Enriching the Field: The Power of Social Capital and Pizza
I ordered the pizza from Broadway Pizza. The Spanish Translator was on the way. I organized the white board markers, cut up the paper, hung up the big sticky pads. Then I paused. Took a deep breath. I was getting ready for the first of three community meetings about the state of the arts in Richfield. The first night’s conversation was about what assets exist to support the arts in Richfield. Was anyone going to come? I repeated one of the rules I learned from Open Space Technology, a tool used to facilitate democratic meeting spaces, whoever comes is the right people. One minute after I calmed down, six people showed up.
After 15 minutes, a core group of Richfield artists and arts advocates had slices of pizza on their plates and were beginning the first activity. People were invited to walk around the room and create lists on large pieces of paper about what assets are already here to help the arts grow and thrive. They had six areas to think about through the lens of art and creativity: Associations, Physical Spaces, Individuals, Institutions, Local Economy, and Events. People agreed that some of the lists were more difficult to think through, primarily physical spaces and local economy. Many of the artists agreed that they had to leave Richfield to either attend arts events or buy their art supplies. Overall though, people agreed that there was a lot more going on in Richfield in regards to the arts than they realized. This is the power of asset mapping. When you start from a place of strength, you realize that there is powerful potential that can be unleashed with the players that are alreadyin place. Everyone in the room agreed that the list that was easiest to generate was the people who either own businesses that support artists or identify as artists themselves. I said, “It’s clear to me that Richfield has a lot of social capital”. Everyone looked at me and I realized that no one had heard that term before. I knew I had to define the term to this room of wonderful, socially engaged, creative folks.
According to Carmen Sirianni and Lewis Friedland “Social capital refers to those stocks of social trust, norms and networks that people can draw upon to solve common problems.” That’s one way to put it. The way I like to talk about it is that in a capitalist economy, one way people often solve problems is with money. But more and more, people are seeing that money isn’t always the most valuable resource. We are. All of us. Social capital is the wealth that comes through our relationships. When we know our neighbor, we can borrow their lawnmower if ours breaks, we can support each other through hard times and celebrate the good times together. Social capital creates resilient communities that are able to respond to issues as they arise and set a vision for where they hope to go next.
For our final activity, we broke into small groups and did just that. We asked each other what, in five years, do we want to see on these lists. The people in the room imagined a coffee shop/bookstore/gallery/art supply store/brew pub/music venue. People wanted a theater space, studio spaces, culturally diverse and locally owned businesses that displayed locally-made art. Mostly what people agreed on was they wanted places to hang out. A place to get to know each other. A place to gather and be creative. My task as the Artist Organizer with Lyndale Gardens is to work closely with The Cornerstone Group, artists, and Richfield residents is to clarify what these spaces are. What I realized though, looking around our temporary office in an outdated strip mall, is that the space didn’t matter nearly as much as the people in it. I ate my last bite of pizza, after we officially adjourned. People were staying though, helping one of the participants figure out how to handle a house on her block that was dealing drugs. Social capital at work. And the pizza was delicious.
Molly Van Avery is an Artist Organizer with Springboard for the Arts and Cornerstone Group. To meet with her or to add to the list of assets that support the arts in Richfield, email her at email@example.com. Join us for the next two open community meetings on Wednesdays from 6-7:30 of August at 6334 Lyndale Ave S. Free dinner and Spanish Translation available. August 21 our topic is Diversity and Expression, ensuring Richfield arts serve the diverse residents and August 28 we will be talking about resources available for Minnesota artists to support their creative lives.