It is forever the cry of small town communities that ‘there is nothing to do.’ Coming from a near-Los-Angeles-suburb in Southern California, this thought admittedly passed through my mind more than once when I first moved to Fargo, North Dakota. I was disheartened, at first, by the lack of events, programming, concerts, and so on.
I was looking for the planning to be done for me. I wanted the activities laid out like a buffet.
But here’s the thing I’ve come to realize. Why leave all that to someone else?
In a smaller community like Fargo-Moorhead, you likely won’t have a buffet option of grand-scale events. Big bands might not be listing your town on their tour lists. Global conventions probably aren’t happening down the street. But it doesn’t mean ‘there is nothing to do.’
Here’s a few things that Fargo and its people have taught me, on how to cultivate community in any neighborhood.
Dinner parties, I have found, are some of my fondest memories of life in Fargo. All you need is to invite a few friends (or strangers, if you’re feeling adventurous!), ask them to bring a dish, and set the stage.
Two of my friends, Zach and Jodi, are experts at hosting wonderful dinner parties. They have purchased their own utensils and even some extra chairs for these events. They hoist tables together in their living room, adorn them with tablecloth and candles, and set the table with artsy cups and plates. Recently they hosted a soup dinner (titled “Soup! There it is”) and have also hosted ‘film + feast’ events, where they show a short movie with the meal.
I love watching how these friends, with a bit of extra effort and planning on their part, create a beautiful evening shared by all. Looking back on those shared evenings – usually ending with games and storytelling – I am filled with gratitude for their efforts, and for making Fargo a warm place to call home away from home. There is never “nothing to do” if you’re willing to put together a beautiful dinner party and share it with the people you love.
Hosting a house concert is a win-win! There are usually plenty of local musicians in any community that are looking for a place to share their talents with an audience, and plenty of people who would enjoy a lovely evening of live music. All you need is a venue: a living room, a basement, a dining room, a backyard . . . a bedroom!
Here’s a few details that can make your house concert top-notch, as taken from local community-builders Folkways (who host plenty of lovely house concerts!)
- Make it a potluck! In your invitations, ask guests to bring something to share. Can be various foods, or dessert-only. (Don’t forget vegan, gluten-free and vegetarian options!)
- Libations are always nice. Buy a growler from a local brewery, maybe some two-buck Chuck, and make sure there are options for non-drinkers too. (At some Folkways concerts, they set out ingredients for cocktails with a recipe for the drink placed on the table. A fun detail that results in a delicious drink!)
- Atmosphere is everything. Have blankets and pillows for guests to get cozy. Use lamps or candles to create intimate lighting. Subtle details matter!
Other resources: Check out Sofar Sounds, a platform for hosting intimate house concerts (they do cool stuff like making it invite-only, and not revealing the location until the day of the concert – all lending to this sense of secrecy and excitement).
Yes, prom. I share this story because it is a case study: no matter where you are, a group of dedicated people can create something magical. Last year a group of friends and I were sitting at lunch, and someone brought up awkward prom photos. That escalated to the hypothetical thought – what if we all could go to prom again? Which lead to – why not?
This resulted in “Fargo Prom”: aka prom for adults, but with all the same cheesy elements of a high school prom that we know and love. Oh, and we could all drink now, too.
Once the Facebook event was created, the excitement began to grow. Suddenly husbands were asking their wives out to prom again (and vice versa). Young single guys and gals were getting creative in their prom-posals. It was like high school all over again without the awkwardness (ok, maybe some of the awkwardness but in the best way).
The event was hosted right around prom time at a local Norwegian bar usually only frequented by older folks and their families. Everyone wore old prom dresses and suits; there was a photo booth for all the perfectly posed prom photos, and a King and Queen were drawn from a hat. It was, in short, an enchanting night for all. Round two is coming up and the city could not be more excited.
Can you host a prom in your city? Absolutely. Get a group of people together, and you can host whatever kind of party you want!
Start something you believe in.
This is the lynchpin among all these narratives. The dinner parties, the house concerts, the parties and the proms, are all tied by this idea that you can start something.
In my time in Fargo I’ve seen a mind-blowing amount of individual initiative. I’ve seen people start drone companies. I’ve seen people turn down huge job offers to work on their inventions. I saw a team of people start a coworking space from scratch. I saw another team start a farmer’s market that is growing bigger every summer. (Read more about how a group of friends started the world’s most chilled-out movement in fellow Fargo-lover Dane Johnson’s Near North Co piece – here!)
These are all the things that make a community a fun place to live, work and play. And they weren’t started by rich or established individuals with tons of experience. They were started by anyone and everyone, from young twenty-somethings to 89-year-old tech enthusiasts; men, women, mothers, fathers, students, farmers, teachers – all sharing a common thread. They believe in what they’re creating.
In short, Fargo has shown me that the “nothing to do” mentality isn’t productive. Ask yourself, instead: “What do I want to see in this neighborhood?” Plot out the steps to reach the goal, get a team behind you, and get crackin’! Your community is your canvas.