The Oral History Project: What’s Next?

Kelsey Olson worked day and night, for months, to bring us the New London Oral History Project. This project was focused on the power of a community’s shared stories. Over thirty stories were shared from individuals, about their connection to New London and Sibley State Park.


Kelsey’s intention with the Oral History Project was to continue capturing and telling stories, even after the Riverspace Project ended. Through her work as the Sibley State Park naturalist, Kelsey is connected to many annual area visitors and locals alike. Every single person has a story to tell, of why they visit, why they keep coming back and why they stay. So many folks have rich stories about their family’s part in the history of our beautiful area. Because of the Oral History Project’s recordings of these stories and the weaving of our lives here will continue long after we’re gone. What a gift to our families and future generations! They will know how New London came to be, and what makes our area, and Sibley, magical–the people, and their stories!

In creating this project Kelsey has learned a number of things, from how to teach people how to use a story app on a smart phone, to how to effectively navigate working in conjunction with a grant, the city and the DNR.

Kelsey enlisted family and friends as volunteers to record stories and had 8 interviewers helping with that job. Together they collected 30 recorded stories that will soon be available on disc and on the StoryCorp website under “New London Oral History Project”. Six staff members at Sibley were also heavily involved, and the support of the project had a ripple effect in the community. People followed along on Facebook, with its immeasurable reach, and the project was shared on local radio stations and in both the West Central Tribune and Lakes Area Review.

Kelsey was impressively on top of it all, even when she didn’t feel like that was the case. Navigating multiple entities and their red tape is never easy, but Kelsey kept going, for the love of this community and her deeply rooted belief that our stories are what make us. With no way to hear these stories, we lose too much. Kelsey has done us the service of keeping stories alive, and there is more good news–this project will continue! Kelsey plans to capture more stories in the summer of 2017, and has inspired two other state parks to do the same.

THANK YOU, Kelsey. We the people of the Park and New London are so glad you had this idea and the organizational skills, patience and perseverance to pull it off!


Thank you, Deb!



Deb Mortenson loves movies. She loves this community, and she loves the way that stories, like those told in movies, connect us all. Deb took her experience, extensive knowledge of movies and love for New London and created The New London Roaming Cinema.

In doing so, this local mother and Office Manager, took us on an adventure with a screen and projector, and the good news is, this project will not end after the finish of our Riverspace Grant period.

Deb has plans to continue showing movies both inside and outside, roaming around town and making space for gatherings of the heart and mind! Deb’s work is collaborative and has served our community by engaging movie attendees in educational entertainment followed by meaningful conversations.


After being asked what this project has given her, Deb said that it has been empowering and has shown her that people will rally, show excitement and offer support. She feels honored to have had the chance to share in the Riverspace Project, and that the jury saw the beauty of her idea and said YES. She said she learned that,

“You should step forward…you really can accomplish things if you put the effort forth.”  – Deb

Deb also stated that this project reminded her to be true to a vision and also be able to adapt and work on balance and boundaries.

Despite a weather snafu on the night of the first showing, Deb overcame the obstacles and got the Roaming Cinema underway. She also brought us “Minnesota Stories in a Changing Climate” and welcomed two brilliant women to speak after the film, Jothsna Harris (Education Coordinator) and Katie Siegner (Communications Coordinator) from Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy who asked and took  questions from the audience.


This project engaged many people in our community, including the board of the New London Little Theatre, who hopes to continue a partnership in movie-showing, alongside Deb. There were also many locals who helped by brainstorming ideas and attending the movies. Deb’s daughters were also her sidekicks-always there to help her set up and tear down. Deb also mentioned the Willmar Lakes Area Convention & Visitors Bureau as a great source of support, spreading the word about upcoming movies.

What has this project given our community?

“Movies give us ways to connect with others and another place to commune and enjoy something together….movies help us find like-minded people…and there are so many movies that need re-introducing, so they can stretch people and teach us all something.” – Deb Mortenson

Mark your calendars with the winter 2016 movie schedule!

Thank you, Piazza Team!

