Engaging the Next Generation

Matsura Centennial, nexus for collaboration.

by Doug Woodrow

Vacant buildings, a declining commercial core and the passing of the generation that embodied civic spirit marked our community as one of the casualties of this new economy. The impending approach of the Centennial marking Frank Matsura's death presented our community with an opportunity to merge that celebration with Okanogan Days and to fortify that struggling event. Research into Japanese history linked the Matsura family as significant contributors to pivotal events that shaped our world. The pulse of history, which propelled a descendent of the Matsuras to Okanogan gives us a stunning story that can reinvigorate our community.

The first step to our success was realizing the risk of our demographic dilemma. Doug Woodrow began a year in advance by holding "Lawn Chair History Lectures" beneath the various Matsura murals downtown. This developed a "brand" knowledge that developed value for the narrative. Following the Methow model of kids' art activities, Methow Arts came on board with the print making art activity for our fourth graders that dovetailed perfectly with our Japanese theme. Involving the school community was the next essential step because they are the remnant repository of savvy, civic obligation and materials. With kids present, the adults buy in.

The Matsura Centennial provided a superb nexus for collaboration. Doug Woodrow provided background historical knowledge. The effervescent Denise Varner organized Japanese carp windsock sales and served as liaison to the school community, bringing teacher Jim Anderson on board for the core activity of print making. Denise also networked with Ashley Lodato of Methow Arts to arrange for the visiting artist and materials. Event coordinators included: Scott Duncan and Kris and Betty Ray on the Zen sand garden; Marie Woodrow and Mary Whiteside the block print table; Dan and Susan Brown chopstick art; Gary and Lynette Morrison-Nelson the Gyokaku fish print table; and Cara Pruess origami. A new cohort of civic builders has been forged for future events.

Our biggest challenge was adding another item to our existing personal obligations and self-doubt. Other communities' success at organizing only heightened our feelings of inadequacy. Lacking a kitbag of past successes to build on, literally we did not know where to begin. Likewise, we had no clear vision of our target. It is hard to present a persuasive pitch for someone's precious personal time and money without a clear vision of the end product. But, we realized it was either fish or cut bait. Take a risk or be content with the ever diminishing options of our community.

One too many funerals amongst the older "civic generation" gave us a "mortal pause." Our town is at a tipping point. Its sustainable destiny hinges on our commitment to retool a new civic generation. We have chosen this perennial historical theme and developed children's art activities which segue seamlessly from classroom to the street level. We are raising a new cohort of child historians who can understand and explain this rich narrative's connection to the entire Pacific Rim. With each year's iteration we can include more activities and lure more parent participation. We have discovered the formula to rebuild our community.