In Delmar, a town of 500 in eastern Iowa, the idea was to use storytelling to help the community identify its key values and legacies as it moves forward to developing strategies for coping with change in the 21st century. A secondary purpose was to explore ways in which the humanities and the arts, through storytelling, can enhance the planning process.
Eight graduate students--seven in Urban and Regional Planning and one in Art Education--partnered with 4th, 5th, and 6th graders from Delwood Elementary School in Delmar--to produce four short videos that feature the stories of longtime residents of Delmar. In these videos, Delmar residents tell the stories of their lives in Delmar and the places, people, and memories they value most in the community.
The Delwood Elementary students then took these stories, along with their own ideas, to produce "accordion books" that tell the story of the past, present, and possible future of Delmar. The books, along with the videos, were displayed at a community-wide event on April 22, 2017 in the Delwood Elementary School gym, with Iowa Public Radio covering the story.
Links on this site include the accordion books, the videos (including the four videos prepared by the UI graduate students and the original sixteen interviews with Delmar residents), and two news stories, one from Iowa Now and the other from IPR. Assistance for completion of this project was generously provided by the University of Iowa Center for the Book, Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities, the Art Education program, IDEAL (Iowa Digital Engagement and Learning) as well as our partnership with the Delwood Community School District, the Delmar Development Group, and East Central Intergovernmental Association (ECIA).
In July 2018, Delmar received $80,000 to improve their town as a result of this project. The Delwood students indicated in their "accordion books" a desire for a splash pad and basketball court to make the town a great place to live and Delmar Development was able to make that happen.
Driving down Main Street in Delmar, Iowa, is a lot like the drive through many small rural towns across the state. There a few remaining buildings from a bygone era: the church, the school, the convenience store. But to understand Delmar-to really get to know what it's all about-you have to get out of the car.
As Iowa's metropolitan areas continue to grow, many small towns across the state are losing people and businesses. In eastern Iowa, a town of about 500 people is making a more creative attempt at reversing that trend by using an oral history project to stimulate development.