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Building Connection, Sharing Stories, and Measuring It

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

At the intersection of neighboring, sociology, and community art, Dwelling Place tests a new way to unlock data that foster stronger communities
Art Club participants show off their weaving projects, which uniquely display levels of community connection

Art Club participants show off their weaving projects, which uniquely display levels of community connection

Get Involved

The Community Building and Engagement team at Dwelling Place works with a local resident every month to create a unique art project for Art Club. The next project is “Collage your Community” on April 14th at 5pm. Contact [email protected] get more information or to sign up to participate! 

Project kits are assembled and mailed out to Art Club participants in advance

Project kits are assembled and mailed out to Art Club participants in advance

"The more things we can put in people's hands that give them ways to amplify their own voices and communicate with their community, the better off we all are” says Jessica Mulcahy, Director of Success Measures Philanthropic Evaluation Strategies for Success Measures at NeighborWorks America, an evaluation group with expertise in developing measurement tools across community development, arts and health. In 2021, connecting with others and telling stories comes with more challenges than ever before. Despite this, community members continuto find meaningful ways to connect.


Erika Townsley, a Dwelling Place resident and Heartside business owner, has felt the challenges of connecting during COVID times. “Speaking with others in person makes me feel the most connected,” she laments. However, getting involved in virtual event series has helped her find connection with neighbors. “We are all going through a similar thing, but we all still have our own experiences. Art Club provides the space to be together while also recognizing how different our experiences are, which shows through everyone’s completed artwork.  


In March, Art Club, a virtual event series offered by Dwelling Place, put on a weaving project using a new tool developed collaboratively by Success Measures; Barbara Schaffer Bacon of Americans for the Arts; Aki Shibata, artist consultant for Forecast Public Art; and Debra Dahab of Enquire Research. To create the weaving project, participants were invited to reflect on their sense of connectedness to their communities, and weave in a way that reflected this sense. By the end of the event, each of the seven participants had looms that illustrated how connected they felt to their community. Because of the project’s design, not only did the weaving bring people together in an online space, it also explored a new way of measuring community connection. 


Mulcahy recognizes the importance of connection and its impact on building a strong community. This weaving project is part of her work to create a tool that evaluates community connections “Achieving equity will be impossible without intentionally creating pathways for people to talk together in a way that does not privilege someone’s experience over someone else’s”, she says. 


Art Club served as a setting for Mulcahy to test her measurement tool in real-time. She explained that the weaving project proved to her that it is possible to use more creative tools, such as art, to evaluate a community instead of a more rigid tool of evaluation, such as a survey.  “This means that each [analysis] engagement is also a relationship building opportunity”. The more effective a community can communicate, the stronger and healthier a community and its individuals can be. 

And it’s not just community vitality that benefits from connection; social connections amongst people in their communities have a measurable impact on personal health. Scientists and doctors have discovered that lack of social connection is worse for human health than smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure. Social isolation can even increase risk of death by 32%. Inversely, and more promising, strong social connections have positive health benefits. Studies have shown that social connection can relieve dangerous levels of stress which can improve mental health, boost the immune system, help insulin regulation, and benefit gut health.  


Connecting with others is crucial for community success and personal health. Continuing to find innovative ways to improve connection through art will help build strong, sustainable communities and relationships.


With a mission to improve the lives of people by creating quality affordable housing, providing essential support services and serving as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization, Dwelling Place serves families and people in 4 counties across West Michigan. Dwelling Place is powered by volunteers and numerous staff persons, guest writers create our Rapidian content. Thanks to Learning Lab intern Jessica Fisher for writing this piece!

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