Stitching together the fabric of communities
Question: What could be more American than a quilt?
Answer: an “All-America City Quilt.”
Each year, dozens of finalists in the All-America City Awards are asked to submit quilt squares representing something special about their communities. The squares are stitched together into a quilt, which tours the country visiting each finalist town, city, county or region.
I have the quilt from 2007 on my office wall and looking at it reminds me of the communities that participated that year—Somerville, Massachusetts; Richmond, Indiana; and Rancho Cordova, California, among others. The quilt tells a story about that event, the communities that participated and how they view themselves.
First stop on this year’s quilt tour was Kenai, Alaska, population 7115, a finalist and winner in the 2011 All-America City Quilt Tour. Among other things, Kenai’s award winning application focused on a community-wide effort to cleanup a local salmon fishery. Not surprisingly, the town’s quilt square illustrates a salmon leaping out of the river.
Torrance, California, number five on the quilt tour, features a beach scene on its patch. Ann Arbor, Michigan, sports jig saw puzzle pieces fitting together to symbolize diverse groups coming together as a community.
Fort Worth, Texas, has an image of a longhorn skull and a heart. Fort Worth is a cow town, but it has done some great things about dealing with homelessness and mental illness. Downey has a picture of the Space Shuttle (used to be the main production facility for NASA). Lakeview, Oregon, has the image of the sun, symbolizing the town’s commitment to alternative energy sources.)
The patchwork varies from intricate designs—some communities enlist the efforts of accomplished quilters—to very simple and basic cut and paste shapes. Craft and technique, however, are less important than the sentiment and community pride.
It could be the town seal, for example, or an official city motto. It could be a local landmark, a scenic view or words expressing local values and goals, or a combination of any of the above. The patch-makers are encouraged to use their creativity.
The quilt has been a tradition at the National Civic League since Gloria Rubio-Cortés, a quilter herself, became president of the Civic League a few years ago. The original idea was to inject a little fun\and folksiness into the annual award. But the quilt tour also gives the finalist communities an opportunity revisit their successes and to celebrate their great community work.
The quilts are displayed in town halls, libraries, art galleries, schools, recreation centers and municipal office buildings. In some communities, the quilt tour generates a surprising amount of media buzz.
The City of Lakewood, Colorado, for instance, rolled out the red carpet this week to welcome the 2011 All-America City Quilt to town. In fact, there was a police escort and a report in the local TV news. Gloria was there along with Lakewood Mayor Bob Murphy and other local community leaders.
You can link here to see the video from a 9 News report. Lakewood’s quilt patch has the city logo and the word, Lakewood, “We’re a city that collaborates.” Lakewood has done a lot of public process work around revitalizing neighborhoods and older commercial districts.
Last stop on the quilt’s 17-state, 24 city tour will be Beloit, Wisconsin. It has a lovely patch. I’m not sure what the symbol in the middle means.
Along the way it will visit Tupelo, Mississippi; Seaside, Oregon; and Fayetteville, North Carolina, among other locales. The tour is being paid for with support from Southwest Airlines, the official airline of the All-America City Award.
Learn more about the award program and follow events leading up to annual event the All-America City blog at www.allamericacityaward.com. The 2012 All-America City Awards will be held in Denver, Colorado, June 30-July 2 and will have a special focus on communities that mobilize to improve reading scores for low income students.
Mike McGrath is senior editor and chief information officer for the National Civic League. A former newspaper reporter and magazine writer, he is editor of the quarterly National Civic Review, which will be beginning its centennial year of publishing this spring.
Mike’s posts will appear every Thursday on the State of the Re:Union website.