Neighbors Build Community in the Village of the Arts

[originally published on the neighbor-created site,

Last week, a small group of neighbors in the Village of the Arts invited the wider community to join their conversation about how to improve their community.  Here is the story of that gathering.

This was the invitation.



Abundance!  Neighbors brought home-made sweets and snacks as well as food purchased from local stores and restaurants.  Amara prepared her backyard beautifully, with lights strung around a central patio and chairs set up in a circle underneath.

After mingling, we began the meeting.  Amara welcomed everyone and introduced those present who have been involved in this project up until now–Anna D’Aste, herself, Valerie Rose, Hector Ferran, and April Doner.*


Anna D’Aste, a talented neighbor who makes and teaches ceramic art on 12th St, opened with her story.

Anna was part of the original group of artists who moved into the neighborhood 13 years ago to start the “Village of the Arts.” When she moved in, she dreamed of living in a real community–where people know and care about each other and do things together.  She hoped to have strong relationships not just with other Village Artists but with other neighbors as well.

Since then, Anna had seen a lot of great connection and activities happen among the artists in the Village, but not as much as she’d hoped between artists and the rest of the neighborhood.  She was almost ready to give up on her dream for the Village when April came by her home a few months ago and told her about an effort to connect the community in just the way she had always envisioned.  Anna began meeting with a group of other neighbors who shared her dream for the Village and, in their own way, had all been making efforts as “Connectors” in the neighborhood.

April told the group about a way of seeing and acting in community called Asset-Based Community Development, (ABCD for short).  Instead of focusing on problems in neighborhoods and people in them,  ABCD asks, “What are the gifts?”  It focuses on connecting people in community around their talents, what they care about, and what they are doing or want to do to make their neighborhood better.

Anna and the group have been brainstorming and experimenting with ways to “grow what we already have.” Their first step has been to start finding out about and celebrating the gifts of their neighbors, especially neighbors who they don’t already know and who might not think of themselves as even part of the “Village of the Arts.”

Anna was also inspired by a trip she took with April and Amara in October to Indianapolis to visit groups who are building community in creative ways.



One thing that stood out for Anna was seeing the “Fishes and Loaves Room” at Broadway United Methodist Church.  Named for the story of Jesus making a big feast out of very few fish and loaves of bread, the room has paper on the walls showing sticky-notes that list neighbors’ talents, passions, dreams and projects. It has people grouped around those gifts–like “Sports,” “Gardening,” or “Education.” The room is one way that they have found to connect and celebrate neighbors’ gifts and talents in ways that build community and economy.








When she came back, Anna shared this with the group and created a “The Village Community Resource Board.” She hopes to keep working with neighbors to grow this board, so the Village can grow more connected around what people love to do and care about doing.  She invites everyone present to get involved in this “connecting” effort by going to talk with their neighbors and contributing to the Resource Board.


April shared useful tool for getting started, an “Asset Inventory” with questions that she uses when talking with people in the Village. You can view or download it here.

Neighbors shared their ideas, questions and concerns:

  • Dona Gould shared that she had always wanted to know the skills of her neighbors too, so she could go to someone in her neighborhood for services like Mechanic, Notary or Seamstress.
  • How does this impact crime in the area?  The more we connect across gaps with our neighbors, look out for each other, and even learn more about and find positive ways to include people who might seem to be part of the problem, the safer our community will become. “Strength in numbers”!
  • How do we cross over language barriers? How do we connect with the Spanish-speaking neighbors?  Tara offered a solution from her block: many Latino people live in her part of the Village.  She’s discovered that one of her neighbors speaks both English and Spanish, and now goes to Naida for translation to find out what’s going on or to communicate with her neighbors who speak only Spanish.
  • How does this relate to the Artist’s Guild?  This effort is focusing on the rest of the community as well as the artistic/business side of the Village. Our hope is to complement and support what the Guild is doing as part of the community.




