In 2014 the village of Delburne, Alberta, crafted a beautiful project to try and capture the heart of their community. Almost half of the 830 residents participated in a village-wide project called, “Belonging: Delburne.” A striking component of the project was a series of murals throughout the village which were made up of portraits of the community members. International photographer John Beebe came to the village to take photos of the residents whose portraits were highlighted throughout the community. The Red Deer Express reported that the oldest participant was 94, and the youngest was only five months.
Nora Smith, one of the organizers, said that because of the conversations and the art project, community members began to “stop and appreciate each other.” Imagine seeing your face, or your neighbour’s face up on the local school or grocery store. I think it would give me a deep sense connection and gratitude to see my neighbours highlighted and appreciated in this creative way. The art project, which was intended to withstand weather for up to two years, was damaged by rain shortly after being put up. Soon the mural washed away; it was a sad moment for a community that worked hard to celebrate who they were.
Yet I think this is a story that needs to be celebrated. Delburne found that the most important part of their community was the people who lived there. The sense of belonging is what makes a small town feel like home. They discovered that people are not incidental but may be their greatest asset. Even when I look at the murals, I cannot help but feel drawn to this community. It is almost like I could belong there, too.
When the rain came and damaged these murals, it seemed to hint at the fragility of our own sense of belonging. ‘Community’ can be tender and when a sense of trust, closeness, hope, and peace is broken in a neighbourhood, it affects everyone. Small acts of kindness or cruelty can both deeply affect the health of the city we share. We have to be persistent in working together to creatively find our own ways to foster belonging in our midst. We, too, want the 94 year old and the five month old to feel at home here in Chestermere. And at the end of the day we want people who visit our city and neighbourhoods to drive away feeling like they could belong here, too.