressions of remembrance, from the archaeological dig to the art pieces being selected for the garden, involve a lot of work.  However, the shared memory that is created through such creative forms of remembrance brings new life to our community.  Where does this energy and effort originate?  Mayor Jim Gray said it well when he spoke a few words of recognition at the gallery opening on February 10, “Behind the persistence and determination is imagination and creativity.”

Photos By Geoff Maddock

Neighborhood Exchange No. 8

Now, it’s your turn.  Contribute your own ideas or pick a question to comment on:  Does your neighborhood have a traditional way to engage in remembrance?  How does creativity impact your connections with your neighborhood?  Have you experience or encountered something with your neighbors that has become a shared memory?  Exchange your stories and ideas here!

To make a contribution to the garden fund through The Bluegrass Community Foundation, click here.

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use it, the more you have.” 
–Maya Angelou

There are fundamental elements a neighborhood requires to thrive.  Like the food, water, and shelter we each need to survive, a community needs communal dwelling places, interdependence and communication among its members, and a measure of security and stability to flourish.  We come by these resources via economic and social means, but the underlying force behind development or regeneration of community connections is something we can all access:  pure and simple creativity.  With it, one is able to multiply even the most meager economic or social resources, yet this asset requires no special degree or qualification.  We each bear creative potential.  We each have the ability to harness a great deal of ingenuity for the purposes and goals we set forth.  If we choose to do so, we can also generate growth in our neighborhoods through creative acts.

The challenge, then, is gaining confidence and discipline in using our abilities.  Like a scientist working toward a breakthrough or a musician honing his concerto, we must work toward developing our skills.  A recent article in Banner magazine set forth the premise that “ideas continue to be humankind’s means of changing the world.”  It went on to outline the ways in which each of us can foster creativity from day to day, but it also highlighted the fact that we will encounter resistance as we exercise our creativity.

So, take a moment to assess.  Are you putting your creative capital to good use?  Do you need some inspiration to gain insight into what your creative capacities may be?  Have you encountered obstacles that have discouraged you in the use of your abilities?  Is it difficult to imagine a way to utilize your creativity to foster connections in your community?

This month, as some look for signs of spring, I am in search of creativity.  As I scavenge for examples of creativity in its everyday form, I welcome you to bring your thoughts on the subject.  I will share discoveries, questions, and book recommendations here.  In the meantime, put your imagination to work and we can conjure quite a creative conversation.

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?

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!

The truth is, I’m not really sure what inspired us.  Perhaps it was the years of watching A Charlie Brown Christmas while eating peppermint ice cream, or happy memories from a Christmas past.  Regardless, Thad and I decided that this year we would begin a new tradition.  Our plan was simple, though perhaps unprecedented:  to make a joyful noise in the neighborhood.  With voices & carols known by heart, scarves & santa hats, friends & neighbors, we gathered on the front porch, preparing to belt out our best Christmas tunes in the chilly night air.

Hoping to gain an audience, we began by ringing doorbells.  When folks uncertain of our intentions glanced out a window or a peephole, not opening their doors, we greeted them with ‘Jingle Bells.’  ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ rang out from the street corners, ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ was sung by young and old, and we enjoyed our colorful chorus.  In the end, we met only one sweet soul who seemed truly glad to see us.  A few others smiled reluctantly as they were surprised by our lovely voices.  We wandered back to our place and warmed ourselves with cups of steaming hot cider.

Sometimes, being a good neighbor means performing a song of hope for an audience of one or offering yourself as a source of joy even when no one is watching.  Doors may not open and hearts may stay distant, but I will still sing.  Won’t you join me?  Dear neighbors, “We wish you a Merry Christmas. We wish you a Merry Christmas.  We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”

Neighborhood Exchange No. 6

Have you ever experienced rejection or suspicion as you live the neighborly way?  Do you believe you can still have an impact in your neighborhood?  What are some ways you have continued to foster connection in your place?

Photo by CHARLES BERTRAM

Here in the city, some streets have their own distinct feel while other areas exist as intersections where groups intermingle.  One of the advantages of living in a densely populated area is the diversity of backgrounds, income levels, cultures, and viewpoints that coexist and cross paths within the neighborhood, but sharing space can prove challenging.

This week, the business owners, residents, non-profit managers, and community leaders in my neighborhood have been trying to navigate the discussion of a new homeless day center in our neighborhood.  The center aims to provide dry shelter during the daytime hours, in addition to lockers and bathrooms.  Some point to the needs that could be met by such a facility.  Others perceive a lack of communication surrounding the project, and still more are worried about the changes such a facility could bring to the area.  Everyone is trying to bring about a consensus on how to share this particular place–our neighborhood.

For all involved, discussion is the key to finding common ground, but communication is not always easy.  Whether it’s within a family, a friendship, or a neighborhood, it can be painful to work through disagreements. This pain does not negate the value of engaging in civil discourse on important matters.  In the past, my mother, sister, and I would convene for a “family meeting” when critical things needed to be talked about.  In a similar way, I do my best to take part in neighborhood conversations–whether formal or informal.  To engage in such a conversation, one must set aside personal agendas, be prepared to compromise, and work for a decision that is beneficial to all, not just some.  What is the best thing for our place?  Only if we work together can we find out.

This week, I will be checking in with my neighbors about the day center project.  The executive director of the New Life Day Center, Steve Polston, will be meeting with area residents at 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month. Read more opinions and thoughts here.

Neighborhood Exchange No. 5

If so, how did you successfully engage in community discussions surrounding difficult issues?  If not, what keeps you from engaging in such discourse?  Comment and share your thoughts!

A grateful heart is a giving heart.  In honor of today’s celebration of gratitude, four days featuring ideas on how to give back to your community.

Day 4: Giving Thanks

Gratitude comes in an infinite variety of forms.  I came across a garland of gratitude strung with gold and scarlet autumn leaves that the Gladding family had inscribed with words of thanks.  At the neighborhood community center, folks were celebrating their thankfulness with a collective digital story.  Sometimes, we simply say “thank you.”  Giving support, time, or the unexpected can be a way of giving thanks.  Acts such as these are not rewarded with measurable outcomes, but they bring peace, contentment, and hope.  A lifestyle of gratitude benefits all who are involved.  Whatever expression or gesture of thanksgiving is needed to truly embody your gratitude, don’t let your grateful words go unspoken.  Thank someone today in your own way!

1. Handwrite a word of thanks.  The act of putting your thoughts into writing takes a little time, but it has a lasting impact.  365 Thank Yous may even generate a deeper transformation, as John Kralik shares in his story of the same title.

2. Invent your own way of expressing gratitude.  When ordinary forms of communication seem dull or uninviting, find a new way to say thanks.  Doodle a 6-foot-long thanksgiving banner, write a grateful tune, or dance a polka for a friend.  You could even start a blog!  For inspiration, check out Seedleaf’s 30 Thanks project.

3. Share what you are thankful for.  Think about things you appreciate but seldom articulate.  Now, put those thoughts into words!  Join in StoryCorps’ National Day of Listening tomorrow by clicking here and saying thanks to your favorite teacher.

4. Collect a collage of gratitude.  When it seems difficult to form a grateful thought, try asking others what they are grateful for and create a video or collage representation.  Listening to others celebrate the gifts in their life may help you find joy in your own circumstances.

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