What can I do to make my community more interesting for $5,000?
March 17, 2016 7:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm putting aside $5,000 to spend on something community focused. I'd like to find a way to do some good or, at least, do something amusing, for my neighborhood.

I live in a small southern town, somewhat conservative, but not necessarily close-minded. There's a large public university here, so we're accustomed to some level of progressive culture. Still, the town is a bit stodgy.

We've got a couple of community gardens, a mural here and there, some drive-by public art, but we lack all manners of weirdness.

I was hoping someone might be able to point me to similar endeavors in other communities. Oh, and subversive ideas are fine. I'm not above doing something that's going to challenge people.

Any ideas?

(And yes, I know that fill in the charity could use the money. I give to charities, but I'd like to do something different with these funds.)
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My first thought is those awesome, mini libraries...They are basically cute, decorated boxes, mounted on posts, planted in high volume areas around the neighborhood. People stock with extra books and neighbors can borrow and give as they see fit. $5000 should buy the materials for several....just be sure and check zoning and permission when you decide to place them. I remember reading about some controversy about them. My neighborhood loves them and they are well used. Done correctly and with the neighbors on board to help stock....I think it would make a great contribution.
posted by pearlybob at 7:39 AM on March 17, 2016 [13 favorites]

Do you have a community arts board? Or can you talk with your city to see if they'd be up for working with you to sponsor an art installation? My local town did a funky art project for an older neighborhood. Do you know the owner of any downtown buildings that might like a big permanent mural? Would the university be interested in using the money to make an art installation there with their art students? My city also decided to use sidewalk poetry to coincide with sidewalk repair, asking residents for poetry submissions. An Art-o-Mat? You can see here the neat stuff they did just to snazzy-up the chain-link fence around a city park.

On preview, Little Free Library for what pearlybob suggested.

(Wow, for my "stodgy" city, we actually have some funky art stuff going on...)
posted by jillithd at 7:47 AM on March 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

You could yarn bomb all the trees on a street or small central neighborhood.

I also really like the mini-library idea. More resources on that here.
posted by lunasol at 7:47 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Personally, I would anonymously give either 50 $100.00 or 10 $500 gifts to individuals who demonstrate,through leadership or execution, the kind of community spirit you admire. And clearly identify for the recipients what they did that lead to the gift.
posted by rmhsinc at 7:47 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

My town has done well since it's had a parklet. It's basically a platform with seating that gets parked in front of different local businesses. It takes up two parking spots and replaces them with free outdoor seating. According to this our town's parklet cost $5000. It's a great feature of the town.
posted by graymouser at 7:53 AM on March 17, 2016 [10 favorites]

Our city (Cambridge, MA) started a participatory budgeting process last year where anyone over the age of 12 can vote on projects. Many of them are bigger than your budget, but you might look at the idea list to see if anything on there could be translated to your community.

My favorites have been bike lane and wifi-related, but there are a lot of playground, community garden, and community art projects as well.
posted by ldthomps at 7:56 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Two ideas:
Microgrants - $1,000 each to people, teachers, groups or organizations that will do something "funky" and have people in the community apply (it's always better if it comes FROM the community rather than forcing it on them.


Honk Festival?
posted by Toddles at 7:58 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

I agree the little libraries are really fun and community building. I believe they started in Wisconsin, so I also have some hometown pride toward them. My hometown now also has free bikes for the community. This is a big project now sponsored by Trek, but I believe it started on a much smaller scale. Is there a craft beer festival in your area? Would you like there to be one? Madison also has mob craft beer and the Great Taste of the Midwest, two hugely successful ideas that started small. Or, if you don't have a local home brewing alliance, $5,000 could go a long way to starting one.
What about some kind of community-based beekeeping project? You use donated land and equipment and have a volunteer group of bee keepers?
posted by areaperson at 8:04 AM on March 17, 2016

My hometown funds a public art project every year. They emphasize recycled materials. After the exhibit ends, the art is auctioned to the public. I believe the money goes to next year's project. http://www.mainstreettakoma.org/featured-events/recycle-public-art-project
posted by MichelleinMD at 8:04 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Bristol, since becoming home of Banksy, has embraced graffiti to fantastic results. They even host a festival devoted to it, which apparently last year local schools got involved with.

