The Iowa Community Storytelling Project is an effort by the School of Urban and Regional Planning and the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities to bring the arts and the humanities into the planning for our cities, towns, and regions. The Project is based on the belief that community stories provide the foundation for community identity and therefore help set the direction for a community’s future. Stories provide compelling examples of how people in a community, young or old, have experienced that community and the directions they would like to see for the future. Community storytelling is particularly important in Iowa because many communities are challenged by issues such as population loss, declining downtowns, and environmental issues, including flooding and water quality. Stories about how communities have overcome challenges of the past are important for helping communities imagine solutions to the problems they face today.
Our first Iowa Community Storytelling Project initiative took place in Delmar, Iowa in 2017. In Delmar, graduate students in urban and regional planning and art education worked with students at Delwood Elementary School in Delmar to interview longtime residents of Delmar. Their stories were captured on video and then edited into four short videos prepared by the graduate students. In addition, in cooperation with the University of Iowa Center for the Book, graduate students worked with the Delwood students to create “accordion books” in which each Delwood student told the story of Delmar and what they think their town will or should become.