(Thanks to everyone who’s asked when I would start publishing here again. I’ve been on a hiatus as I accompanied my mom at the end of her life. As she would want it, I’m ready to continue the conversation about our community.)
I remember several years back as members of the Wayne County Foundation’s grant-making committee sat around a table discussing the applications we had received for that cycle. One of them was for supporting a festival that sounded like it would be all about carving ice sculptures, and I wasn’t the only one in the room feeling skeptical about it.
As an organization charged with being good stewards of the millions of dollars in philanthropic gifts under our care, did we really want to put money toward something that would literally be melting away in front of the community’s eyes? It was easy to think of the criticism we might receive from donors and residents if the festival didn’t take off.
This weekend, walking through the vibrant events of the Meltdown Winter Ice Festival that is now in its fifth year, it was a good reminder that while healthy skepticism has its place in community building, it’s important not to discard an idea because it’s strange, new, risky or even seemingly questionable in its wisdom.
There is no one right way to improve our community, and we have to resist thinking that tells us otherwise by always rejecting ideas that don’t come from established leadership or long-standing traditions.
The Meltdown Festival is a great example of this: it’s designed purely around creating experiences for the people who live here, bringing us together in the public square just for the fun of it. While we’re there we get to witness the creation of art on the spot, rediscover what our downtown and Depot district retailers have to offer, watch our kids play in a quirky landscape of games and activities, converse with neighbors about how we’re getting through the winter, and just be together in our city. There are no grand promises of jobs created, economic value generated, infrastructure improved or formal programming that enriches day-to-day life after the event is over. There’s a place and a need for that stuff, yes, but this time it’s just about being there, and being proud to be a part of something special happening in Richmond.
I wish I could tell all of this to skeptical me of 2013. In five more years from now, there will be some amazing idea that has come to fruition that most of us probably wouldn’t put our money or energy behind today. I try to remember that in every conversation, and let my mind be open to the possibilities that come with it.
I hope you will too.