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How do we Build Community as Nomadic Artists?

We’re sitting in a coffee shop in one of the thousands of tiny towns speckled across the U.S. By the end of this quest I know we’ll have seen about 3% of those towns. After three and half months on the road, it’s more clear to me now than ever: this country is immense. It’s like one of those 3-D puzzles that might take years to complete, and each tiny puzzle piece is a community. Some pieces are detailed, others are bland, but they are significant in shaping the whole.

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Each community boasts its own history, story, aesthetic, and charm. Some are shaped by local mills or factories, others by tourism and national parks. Some radiate with vibrant progress, others struggle to stand beneath years of dust and neglect. Still, there’s always at least one person sitting on a porch or passing by in a beat-up truck. There’s always a sense of community – even if it’s just the local gas station in a town of 69 where half the folks are related.

Communities are like trees supporting a network of nests, while our lifestyle is like a nest on wheels, traveling between the trees. Everything is always new.

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Our temporary kitchen in the (free!) Sage Creek Campground at Badlands National Park.

Yes, I miss local Community

Sometimes I feel a pang of longing for that kind community. Times like now, when locals enter this coffee shop to hug the barista and chit chat about what happened last night. I realize in an hour we’ll be on our way again, just passing through as we have since April. We’ll leave behind a bit of money, a bit of trash (despite our best efforts not to), and maybe a story or two with the friendly locals who asked about our journey.

But we won’t be part of any local community for some time. Andres misses his Sunday soccer games, and I miss my jogs in a park by our old apartment. Sometimes I even miss walking up the 11 stories to our previous home.

I realize communities offer something nomads don’t have: It’s the comfort of familiarity in a fixed location. The same faces and places you can depend on, like your favorite library, coffee shop, spiritual leader or hair stylist. Communities are like trees supporting a network of nests, while our lifestyle is like a nest on wheels, traveling between the trees. Everything is always new.

So how do we build community as nomadic artists?

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Library in Kentucky – one of the 15+ libraries we’ve frequented. This one was the first (in April). 

But maybe community doesn’t have to be about a fixed location. Reflecting on this question, I realize we can build community by acting like community members wherever we go. For nomads, the world is our community. We’ll continue to miss out on the local relationships and events, but we can greet those locals as friends rather than strangers just passing through.

Even if you’re not a nomad, you make an impact as a temporary traveler. There are many great initiatives out there to help travels practice a community mentality wherever they go. One is a campaign called Small Change, which encourages runners to support a local organization wherever they race. Small-scale projects like this make a big impact if implemented by the masses, but it’s the mentality that matters most. Take a local spirit with you wherever you go, and try to leave something positive behind.

Community begins with a mindset, not just a place.

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I realized this after coming across a poster at this particular coffee shop, one that feels like so many others. The poster features happy illustrations and the title How to Build Global Community followed by a list of actions and ideas to become a better community member. These “rules” can be applied anywhere, whether on the go or fixed in one spot. They underscore the idea that community begins with personal attitudes and how you see / treat the world around you. One of my favorite lines is the first:

Imagine other cultures through their art, poetry, film and novels.

On our quest to visit and illustrate all 59 national parks, we invite folks to imagine the wildlife and places feature in our designs, and to elevate their significance in the global community. Art encourages us to imagine – to pause – and reflect on the story of what we are seeing, hearing, or feeling.

National parks form an integral part of our shared cultures. They protect the very pillars of our culture: the resources sustaining society. As nomadic artists, we can travel through these parks and share with the world those beings whose voices are drowned out in a hierarchy where man is favored over beast. We spend time illustrating wildlife and the names of these parks so that viewers can spend time thinking about these places.

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The character of one of our upcoming posters, from Badlands National Park.

As nomadic artists, we draw attention to topics, beings, and places worth considering for the overall health of our global community. We try to leave behind a positive story or idea, and take away the same.

We may not provide answers or direct action for now, but we do our best to provide imagination.

I hope you’ll read the entire message in How to Build a Global Community, and perhaps carry some of these ideas with you as you go about your own local community.

Find it here: https://www.syracuseculturalworkers.com/products/poster-how-to-build-global-community

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