Nationally recognized rural development innovator John Davis told this story at the Rural Arts and Culture Summit about his strategy for developing convincing local leaders to support a project to develop an old building into a cultural center:
The New York Mills people on the city council were afraid of change.
In 1990, the economy wasn’t good. It was perceived as a risk going forward with an art project.
So I redefined the question: Let’s go forward with an economic development project. Investing $35,000 in a cultural center, where’s the risk?
If you invest $35,000 in this project, in this building, and it’s partially renovated and the project fails, it’s going to be worth far more than $35,000. So if the project fails, you win.
If you invest $35,000 and the project does what we say it’s going to do, be a national model for rural economic development and a beacon for the community to spark a revitalization through creativity—if that happens, you win. And the community wins.
So to recap: If the project fails, you win. If the project succeeds, you win.
Where’s the risk?
The risk is if you do nothing.
If you do nothing, the building goes back to the city. You’re going to have to tear it down. That’s going to cost $35,000, and what do you get? A vacant lot. You lose the history of the community.
That’s the risk.
The council decided to give $35,000 to the project, and the owner of the building not only donated it, he also donated $12,000 to a capital campaign.
“Eliminate the risk,” Davis said. “Make it easier to say yes.”