Upper Peninsula Power of Words Project and Cultural Economic Development Strategy

Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development

Funding Received: 2016
Escanaba, MI
Funding Period: 2 years and 11 months
February 9, 2018

To "U.P.- Lift." A word coined about five minutes ago that means,

  • To lift (something) up; to raise.
  • To elevate or stimulate (someone) morally or spiritually.
  • An act of raising something,

But the clincher is that to "U.P.-Lift" is to do so in the geographic region of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where as a transplant resident  of four years by way of the City of Big Shoulders, Chicago, I feel the U.P. could really use some. Why? Things are just plain hard here. I don't know if it's seasonal depressive disorder from 8 months of winter or if people work as hard or harder here but don't reap the same rewards, which is true. Salaries lag about 30% above the Mighty Mac bridge. Maybe it's the constant need to compete: like survival of the fittest, it's such a competitive landscape with very few people and resources that getting things done has to surpasss a level of skepticism to new ideas. We are sheltered here: seen as the end of civilization where the untamed wildnerness takes over, and trees outnumber people about 100 to one, this is a place that in about five minutes you can escape human interaction or influence if you wanted. Sometimes that's a good thing. Sometimes. The U.P. is also nostalgic and where we try to "hold on" desperately to things that contributed to this region's identity- traditional industries like wood harevsting, mining, and fishing- and when these things begin to be replaced or die, "U.P.lifting" comes in to figure out what we should be or could be. I feel that it is true that we can often get stuck in our old ways including expectations fed from the past ways. Why is "U.P.lifting" important? Well, in the middle of February in the U.P. hungry for long summer days with sun, I think there are things besides our moods that could use "U.P.lifting." "U.P.lifting" takes resources (thanks ArtPlace), time, and a vision on how it will be done. In our case, I envisioned the grant to use arts and culture to "u.p.lift" our region of 100,000 people by for the first time, dedicating resources to breathing life into our communities that are often the innocent bystanders after visitors, tourists, and recreation consumers flock in droves to our natural wonders in order to stock up on a bit of "relaxation." Sustaining them until their next "relaxation infusion" next fall or summer,  the thought being, let's capture the energy, development potential (ideas and energy) while these folks are here and create a bridge between the parks that are being visited anyway, and the communities in which they are located or nearby that aren't. We are known for our natural beauty but that pretty much ends at the State Park boundary. Our downtowns, in some cases villages, suffer from disinvestment. So if we could "U.P.lift" our communities as much as our parks are enjoyed, we'd make our whole region stronger and more cohesive and just yet another reason to enjoy the U.P. besides the parks which God willing, won't go anywhere. 

The Power of Words Project is one of the ways with ArtPlace funding we could build the bridge between the parks and the neighboring towns the parks are close to. Partners listed in the application representing the six counties in our region that will receive investments will hopefully soon understand how important  long term (read 10-20 year) sustainable methods that are low risk high reward like the Power of Words Project https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcqR6hWJ4iw can  be employed to "U.P.lift" our communities, our expectations, our hopes, and our standards. The Power of Words is also a process that by design influences community members, young and not young, to think about what they envision for the future of their communities and enlists artists (young and not young) under guidance from a lead interationally known artist to execute the community vision on a physical space, typically a visible downtown building. I've been getting push-back on this concept to be honest. As I write this little stream of consciousness, I do so after weeks of feeling like I've been having to act like a cage fighter: We are experiencing a cusp of growing pains in our project development phase which I'm pretty sure isn't unique among place making practitioners in this type of work, and I'm searching deep within myself to be reminded of the possibility that with conflict comes resolution and hopefully common ground. This blog is not so much a piece that boasts about what we are doing right, but an honest reflection and assessment of where we are right now, what we could and should be doing better, and how the realities of community development are sometimes trying. Faciliating meaningful and authentic partnerships, it sometimes feels like you can do nothing right, and maybe there are some folks out there who can give some advice. I know that this is a marathon and we're only about three miles in.  With all good things, this hurdle too shall pass through open and honest communication, but how do you "u.p.lift" when you are the one that needs uplifting?