Most days I think I owe everything that I am to my Aunt Betty. Here’s what some people know how to do instinctively: arrange a room so that the people in it will interact or sit passively, laugh or be silent, remain steadfast in their point of view or be open to change, and how to make a guest feel honored.
There are dozens of subtle details that cause these effects. Aunt Betty was a master of them all. And she taught me well.
Reinvention on a Grand Scale
Crisscrossing the state working on downtown revitalization has taken me to places that I had once only known as places to stop for gas. Extraordinary towns, populated with inventive, learned and civic-minded people. Towns whose populations and economies have been decimated by the shutdowns of coal mines and steel mills.
Many towns are already on a path to reinvention, through investment in art, recreation, health care or celebrating their unique history. But not all of them…
My brilliant friend Brian Corrigan has been leading workshops on downtown revitalization in some of these places. It would frequently happen that people fell to arguing and no one could agree on anything. Then Brian had a revelation.
Losing your job or your business is rated the number one most traumatic thing that can happen to you.
And you’re not going to get on board with a new vision of your town if you can’t visualize yourself as part of that new vision. You can’t visualize yourself if you don’t know who you are supposed to be – you only know that who you used to be doesn’t fit in anywhere anymore.
So when mines close, we come to town to help people make business plans but if we don’t treat the trauma, towns and people can fail.
Of course, Brian has ideas for self-actualization kinds of activities that also represent the communities, that tie them in with other communities and will form the basis of new business plans for the towns themselves. In the process, stories are told, products are created, and it will all be centered around some soaring immersive piece of architecture that wraps the whole thing in magic.
“I am a little man and this is a little town, but there must be a spark in little men that can burst into flame.” – John Steinbeck
Sometimes It’s All About the Frou-Frou
One of the things I do well is to help nonprofits to live beyond their means. By which I mean I figure out ways that they can have impact without spending as much money as impact usually costs. Creativity is sometimes as good or better than dollars. Some of the easiest targets for me to unleash my inner Martha Stewart are banquet tables and trophies.
My favorites are things like the trophies I’ve made for honorees, and some notable centerpieces.
I made a Dana Crawford doll on a remote-controlled Trinidad Art Car when she was named DCI Downtowner of the Year in Pueblo.
These are live wheatgrass boxes with mini hole cups and tall golf flags with table numbers and names/logos of table sponsors for an event with golfer David Feherty. (The waitstaff kept putting dinner rolls in the grass!)
My friend Rik Sargent made a stunning Friend of the River bronze sculpture for people being honored by The Greenway Foundation.
I made a working mini-theater with laser-cut thank you message when Tim Schulz was honored for his work saving historic theaters in small towns in Colorado.
Some other faves: Big baskets full of berries for author Dave Barry. Vintage wooden pinball-baseball games for sportswriter Frank DeFord. To raise money for the South Platte River, we set out river rocks and live moss along the long banquet tables set on a bridge directly over the river. For the committee who worked on the event, I had river rocks engraved with “Gala on the Bridge Committee” on one side and “You Rock” on the other side.
Some people are impressive sculptors or talented painters, but I’m really good at making silly stuff that, in the right context, makes people feel honored.
A River Does Run Through It!
When I started my job at the Greenway Foundation, I spent every spare minute exploring our urban South Platte River. I fell in love with my city all over again in the process. Did you know Denver has a Heron Pond? It’s north of the Stock Show buildings, the railroad tracks and slaughterhouses, at 53rd & Franklin, and it does indeed have herons, egrets and pelicans.
There is a spot at Grant Frontier Park, near Santa Fe and Evans, where the river is so shallow you can walk across it. It is enclosed by steep tree-lined banks, so the light shimmers through the leaves and reflects off the water like a Monet painting. It never fails to move me.
Whenever I got sick of sitting at my desk, I could go to Confluence Park, take in the river and the city, and call it work. Does it get any better?
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.
– Norman Maclean