Projects everyone can be part of bring your community together

Painting murals using the paint by numbers method is a great way to bring people together and rally your community. In Webster City, Iowa, four groups–government, business, education and a nonprofit–created a creative placemaking art project that everyone could be involved in. 

They picked a downtown building with some boarded up windows on the second floor that they could use as a canvas for some art. The building was a good choice for bringing different groups together: it is owned by a Latino, and many of the businesses in the ground floor serve Hispanic people and young people in the community. 

A student artist from the University of Iowa drew a simple paint-by-numbers design of colorful geometric shapes, featuring subjects from the town’s history. The design was transferred onto panels to fit the windows. They took all the panels to the fairgrounds and laid them out, ready to paint. 

Then they invited everyone in town to come paint, even a tiny bit. Anyone could go for even a few minutes and be part of painting the designs. The local newspaper took pictures. You could see the camaraderie created when people come together to make art.  

Now that the panels are installed over the boarded up windows, that building is now a place the locals love to look at, and share with their friends. 

The paint-by-numbers design meant everyone in town could play a small part in painting these empty window murals in Webster City, Iowa. Photo by Michael Hansen.

You build a stronger community through experiences that bring people together from across different groups to each play a meaningful role.

The 3 key parts of that sentence are:

  • Experiences 
  • People together across groups, and 
  • A meaningful role

Here’s what’s behind this concept: 
Adults learn not by doing, but by reflecting on what we have done. Experiences give people something to reflect on, so we can learn and change old behaviors and attitudes, and ultimately reshape our values in a positive way. 

When that experience connects us outside of our usual groups, it helps get past bitter dividing lines. When we do something that a member of the community might do, we start to see ourselves as members of the community. We develop a new identity.  
And giving each person a small but meaningful role makes the experience our own. We were part of it, so we care more about it. 

When all three parts come together, you’re changing the way people see themselves, the way they think and the way they act within your community. 

Building a Unified Community Video

Our latest SaveYour.Town video, Building a Unified Community, shares more about how to use simple everyday projects to rally your community and build social capital.

Learn more and watch a sample of our Building a Unified Community Video.