Building a Community Legacy in Missoula

By: Dr Lisa Blank, Professor, the University of Montana PJW College of Education & Human Sciences

Stockholm in the late afternoon. Photo by Logan Castor Parson.

Stockholm in the late afternoon with its famous Stockholm Public Library in the background, considered one of the most beautiful in the world. Sweden’s culture house model builds on the long legacy of libraries as community hubs, agents of change, and  places of learning, seamlessly weaving together library strengths with the strengths of museums, the arts, and social services “all under one roof.” Photo by Logan Castor Parson.

We were fortunate to be in Stockholm during the announcements for the 2015 Nobel Prize awards for medicine, chemistry, and literature. As many know, Alfred Nobel left his entire estate, built largely on the development and sale of dynamite, for the establishment of a prize “. . . to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.” Immediately, many resisted Nobel’s request. It was five years before his legacy became reality in 1901.

Today, Nobel’s call to “better understand the world and change the world for the better” resonates in Sweden’s “culture houses” visited by the Missoula delegation. Each house provided safe and inviting spaces to create, understand, and celebrate culture. Each offered a warm welcome to all visitors, regardless of age, nationality, race, class, or language spoken.  Each spoke of empathy as an essential foundation for programming decisions. Empathy, they explained, builds healthy, vibrant, collaborative communities where people of all generations desire to live and work.

empathic-designEmpathy. I had not previously considered the central role empathy plays in creating strong communities, but it seems rather obvious now. Individual empathy fosters tolerance for diversity; diversity brings new ideas and perspectives.  New ideas and perspectives build social capital and social capital advances a community that is more inviting to those working in a variety of businesses; particularly the U.S.’s fast-growing creative industries (architecture, software design, advertising, publishing, education, and more).

The establishment of Missoula’s “All Under One Roof” library and cultural center, the first of its kind in the U.S., is a vision worthy of Alfred Nobel’s legacy of hope. The project sends a message to potential investors that Missoula is a community of innovators and social entrepreneurs. It is a community where diverse families and businesses can thrive, and it is also a community continually working to include and connect residents, expand opportunities, understand multiple perspectives, and solve problems. That’s a community legacy beneficial to all.

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