5 Lessons You Can Steal to Crowdsource Creativity in Your City

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As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, each week we’ll be featuring a new video focused on cities, community issues or local government. In this week’s edition, former Councilmember Scott Meyer gives a fascinating talk about cultivating a welcoming, inspiring and forward-thinking community, and shares tools and resources that have helped turn his small city into the “Creative Capital of the North.”

Have a similar big idea to share? We are currently accepting speaker submissions for the 2016 Big Ideas for Small Cities event to be held at the City Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 16-19, 2016.

Brookings, South Dakota, former Councilmember Scott Meyer talks about the benefits of inviting all members of the community to creatively solve problems together.

Community leaders in Brookings, South Dakota, sought ways to jump-start economic development, boost public spiritedness, and unleash the creative ideas of residents in the city and the region. The resulting Creativity Week festival, begun in 2014 and continued in 2015, gives credence to the city’s claim as “Creative Capital of the North.”

What are the goals?

With a goal of “crowdsourcing creativity,” Brookings adopted a model familiar to anyone who has ever watched a TED talk. In the case of Brookings, the Creativity Week festival was not just one event in one venue. Rather, the festival, showcasing the creativity and innovation of the local community and region, encouraged individuals to hold their own events ranging from TED-style talks to music and arts performance.

At the heart of the effort was a recognition that a community vision and the energy to achieve that vision starts at the grassroots. Whatever big challenge may confront residents of Brookings, whatever outcomes they wanted to achieve, the solutions can be found through the innovative ideas of residents, business owners, neighborhood leaders, high school students, and grandparents. Participation in the Creativity Week events has proven to be a catalyst for idea sharing that engaged a significant portion of the community.

How is the project being executed?

With just $20,000 in financing, the city launched its first “Creativity Week” in 2014.  Although the city manages the event, citizens host the local sessions which helps keep costs down. The city has committed funding to the 2016 event and accepted donations and sponsorships for the 2015 event. In fact, the 2015 event is financed almost entirely with donations from the Bush Foundation, local businesses, and the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

What are some of the results?

Combined unique attendance in 2014 topped 4,500 attendees. YouTube videos of the event gained more than 75,000 views. The experience has also taught us the following lessons:

  1. Find community members who naturally lead, and let them lead; let them organize events and be heard
  2. Be radically inclusive in all events and activities; show off an interesting, welcoming community to outsiders
  3. Take risks and think big; possibilities are unlimited
  4. Infuse the arts into your events; music, dance, painting, and performance inspire creativity; utilize fewer hotel conference rooms, and more interesting spaces with local flavor
  5. Capture what is learned, share it widely, and build on the things that capture people’s imagination


Presented at the 2015 NLC Congress of Cities
Former Councilmember Scott Meyer, Brookings, South Dakota – scott@9clouds.com
NLC contact: Brooks Rainwater, Director, City Solutions and Applied Research, National League of Cities – brooks@nlc.org

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Editor at the National League of Cities.