I say this because what if you spoke to local business with wall space, or shutters they pull down at night, and ask them if you can pay for local/nearby graffiti artists to create works there.
posted by greenish at 8:09 AM on March 17, 2016

Start a yearly block party. It's small at first but it grows quickly. Make the theme "inclusivity."
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:36 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

You might look at some of the things that Awesome Foundation chapters have done.
posted by waldo at 8:41 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

If it's your thing, you can use it to sponsor a series of classical music performances by high school/college students. If you're doing it as a community thing, you can likely find churches that would host it for free.

Sponsoring out of town storytellers to come share tales from other parts of the country might also be an interesting way to spread some joy and diversity around.
posted by Candleman at 8:41 AM on March 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

I work with a bike and walk advocacy organization, and we have a donor that has donated about this amount so we could get bike racks. We got cheerful colorful bike racks to spread through town, multi bike racks for the parks and are working with the town to put sort of artistic bike racks in town. This one person's donation made our town so much better and saved us so many hours in trying to fundraise or argue with the town. It was much appreciated. If you have a bike advocacy group near you, maybe check with them or if you don't, check with the town planner and see if they are interested.
posted by katinka-katinka at 8:59 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't have any great ideas (but I love the mini library and parklet suggestions) but wanted to pop in and say I really love that you're doing this. What a great way to invest in your community. As someone unlikely to ever directly benefit from this, I thank you for doing something lovely in the world.
posted by widdershins at 9:23 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

This may not be weird enough, but one thing I think really can make communities better is a tool lending library - basically, shared access to stuff like circular saws, garden tools, other stuff it would be wasteful for many separate households to buy.
posted by Miko at 9:37 AM on March 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

You talked about already doing charitable donations but have you talked with local groups whose work you like about whether there are things they want to do but can't afford or can't do because of other logistical reasons? They may also be good to talk to about might work where you leave.
posted by oneear at 9:59 AM on March 17, 2016

1 art teacher + 12 at-risk teenagers + $5000 = awesome murals/street art.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:54 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I work with libraries generally and Little Free Libraries can be a great way to sort of expand the reading/book population or they can be used as a way to sort of subtly throw shade on the library so I'd try to get the library involved in the process. Maybe use some of that money to build some LFLs (in useful places like family clinics, near the DMV, that sort of thing) and have a few planning meetings at the library and use some $$ to buy pizza for community meetings to get feedback on locations and maybe get some volunteer builders? You'll have to think a bit about whether you want this to be "your" thing or whether you just want to toss seed money into something that someone else would run and organize.
posted by jessamyn at 12:03 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I recently invested in a community project called Teen Market, which is a stall vendor set up with 20 or so young people aged 13-19 selling crafts, food, or bric a brac. There is also a stage with PA system so bands can be showcased at the same time. The big cost is the stalls, which have to be rented but the rental company does the set up and take down. Great community effort and has a lasting impact.
posted by parmanparman at 1:26 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seattle Parks has a portable dance floor that makes a bunch of events possible - every summer there's a series of free, live music, lesson included dances in the city parks. And I think it gets rented for other events. $5000 would buy a respectable snap-together floor.
posted by clew at 2:13 PM on March 17, 2016

I'm leaning toward the options that focus on bringing people together rather than the options that don't. This winter, we hosted an every-Monday hot-chocolate night at our house for each week in February, inviting a bunch of friends, no need to RSVP or worry if they couldn't make it. It was great--some folks came every week, some a couple of weeks, and some couldn't make it, but they were glad to have been asked. Lots of people who didn't know each other well got to know each other. It really did build community. It didn't cost them anything (and didn't cost us much). Seems like, with your budget, you could do something similar, but with an even better menu or location, and/or you could keep it running a lot longer.
posted by TEA at 5:12 PM on March 17, 2016

Fund a Makerspace?

You could inquire with a nearby library, school, public university, community center and see if they are interested in starting a makerspace and fund the initial purchasing of technology, equipment, and supplies. Makerspaces are great ways of promoting the arts and science in communities.
posted by AdagioCantabile at 6:23 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Splash pad! They're so awesome! Free for users since they're usually in a public park. No standing water = safe even for little tiny kids. A welcome respite from the heat when you might not have access to a pool.
posted by wwartorff at 8:36 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Are you just wanting to throw money at something or do you have time to spare as well? Organizing a community art walk would be super cool. Your money could go towards the live music. Please, oh, please hire a local band or bands that only play original music (no cover bands!). The world will thank you for it.

You could turn it into a block party and invite local churches to set up bake sales and food stands. Your $5000 could turn into much more for many more people.

If your southern town is anywhere near Baton Rouge, La, please message me. I can get you started.
posted by myselfasme at 9:13 AM on March 18, 2016

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