What’s the best way to build an inclusive community? Ask yourself: “Would this appeal to my mother?” suggests Andy Stoll, co-founder and creative director of Seed Here, a boutique creative and community-building agency in Cedar Rapids.
Seed Here started two years ago with a focus on bringing together the traditional leadership community (like CEOs and city council) with creative and entrepreneurial communities in the region. Gleaning on the success of this process in sparking interactions among people who otherwise weren’t interacting, the next step is to expand the circle of the community as a whole, Andy explains.
“I think the untapped potential is being inclusive to communities that aren’t traditionally at the table — particularly people who make less than $35,000 a year, people who don’t have a college degree, African Americans, immigrants, and Latinos. When you say the words innovation, creativity or entrepreneurship, or even community leadership, you don’t often see those people in the room,” Andy says.
|Andy Stoll, co-founder and creative director of Seed Here.|
“You have a whole population of folks who are very passionate about their community, very intelligent, and very capable, but they’ve never been invited to the conversation.”
Although a concrete action plan is not yet in place, a focus on what Andy calls “engaging the unusual suspects” appears to be on the horizon, with the hope that this will bring in fresh ideas and tap into a network in the community that has not been actively engaged in this space.
“My mother doesn’t see herself as an entrepreneur. She’s a Japanese-American nurse. And when she hears ‘entrepreneurship,’ ‘innovation’ and ‘creativity,’ she thinks, ‘this probably doesn’t have anything to do with me,’” Andy says.
“But in reality, because that’s so important to building the region, it does have everything to do with her. But does she know she’s invited?” Andy asks.
The best definition of creativity that Andy has ever encountered is “the synthesis of diverse elements,” he says. And one of the greatest examples he witnessed of people coming together for creative collaboration in the region was Creative Week — a seven-day festival of more than 60 events celebrating creativity and ideas across seven counties in Iowa’s Creative Corridor.
As the largest regional celebration in the history of the corridor, Andy says, there was an immense amount of positive energy from participants of different ages and across different areas of the region.
“No one controlled that. (Creative Corridor was) guiding the ship in the right direction, but we had no control over live events. We didn’t know the full grasp of what was happening on one side or the other,” Andy explains.
“Those who I think fully collaborate are those who are willing to suspend at least a portion of their ego and are willing to say, ‘we, as a whole, did it,’” he says. “There isn’t a single holder of power.”
An element of chaos inevitably grows out of collaboration, which can be potentially frightening, but also sparks additional success that wouldn’t have been possible, he says. “That’s the ‘1 + 1 = 3’ element in it.”
|Seed Here co-founders, Amanda Styron andAndy Stoll.|
A key aspect of what made Creative Week shine stems back to Andy’s question: Would this appeal to my mother? During the festival, “there was a true sense in the understanding that we all play a part in creating the future of this place,” he says.
To complement the one-on-one and small-group community-building that Andy engages in to foster a collaborative future, he views the role of a media company, like The Gazette Company, as pivotal in its capacity to quickly scale the effects of what is being built.
“When people recognize that they’re part of something bigger than themselves and that they have agency to affect that bigger thing, it’s very empowering.
“I think if people have the information they need about what’s going on in their community and they see people acting and succeeding, those elements are very helpful in getting them to recognize that they have agency in their own community,” he says.
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