As the new Community Asset Mapping Intern here with the Twin Cities Media Alliance, I have taken on the responsibility of speaking with business owners regarding our Community Assets directory. We are looking to build up the network of businesses for each neighborhood and looking to increase directory traffic
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Through this process, I have wondered how we can improve our engagement with the community by making it more of an inclusive process, instead of merely just going door to door and speaking with each business separately.
This past Tuesday, I got that opportunity thanks to an artists’ gathering on St. Paul’s West Side. The West Side is my first neighborhood assignment and I’ve taken it on with great relish, as it has been very interesting to interact with the many types of small businesses one can find in the neighborhood. However, a significant introduction to the community came through a chance Facebook encounter with a group devoted to Smith Avenue, one of the major business thoroughfares in the neighborhood.
The gathering was advertised as an artists’ mixer, as there is a growing vocal community of artists on the West Side. Hosted by the West Side Citizens’ Organization, the meeting was meant to solicit ideas regarding potential artist events and/or initatives that WSCO and other community organizations could pursue. Inside High Bridge Tattoo, Tom Alvarado and WSCO director Elena Gaardner welcomed artists and business owners alike inside the living-room like space, with plenty of snacks and beverages for all. I didn’t get an accurate count, but there had to have been at least twenty-five folks squeezed into the little space.
While space may have been in short order, ideas certainly weren’t. Rumblings of a potential new theater space using open lots to garage theater tours to installations rivaling the huge lawn chair at the North end of the High Bridge percolated through the active space. What was most comforting was to see a committed community space, with folks willing to move around, meet others, re-connect with acquaintances and share ideas.
Though calling a spontaneous community meeting for every neighborhood I encounter may be too much for the task, I was inspired by the group and how easily it clicked. The West SIde is known for its tight community, so it certainly comes with practice, but, there can be great value in just bringing folks together and letting the process flow. I hope that by the end of my work, the Community Assets Directory will have a similar, welcoming feel to it. Just be sure to bring your own snacks.