Where do you feel a sense of belonging?
What are some of your hopes for our town and our country?
What is a belief you hold that has changed over time?
What are some of your concerns about the future?
Have you ever felt misunderstood?
Perhaps most importantly, what does it take to feel like you’re a member of a community? These are the questions posed by interviewer Adam Sher, an educator and community organizer who hopes to foster discussion in the town of Falls Village, CT with a new project entitled Small Town Big Talk. A collaboration with Meg Sher, the Assistant Director at the David M.Hunt (DM) Library in Falls Village and esteemed photographer Rebecca Bloomfield, and Sher, Small Town Big Talk seeks to engage residents with a series of questions developed to better understand world views and personal philosophies, exploring their sense of belonging, concerns for the future, and feelings of misunderstanding.
“Falls Village is a microcosm of America,” says Sher. “It’s the kind of place where people keep their doors unlocked. We know everybody. That’s really sweet, but at the same time, you have the sense that you rarely get beyond small talk with people. The depth of who the people are is sometimes hard to access. Maybe that’s because we don’t have those outlets in our normal community life to say what we really think.” After a public call for volunteers was made and respondents were scheduled for socially distanced outdoor photo and interview sessions, Sher began his quest to reignite actual real world civic engagement among neighbors after it had been significantly diminished and made worse by the pandemic of Covid-19 and the meteoric rise of social media. “Small Town Big Talk encourages depth in our conversations, with the understanding that our society changes and evolves on the local scale leading to larger national conversations,” says Sher.
Since 2011, the Hunt Library’s ArtWall has showcased local professional and emerging artists living in the Northwest Connecticut community and throughout the Tri-state area, from Boston to New York City. The ArtWall provides important income for both the Hunt Library and the exhibiting artists. “The DM Hunt Library is known for being community-focused. People go there not just to take out books and for the wonderful story time for kids, but also for the warm personal welcome and reading recommendations from Meg Sher and Erica Joncyk, and to catch up with each other,” Sher notes. “We knew we wanted our project to be featured on the Hunt Library ArtWall, which is another core element of what makes the Hunt so special. When you see the exhibition as a whole greater than the sum of its parts, whether in person or online, it’s almost as if the town is speaking.”
Critical to the efforts of the Small Town Big Talk project were local photographer Rebecca Bloomfield’s skills for capturing the portrait of community and who early on found that she was thinking a lot about vulnerability while the interviews were being conducted. “Rebecca’s photography brings out the extraordinary in ordinary moments,” recall Sher. “Her candid shots were taken during our 20-minute interviews with our 23 participants, and then Meg, Rebecca, and I spent many many hours selecting just the right portraits to pair with just the right few sentences from each interview, creating a synergistic effect for each person and for the work as a whole.”
On Saturday, April 10, the Hunt Library will present an online artist’s talk with all three creators of Small Town Big Talk. Intended to foster connections and understanding in the community, the exhibition and accompanying hardcover book were made possible with a grant from Bridging Divides, Healing Communities–a fund of Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. “There is a lot of talk about unity these days, but even in small towns unity is elusive, and perhaps impossible without experiencing our diversity of thought and feeling,” says Sher. “I hope that when people view the exhibition, they are inspired to have big talks in their own lives.”
For more information on Small Town Big Talk and to learn more about its volunteers, visit huntlibrary.org/art-wall
To register for the artists talk event this Saturday at 730pm, click here
All photo’s courtesy of Rebecca Bloomfield Photography. To learn more about Rebecca Bloomfield’s photography including prints from the exhibition, and much of her other work also focused on local portraiture, visit rebeccabloomfield.com