Two years ago I launched the hyper-local news site West St. Paul Reader. After a few years of getting involved in my local community, starting to write about it here, and then a good several months of writing about City Council, I decided to take it to the next level.
I remember a few months before I pulled the trigger, a friend asked if I’d consider spinning off a site focused on West St. Paul. “No way,” I scoffed.
And here I am. Not only did I launch that site, but it’s working. I was able to get it up and running thanks to the support of 68 people on Kickstarter. Today I’ve got 82 people giving monthly or annual support through Patreon.
That ongoing support really makes this endeavor possible. I spent a lot of time attending City Council meetings, writing stories, taking pictures, and more. I couldn’t do that if I weren’t getting paid. So those folks are making local news happen.
With 2020 nearly behind us (yay!), I’m looking back on some positive accomplishments during this pandemic year. Last time I looked at my book Better Politics, Please. This time I wanted to look at the “Community Cairn” public art project in West St. Paul.
The camera he used was a refurbished Deardorff 8×10 (V8) view camera commonly used in the portrait studios in the 1930s-50s. It looked like something out of the 1860s, a square, boxish thing, complete with the black sheet the photographer hides under to take the picture. It had a pretty long exposure, so we had to stay perfectly still for two to three seconds.
When Victor finished he took us into the dark room to develop the picture, giving us the whole experience.
The best part was when he took a picture of the developed print using an iPhone and emailed it to us, turning the old school experience into a thoroughly modern one.
I came across this picture in a CNN article today that gave the numbers of the tragedy. The stories are always more interesting, like this boy drawing in a makeshift camp at Champ de Mars in Port au Prince. I wonder what his story is.
But he’s drawing a picture.
I wish he knew that kids here in the United States are drawing pictures for him. How cool would it be if we could get his picture for Color4aCause?
I hope you’ll consider making a donation to help kids like this. Color4aCause: Make a donation, get a picture.
By Friday morning the flood of stories from Haiti started to get to me and I wanted to help. I’d already donated, but I wanted to do more. So I started thinking of crazy ideas. AndItweetedlikemadasItriedtothinkitthrough. All while Lexi sat down with crayons and paper.
Tonight we launched Color4aCause.org. Kids color to support relief efforts in Haiti. Make a donation, get a picture. All the proceeds go to my church’s Haiti relief efforts. My church has a partnership with organizations in Haiti going back more than 20 years, so it seemed like a no-brainer to support that relationship.
It’s a crazy idea. But I love it. I love watching my daughter color. I love it when she tells me what she’s drawn. And I love that we can help in such a simple way.
It’s not always easy. I told Lexi about what happened in Haiti and she was concerned for the people who were hurt and was scared that the buildings would keep falling down (once we got past the idea that Haiti was a person). She dove into the coloring but then later got frustrated. She keeps telling me she doesn’t know what to draw or how to draw it, and I keep trying to tell her just to draw—you can’t do it wrong.
When she gets really frustrated she throws up her arms and says “Kids can’t help.” She’s kind of a drama queen. I know she’s having a hard time getting her head around all of this and I’m probably pushing more than I should, but the truth is kids can help. Lexi is helping. It’s her own small way, but she’s helping. She might not get it now, but it doesn’t matter. She’s still helping.
Coloring for a cause. It’s crazy, but sometimes crazy works.
A friend of mine and his family spent six months in Guatemala finalizing the adoption of their second child. That experience inspired them both artistically and practically:
“It is a land of great beauty, but marred by devastating poverty and instability. Guatemala impacted us spiritually as well as aesthetically. We saw poverty and injustice unmasked. The reality of poverty—that some people cannot provide for their families no matter how hard they work—was overwhelming.”
Most families in this community cook with open fires in their home, and as a result the World Health Organization reports that the leading cause of death for children under 5 in Guatemala is falling into these fires. That’s astounding. Paso a Paso is working to replace in-home cooking fires with enclosed wood-burning stoves made from insulated steel drums. You can buy a stove for $130.
My local public art side project, Start Seeing Art, is now accepting sponsorship. It’s basically advertising—rotating banners in the sidebar—but I hate to use the word “advertising” because the site doesn’t justify the eyeballs to use that word. We get minimal traffic thanks to our extreme niche, so it’s more of a generous subsidy than a mutual exchange. If you or anyone you know would be interested in supporting public art by sponsoring Start Seeing Art, please send ’em to the support page.
The sponsorship banners are $25 per month (cheap!), with a maximum of five banners each month. So even if I sell all available space I won’t be getting rich ($125/month). More than anything this is an effort to bring some kind of revenue, any revenue, into the site. I’ve been running the site since November 2007 and we’ve mapped 371 works of local public art. That’s a lot of work. And a lot of gas. In that time we’ve made a whopping $20.36 from the Google ads (I think we’re too niche and too local for Google ads to be of much use). If the sponsorship banners sell I’ll probably drop the Google ads.
I’ll keep exploring other ways to make the site work. Grants are the most likely option, but it gets complicated since I’m not a nonprofit—unfortunately not making a profit doesn’t make you a nonprofit, as the joke goes. Hopefully we’ll figure something out and I can justify the time I put into the site.
I’m intentionally putting it out just before the Republican National Convention comes to town. Hopefully it will draw some attention to some of the amazing public artwork we have in the Twin Cities. The map itself isn’t very pretty (I’m no designer, and I didn’t even try to be), but it does include 85 works of art and pictures of each one (OK, 84 pictures. One sculpture is supposed to be placed any day now and I don’t have a picture of it). Continue reading Start Seeing Art’s Downtown St. Paul Art Map→
I’ve never done that before–seeking out public art during a vacation. Aside from the fact that I run my own public art site, that seems kind of weird. I like art. Heck, I even minored in it. But I usually don’t go that far out of my way to seek it out. So since I spent part of my vacation checking out art and for the last nine months or so I’ve spent loads of free time checking out public art, I thought it might be time to explore what’s so captivating about public art. Continue reading Why Public Art is Cool→
A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.