Wesleyan students from a range of majors and interests – all with shared interests in utilizing resources in innovative ways to positively impact the greater Middletown community – applied to the Student Innovation Fund. The fund provided up to $750 for spring OR summer projects that prioritized:
- Collaboration between student groups, faculty/staff, and/or community partners.
- Investigation of the impact of our civic engagement efforts.
- Sharing of ideas and learnings in civic engagement on campus and beyond.
Zach Farnsworth ’21 organized Moving Conversations/Making Community. Read his report below:
Moving Conversations/Making Community was a project with a series of four event dates open to all, culminating in a final “performance” all hosted in Russell Library. We drew murals, made sounds and moved together to answer questions about community, communication and more through art. I and Julie Mulvihill, a visiting dance professor at Wesleyan, wanted the Wesleyan and Middletown communities to interact more, have conversations, and get a chance to play and make art together. I also wanted to see what it took to organize a community dance/art event, and what it meant to navigate facilitating activities with different age groups and people from different backgrounds. I learned that when someone’s interested in leading a community event, people are pretty open to participating and giving space for it. Inviting participants to play at first will actually make them more serious about whatever art making we do during the process. Open-ended questions and openness to what the project can become helps keep it alive. A lot of emailing is required to organize spaces, reach out to different groups, and make something like this happen.
We had conversations about what it means to be together and what community means at different levels. Everyone from little boys to old ladies participated in the meetings, which was beautiful to watch. I think simply having people moving in a room together of any age or ability is powerful. So getting even one person to come join us was a success. Another thing I learned was inspiration and enthusiasm can come from anywhere. If you don’t think a person will like being engaged in the activity or think that it’s too weird, either that person or someone else will surprise you.
A big challenge was getting people to come and disseminating knowledge about the event. Gradually more and more people came as the session went along. It made me think that if we had kept a continuous series going, it would have developed even more people.
If you want to get involved with Middletown, just go to different venues along Main Street and ask people what they’re missing, what they’re already doing. Ask the professors who’ve been here, the new professors, or ask the community centers. All it takes is some curiosity and a lot of emails to get a community-based project up and running. Whatever experiences you have will be valuable to the community, because community is made up of collective experiences. Listening and being open-minded goes a long way. Be willing to have conversations with people you wouldn’t normally get to/think to otherwise. Be open to your project and ideas changing on the go, because with flexibility can come new amazing experiences that were just waiting to happen. Hopefully this will continue sometime in the future, and I am looking for ways to expand participation and allow even more people to participate.