Big Ideas From Small Places

Great ideas can be found and cultivated everywhere. That is the basic message of a blog post on the Center for Small Towns’ website.  They note that reporting on rural towns often seeks to reinforce an existing narrative rather than illuminating the facts. (On The Media did a great series about coverage of rural news this last Fall.)

Center for Small Towns calls attention to some pretty awesome ideas communities are doing that you may wish you had thought of first.

For instance, Lanesboro, MN created Poetry Parking Lots where they had people compose haiku about “the beauty of southeastern Minnesota, and of the strong community of Lanesboro.” They posted the haiku on light posts in parking lots.


They also made cast iron medallions which they placed around town “inviting residents and visitors to hunt for the various medallions as they walk about town.” This reminded me a lot of the manhole covers in Japan I wrote about a few years back. The art on the manhole covers serves the same purpose of emphasizing points of pride about the cities in which they are found.

In Fergus Falls, MN, an artist created a “Citizen Kit” to encourage civic engagement. The kits included,

“…a small red box complete with City Council meeting “punch cards,” citizen pledge cards to put in your wallet, and buttons. The citizen kits came complete with a spray painted gold hole punch, for local community leaders to use when they saw people attending city council meetings.”

Websites like Art of the Rural are also focused on stories like these where groups are employing innovative ideas in smaller places. As the title of the post suggests, good ideas pop up in all sorts of places, regardless of population. But I feel ideas like these can be especially effective at connecting with communities because they resonate so closely with the core identity of a place.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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