Next, Hector Ferran introduced a series of workshops that will begin in January designed to put residents and Village businesses in the center of deciding what the future of the Village looks like.  The Connector’s group has been planning it together with Dr. David Brain and April Doner.

The first workshop will be held on Monday, January 14, from 6:30-9:30 at the Salvation Army.  This is an opportunity for many different neighbors to come together and find a common vision, for finding creative ways to implement goals through partnerships both inside and outside the Village, and to take the vision from ideas to actual changes.

This will be a series of workshops supported by USF’s Architecture School.  Both April’s work and the Visioning Workshop are being supported through Realize Bradenton and local partners such as the Downtown Development Agency and the 13th St. CRA.  The City, DDA and other organizations who want to support the Village’s success are interested in working with a neighbors who represent the diversity of the whole neighborhood.



Here are ways you can support:

#1.  Attend.  Your ideas and assets are important.


#2.  Bring your neighbors!  The more diverse viewpoints and skills in the room, the better the vision and our chances of making it real. You can use this as an opportunity to go meet neighbors and learn about their gifts!


#3.  Help out at the Workshop with….

  • Set-up and Registration
  • Facilitating small group conversations  (No experience necessary!  Come to the Facilitators Training on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 6:30-8:30 pm at Southern Commerce Bank)
  • Serving Food
  • Translation
  • Volunteer Coordination
  • Clean-up


Reply to this post below if you want to help!


Workshop Flyer



Finally, we did a “Learning Conversation” exercise.  Everyone chose a partner and interviewed them for 5 minutes and asked 3 questions:

What are your gifts?  (talent, skills) 

What do you care about deeply?

What are you doing in the community? What do you want to do?

We wrote what we learned on a sticky-note and, after sharing with the group what we learned about our partner, added it to the Resource Board.


Some discoveries:

Carl: Communicator, Botanist, Foodie

  • I had the pleasure of interviewing Carl.  Carl is a talented communicator, skilled in PR, who runs the Arts Council in the Village.  He cares deeply about education.  Many people at the gathering already knew all of this about Carl.  However, nobody knew about his secret skill:  Botany!  Carl has two degrees in Botany and has taught many Yankees “how we do it down here,” since many Northerners don’t know how or what to grow in their yards when they move down here. He’s also a foodie and loves to travel the world.
  • Celeste reported that Tara is a great baker who runs Sweets Bakehouse on 12th St. She’s also a great listener (which Tara didn’t tell her, but Celeste observed on her own)
  • Tara told us that Celeste is a gifted RN who cares about helping people and is currently looking for work helping someone in their home. Celeste is also a long-time resident who has seen the neighborhood go through many changes. Her mother actually lived in the Village!
  • Marina is an artist who cares deeply about youth.  She is interested in getting students involved in neighborhood improvement projects. She speaks both English and Spanish, and is willing to translate the Visioning Workshop flyer into Spanish!
  • Joan is also bilingual in French and Spanish



Finally, Valerie shared that she is doing a fun project with kids in the Village. She teaches art at Ballard Elementary and has been wrapping telephone poles with weavings and pictures.  She wants to celebrate members of the community and beautify the neighborhood with this project, and invites neighbors to take part in two ways:  

  1. Come wrap posts with them  
  2. Drop off colored plastic bags at her home:  1119 12th St. 

JoEllen shares Joan’s gifts

Anna shares Slade’s gifts


  1. Help out with the Visioning Workshop!  Reply below with your contact info and how you’d like to help.
  2. Help uncover the gifts in this neighborhood!  Learn your neighbors gifts. You can start now by holding learning conversations with your neighbors. Start with someone you already know. Use this document to get started.  Report back by “Replying” below so you can come add to the Resource Board and let others know about the talents you discovered.
  3. Join us on Facebook at the Village Connector’s Group.

Have other questions or ideas?  Post below or on Facebook and we will respond.


* Other neighbors involved in this effort:  Kim Hoffman, Donna Slawsky, Courtney Henderson, Karen Kloski, Bonnie Oakey Ferran

~ Notes by April Doner

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