New ideas are by nature challenging to most of us but are almost always worth checking out. Now, that’s not to say that every new idea is a good one. There is certainly a predictable percentage of new ideas that don’t work out. On top of that, when it comes to changes in a community, many of us can be pretty skeptical and that skepticism often serves us well.

It is a given that we all don’t line up with every new idea. That said, when new ideas do come along, it’s always best to take a good look and try to see what could come of them. Good or bad, those ideas all add to the make-up of a lively community.

When it comes to ideas, there are very few creative minds floating around these parts quite like Ashley Hanson. She has enough energy and has shown enough enthusiasm to convince the Granite Falls City Council to support her idea about an artist-in-residence program, the first such program sponsored by a small city in our state. She recently approached the council and received support for a grant application that she is submitting for that program.

Much of that is based on her recent selection as a fellowship recipient from the Obama Foundation. In this inaugural year of that program, she is one of just 20 to receive an Obama Foundation Fellowship, out of more than 20,000 applicants received from 191 countries.

Ashley shared some of that experience on Monday evening with a crowd gathered at the new Pioneer Public TV studio. She asked everyone to think about what makes their community the place that it is and what each of us do or could do to make it even better. She is looking to explore what makes communities tick, using all types of art.

Much of her focus on the arts in rural communities will take place right here, enabled when the Verona and Gary Dalin family generously donated their building in downtown Granite. Ashley has named the building “The Yes! House” and it will be home to her new organization, “The Department of Transformation”. The plan is to remodel and repurpose all three levels of the building. That takes resources of course and some volunteers. She is hosting an ice cream party and what she is calling a “think tank session” this Sunday beginning at 2 p.m. sharp. She is asking folks to bring their ideas about “The Yes! House”. It will be interesting to hear about, and sort through, those ideas. 

I’ve often thought that our area cities should try to get together and compare notes from time to time. That’s easier said than done. A few years ago, former Clarkfield Mayor Dan Jahn invited all of the mayors from Yellow Medicine County to meet in Clarkfield. Most Yellow Medicine County mayors were there and were rewarded with some wonderful pie by Dan’s wife Ruth. Food of some sort usually will add to attendance at a meeting.

A photo in last week’s Advocate Tribune showed a gathering of a few area city officials earlier in the week. Hanley Falls Mayor Rich Hagen, Montevideo Mayor Deb Fader and Clarkfield city administrator Amanda Luepke joined City Manager Crystal Johnson and myself at Granite Run for lunch and some fun conversation.

Mayors from other cities in our area weren’t able to be there. League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) Deputy Director Luke Fischer and LMC Intergovernmental Relations Director Gary Carlson drove out from St. Paul to meet with us, buy lunch and listen to concerns and ideas as well as offer assistance with the challenges each city faces.

Communities have personalities and each city’s circumstances are usually unique and different from other neighboring cities. Despite those differences, each city in Minnesota delivers necessary day-to-day services like protection, fire protection, water and wastewater utility service, street maintenance, snow plowing, parks and playgrounds.

Like Granite Falls, some cities add to that list by providing an electric utility, a hospital, an airport, recreation centers, summer recreation programs, senior citizen programs, transit bus service and other services that enhance the quality of life for our residents. Those all make for even more discussion.

There is a lot to talk about and share at a meeting of city officials. We each deliver services that are used by and affect every resident. Taking a couple of hours to compare notes and experiences is always worthwhile and makes for a lively discussion. Hope-fully we can do that again, before too long. 

With the concerns and challenges that our local communities and communities all around the State face, this election season seems more important than ever, particularly with the race for the Governor seat.

Even though the newspaper deadlines demand that this column is written before this week’s Primary Election results are known, let’s all be hoping that whoever advances in the Governor race in the November General Election knows and understands Greater Minnesota’s unique role in the state’s success and well-being.

Minnesota’s elected leaders can’t just have a Metro-only or a Greater Minnesota-only interest in mind. The state needs both, in order to succeed in a balanced and sustainable way. We would all do well to keep that in mind this fall as we go to the polls.