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Willmar Main Street: strengthening community through creativity

sprig by Posted in Rural Capacity Building

Sarah Swedburg is the Planner for the City of Willmar & Coordinator of the Willmar Main Street program in Southwest Minnesota. Willmar Main Street exists to promote downtown Willmar as the foundation of our community. They do this work by cultivating connections, creating unique experiences, and building community. 

Written by Sarah Swedburg

To me, leading courageously means creating brave spaces for those you are working with. As a young leader, this phrase also has me thinking about the importance of being willing to bring new ideas to the table. The first part of any new job is learning, listening, and understanding the processes & procedures. Courageous leadership within organizations can be just as important as external leadership with community. That internal leadership can be offering new ideas to bridge gaps, reaching community in new ways, bringing technological solutions onboard, etc.
As a young leader, age can be an intimidating factor when bringing new ways of operating to the table. However, age is not equivalent to the validity of new ideas. Courageous leadership is the ability to know when to listen and acknowledge the hard work that has been put in to get us where we are, and then to be willing to take the next step to make our communities even stronger. [Photo Credit: Jennifer U’Ren]
The Willmar community thrives on a strong network of partnerships, and we strive to be amongst those strong partners in town. Having a program focused on the vitality of downtown has allowed us to connect the dots and partner on projects such as Rural Retail Design Workshops for small business owners (alongside the University of Minnesota Extension & School of Design, the City of Willmar & Kandiyohi County Economic Development Commission, and a number of other partners) and receive community-oriented grants such as Artists on Main Street (a partnership between Rethos & Springboard for the Arts, funded by the Bush Foundation).

Arts and creative practices are vital to the health of our rural Minnesota communities. Whether it’s working alongside each other in the creation of a project or the enjoyment of a final piece, art is a vessel of connection that has the power to break through barriers, reminding us that we are neighbors first.

The importance of a strong arts culture has only been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Artistic practices not only connects us to our own personal stories, but with each other – especially now during times of physical distancing. Creatives are playing a crucial role in providing a sense of purpose to people during this time of isolation.

The role of creatives in our community doesn’t stop their either. Bringing creatives together is a vital part of a strong arts community. Creative thinkers, when given a space, can help build strength in our rural communities as we continue to evolve in the 21st century.

Learn more about Willmar Main Street at their website.

During post-colonial land rights research in rural Kenya, Sarah found a love for working with people and sharing their stories. Her favorite aspect running Willmar Main Street is capturing the unique community and helping locals realize and celebrate their numerous existing assets. [Photo Credit: Willmar Main Street]

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