Emily and Glenn Swanson: Engaging Arts for Economic Growth and a More Civil Society

Oct 3, 2019

We always knew it...we always knew that art and culture are phenomenally important to keeping hope and progressive action moving in the right direction. You know it is just inspiring to be exposed to art... I think what we began to realize is that artists have a unique ability to cross boundaries...where we live we have the Fond du Lac reservation just a couple of miles away and yet there hasn't been as much interaction as as there could be in terms of solving community problems between native and non-native people.  And Glenn is a professional musician, he's a drummer... I think one thing we never expected is how much music would open the door to our relationship to Fondulac reservation and members of the tribe and how much we could learn from each other by paying attention to music traditions and how much we could find common cause because music was a common language. - Emily Swanson

Emily Swanson and her husband Glenn started the Oldenburg Arts and Cultural Community in Carlton, MN. They are committed to using art and cultural experiences as bridges between people that inspire community development.  

It does cause people to want to move there. It does cause tourism to increase. It does cause better decisions to get made about economic development...things that are sustainable rather than just big box retail where the money never stays in your town...  With arts and front and arts leading the way, you just end up with more interesting and more productive, more sustainable solutions.

...all communities have cleavages, they have points of disagreement...especially in this particular time, polarization that has been heightened... To create community vitality or even to do economic development, it's really important to move into an understanding of we're all in this together and our view is that arts and culture are really great ways to begin the process of closing those divides and moving into constructive community engagement and strengthening of the economy of the social fabric together. - Emily Swanson

Emily and Glenn own and operate the Oldenburg House, a bed and breakfast in Carlton, MN that is also home to monthly jazz concerts and weekly discussions by adn about creative professionals and ideas.  Since moving to the community, they've engaged in creative placemaking and implemented their business model based on the Ubuntu philosophy of "I am because we are".  It's a frame of thinking that improves civil society through conscious decision making considering benefits to society instead of benefits to merely the bottom line. 

Emily and I in our development say of our business look for opportunity to not only lift ourselves but the entire community.  If what we are developing or doing limits the opportunity for others, we don't think that that is the opportunity we have we need to be pursuing. So we look for opportunity inside of our own business that lifts all of us and that's maybe a little different approach to business where one would seek advantage or opportunity to simply benefit oneself or one's close friends...but Emily and I are of the nature that if it does us good it must do you good and if it does you good then it does us good. So that's kind of our approach in terms of how we see pursuing economic development for both ourselves as well as our community... - Glenn Swanson

Emily's presentation Facing Resistance, Bridging Difference will begin at 9am Saturday morning at the Reif Center as part of the  Rural Arts and Culture Summit in Grand Rapids.