Imagination Conversation

I have no imagination.  None, zero, zip.  The best I can do is like when I was in college and would go to tough bars; I always made sure I hung around with a really big guy.  So I had a great opportunity last week because I got to hang around for a couple of days with some of the most innovative folks Wisconsin has to offer.  Once again, I was clinging to coattails, a good tactic for a 5-foot-5 wimp with the creativity of a fire hydrant.

Wisconsin’s Imagination Conversation is one of a series to be held in all 50 states, a project of the Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education.  It was hosted by Nicolet College in Rhinelander in partnership with the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Wisconsin School Music Association, and the School of the Arts in Rhinelander.   Gathered there were artists, musicians, actors, educators, activists, visionaries and one doofus.

And doofus really enjoyed it.  My place in this Imagination Conversation was to tag along (of course) with people who make arts happen.  And maybe better yet, people who help artists make healthy communities happen.  It’s good to be reminded once in a while that culture, history and art are things sought after by those whom we would lure as future residents and the visitors who make our communities prosper economically.  As the button says, it’s not a frill.

I got to be part of a presentation on a small-town arts site and learning center and especially enjoyed partnering with ArtsBuild, the regional arts organization serving southwest Wisconsin.  Jay and Donna from the Wormfarm gave their super-neat version of the same message.  LaMoine from the Northern Lakes Center for the Arts in Amery and his colleagues knocked us down with the stuff they’ve been doing there for half of forever.  All this was intended as food for thought.  Yum.

The important part of the day was the story circles, the seven work groups (the term we less-than-creative souls use).  We “visioned”.  Being Imagination Impaired I was a little unsure of that before the fact but thoroughly amazed after we were done.  Clearly I was clutching the right coattails as folks came up with all kinds of vivid vignettes of what neat communities could look like 25 years from now.  The folks in my story circle were very kind and did the “nice doggie” thing to make me feel I was a part of it all.   But I kept thinking I was a beneficiary more than a contributor.

An important purpose of all this is building awareness that creativity is a critical skill. And even sans imagination I can understand how critical it has become.  I’d better — I am a school board member and community developer.

The things we make don’t so much come out of a machine anymore; they come out of us.  A rapidly growing segment of us are in a knowledge economy where imagination is currency … trading higher than ever. That’s not just today’s reality, it is the future. And that’s good for rural folks because it is an opportunity through which people can thrive without the need to be near a factory or other place of work that is often far away.  It’s an environmentally sustainable future in which we can make a good living close to home.  That’s doubly important if you have children.

It is also easy to see the value of getting together on issues such as these.  All these great ideas are invigorating, and some of the folks I met will be new partners for some action right now, as well as into the future.

You don’t have to have much of an imagination to be part of making imagination happen.  I’m kind of the geek in the corner that can make things work, and there’s lots of room for people like me.  I love connecting with creative people and am always grateful for the knowledge and energy I gain when I get off my fanny and participate in things like Imagination Conversations.

“Envisioning a successful future for Wisconsin’s rural communities.”  Hmmmmmm.  It seemed so abstract at first but it doesn’t anymore.  It’s not so much the start of a roadmap as a commitment to a principle that can be the cornerstone of a vibrant future for rural communities.

A while back I was part of a small group that attended a presentation from students and staff at a high school that was really good at math and science.   Also there was a Human Resources staffer for a very large multi-national company that hires lots of engineers and such, and we had a great conversation.  This fellow remarked that his work entailed screening lots of job applications from bright, accomplished and well-educated people.  His had to come up with a small number to interview.  That seemed tough – a big pile of four-point-ohs and Dean’s List applicants to chose from.

How did he discern?  He said they looked for a background in the arts or music.  They wanted inventors, not just scientists.  They wanted people who would come up with new products.

My light bulb lit.  I’m starting to get it.

And, by the way, what do you imagine your community can be like in 25 years?

Rick Rolfsmeyer, Wisconsin Rural Partners, Hollandale, WI (pop. 283)

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” — Howard Thurman


6 Responses to Imagination Conversation

  1. Carole Spelic says:

    Ricky has hit the nail on the head again. When over a hundred people show up to work hard at “imagining” their community’s future, you can bet there is/are excitement and positive vibes all over the place. Yet, I do worry that most of us who were in Rhinelander last week will be significantly over the hill in 2035. It is necessary that we find a way of communicating the energy and direction we shared to the (younger) folks who will be carrying the banner by then.

  2. Kris Adams Wendt says:

    Thank you, Ricky, for a wonderful summary of this stellar event. It was the next best thing to being there (and I wish I could have been). One edit is required, however: “Gathered there were artists, musicians, actors, educators, activists, visionaries and one wonderfully creative rural writer.”

  3. Indeed, it was all that Ricky expressed. I was humbled by the creativity flowing at the conference.

    It’s time we realize that it’s the creativity — in so many ways — which for so long has made America so unique. And it’s time we realize that, in rural areas, it won’t be smokestack industries that carry us to sustained prosperity; it will be the soil and our creativity.

    Important is our role of reaching out to the next generation to make them realize the importance of using their creativity.

  4. Jaci Gilbertson says:

    This was one truly amazing event!

    Ricky, I second Kris’ statement that you are “one wonderfully creative rural writer.”

    Carole, you have found a messenger in me to the younger generation of this wonderful visionary leadership for not just rural, but all communities. Ricky and Marilyn, all the wonderful people I get to connect with in the arts, and this conference have always and will continue to give me inspiration in my life and work. I am so lucky to have met and get to learn from such an amazingly creative group of people.

    Thank you to all those people who creatively live to inspire us all!

  5. pam says:

    wow! Imagine this; where would the world be without imagination. Depressing huh? So imagine, dream,and plan for the future. And Rick I could never imagine Hollandale without you!!!

  6. Bill Pinkovitz says:

    No imagination? Must not be the Ricky Rolfsmeyer i know. The one i know is truly blessed with imagination and more than a little energy, and apparently he is a pretty accomplished rock drummer. Must be a different Ricky

    Sounds like great conference. Sorry i missed it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and observations the summary Ricky.

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