2012 Symposium on Small Towns and Leadership Chautauqua:
“Reigniting Community Leadership:
Being Bold in the Face of Change”
Reflections on the Symposium on Small Towns and Leadership Chautauqua by Center for Small Towns Director, Arne Kildegaard
We at CST are always a little bit punchy after hosting our Symposium on Small Towns—maybe even a little bit more so this year. It’s exhilarating and a little bit terrifying for us to host 150 of our best friends, of course. This year we doubled down by partnering with the Bush Foundation for a two-day event, consisting of the Leadership Chautauqua on Wednesday, some transition events Wednesday night, and the Symposium itself on Thursday. And we learned a lot. Some of us learned, on Wednesday night for example, that it’s probably just not possible to look cool while trying to dance to “Let’s do the Time Warp” wearing a nametag. Some of us learned that the campus police will in fact show up and shush you if you’re doing too much “networking” with friends and associates in the student apartments after hours!
But the synergies from combining the Chautauqua and Symposium events were everywhere in evidence. Jane Leonard and Katherine McGuire at the Bush Foundation brought in a talented and diverse group of leadership development professionals from all across the Dakotas and Minnesota. We were enlightened on the latest academic work by Dr. Ken Pigg (Univ. of Missouri), and entertained by the brilliantly on-the-mark improvisations of the Theater of Public Policy troupe (Mpls.). While the weather was chilly and rainy that first morning, the conversation was warm and hearty. As you might expect, this was not a group that required a lot of encouragement in order to step up. The toughest job of all belonged to the facilitators, who periodically needed to quiet us down in order to move us on to the next thing.
A good number of the Chautauqua people hung in for day 2, which was also thematically structured around issues of rural leadership. These folks were joined by a fresh influx of small town enthusiasts from as far away as Wisconsin and Iowa. Athena Kildegaard launched the day, as she has for the past 6 Symposia, with a special poem composed for the occasion. (How many do we need before we have a chapbook?) Dr. Pigg then delivered a more extensive review of his research into which particular aspects of leadership development programs are critical to success in outcomes, and which appear to be harmless but not particularly effective. There followed a panel with some truly inspiring stories of bootstrap development. Kathy Callies in particular lit up the room with her story of how the youth in Howard, SD had stepped up to the plate to rearrange the town’s entire narrative.
At lunch we were treated to an entertaining talk by “The Good Groups Guru” Luther Snow. Luther encouraged us to reframe our problems as opportunities, and to focus on our abundance of assets rather than on the scarcity of our resources. He even took time to defend the reputation of silos, which have been slandered by the notion that they represent (metaphorically) isolation and insularity. No, says Luther: silos represent social capital! Now that’s reframing in action.
The afternoon breakout sessions, which numbered in the dozens, were a feast for those of us interested in rural communities. Well done, presenters!
So thanks again to Jane and Katherine with the Bush Foundation, to our other planning team members Katherine Callies (Rural Learning Center), Anna Claussen (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy), David Fluegel (UM Regional Sustainable Development Partnership), Blaine Hill (City of Morris) and Jeff Thompson (MN Association of Small Cities), and to our sponsors the Bush Foundation, the UM Regional Sustainable Development Partnership, and the West Central Initiative Fund. Is next year too early to do it again?
I leave you with the Bill Holm poem that Jane recited for us to close the Symposium:
- Someone dancing inside us
- has learned only a few steps:
- the “Do-Your-Work” in 4/4 time,
- the “What-Do-You-Expect” Waltz.
- He hasn’t noticed yet the woman
- standing away from the lamp
- the one with black eyes
- who knows the rumba
- and strange steps in jumpy rhythms
- from the mountains of Bulgaria.
- If they dance together,
- something unexpected will happen;
- if they don’t, the next world
- will be a lot like this one.
- Ben Winchester »
- Kenneth Pigg »
- Luther Snow »
- Local expert presentations »
For the past 15 years, Ben Winchester has been blessed with opportunities to work in and for small towns across the Midwest–with a focus on his home state of Minnesota. He is currently a Research Fellow for the University of Minnesota Extension, Center for Community Vitality. He conducts research on two topics that are vital to rural Minnesota. The first is documenting a “brain gain” to rural areas–the influx of 30-49 year old people–to identify the social and economic opportunities of this migration The second research area involves the analysis of rural community leadership, specifically examining the community-wide requirements to “keep the town running” through the public sector. Ben also conducts evaluation studies for Community Vitality to support the efforts of Extension Educators statewide.
Kenneth Pigg completed his PhD in Development Sociology at Cornell University in 1976 and was employed as an Extension Sociologist at the University of Kentucky in 1975. He then assumed the responsibilities of Extension Director for CRD in Missouri in 1983 and in 1987 joined the rural sociology department at University of Missouri. Currently, Pigg is finishing his book on research of the assessment of the effects of leadership development programs on community development success in six states. Pigg has written and published in both these fields for over 25 years, including articles in the Journal of the Community Development Society, a study for the Lower Mississippi Delta Development Commission and a current project for the Southern Rural Development Center on Leadership Development. He also served on numerous editorial boards as well as President of the Community Development Society and Treasurer/Executive Director of the Rural Sociological Society.
Luther K. Snow is a national speaker, author, and social inventor who is popular for his powerful and entertaining presentations. He is a former Director of Organizational Learning for the Blandin Foundation, and authored the Blandin publication, The Organization of Hope, which helped pioneer the new Positive Rural Development movement. Snow has since created the Asset Mapping method of group learning now used by over 2.5 million community leaders across the countryside. Snow will help us tie theory and practice to reveal how much we already know about good leadership, and what we can do next.
Friends and colleagues enjoyed revitalization through dancing, conversation, and listening to local band “Shug” who helped pump up the celebration.