Becky, Deb, Karen and Kay are the Riverspace Piazza (patio space by the dam and fire sculpture) Team. They created, they planned, they organized and they implemented. They also laughed and emailed and called and texted. Then they laughed more.

This team came to appreciate their varying strengths and play off each other’s gifts. They had monthly meetings at the start, and amped up their communication as more demands and responsibilities were added. As with most projects, they were biting off more than they imagined they could chew, but…



When asked what they’ve gained (other than a gorgeous space to sit with coffee and cookies any day of the week), this team says that their community pride has grown. Becky stated that the reason she and her husband came back here after moving away is because of the community effort of New London’s people. They had not seen a volunteer movement like ours in any community and they wanted to return and live within that social support system.

The team also described the way that their friendships have grown since starting this project. They came together with dynamics in place from previous work, but a few didn’t not know one another, and now they do–because of this project, they call each other friend.


They’ve learned new things together, shared expertise with each other and gathered resources to bring a dream to life.

Better utilizing the once desolate space behind Main Street and next to the dam has been desired by this team and many others in the community for a long time. We are grateful for the hours (and hours and hours) these four women have given, along with their spouses and friends, connections and local businesses. (The Piazza Team enlisted the help of about a dozen boy scouts, Green Lake Nursery, Three Sisters Furnishings, Crow River Watershed District and more!)

This space includes a large stone patio, bench seating from Three Sisters, beautiful plantings that invite pollinators and a centerpiece that speaks our history – the millstone!


Involving members of the community was central to this project. One way the team engaged community was to provide Alley Chats with experts, out by the dam. Four different conversations were held including talks with Larry Levin, Don Anderson and Becky West and her husband. These chats focused on the heart of the Riverspace Project, our history and natural environment.


They weren’t always sure what was expected, being trusted to find their way through the project. But they pulled together through adversity and contributed something meaningful and inspiring for our community to share.


Mill Pond Music Trail Dedication & Riverspace Project Celebration!

On September 17th we celebrated the finish of many of the Riverspace Projects (some are still in the works, but we celebrated those as well) and we had the honor of being a part of the Mill Pond Music Trail Dedication.

Because of this event and many more, we have to stop to say this:




To list all the helpers individually would mean accidentally missing someone somewhere and that’s the last thing we want to do. So instead, those of us who have been involved as leaders of the Riverspace Project will say what we’re so grateful for and as you read, you will know who you are...

  • Every single community member who stepped up to take the risk of submitting a proposal for a creative place-making project.
  • The City of New London, for carrying the weight of being the fiscal agent for the project and working closely with us to make sure all individuals, businesses and organizations get paid for their time and talent. Also, thank you, City of New London for leading the project to create a gathering space near the parking lot, complete with a performance stage, coming soon…
  • Every single volunteer who gave a few minutes, hours, days, weeks or months to engaging in these projects with helping hands and creative minds.
  • Goat Ridge Brewing Company, for playing an integral role in so many Riverspace Projects.img_20160807_153758046
  • All of those who have supplied our events with food and drink and the volunteer time to prepare the food and share it with hungry attendees and artists.
  • The New London Community In Action group, for creating and implementing the Mill Pond Music Trail and for the many ways you impact our community for good.img_20160728_185827998
  • Every entertainer who has taken part in adding that extra dose of creativity to the events. img_20160917_183512110_hdr
  • Our artist friends both local and from “the outside”–we appreciate your expertise, your energy and your time.
  • We single out one community member–Daniel Leite–for being a part of many of the projects, keeping his finger on the pulse of every project and keeping us all informed, inspiring many to come out and join in on the fun!
  • Lastly, we thank the Project Leaders, for putting up with the constant flow of the overall project and its inevitable changes and sometimes haphazard ways. The creative process is mighty fluid, and each one of you has shown us your devotion to this community beyond anything we could have imagined. THANK YOU.

If you have not had the pleasure of visiting the Mill Pond Music Trail installations, have at it before the snow flies! It’s unique and inspiring fun for the whole family!




It was a gorgeous night, the sun was shining, the wind settled down and the temps were just perfect. But beyond that, our celebration and dedication event was a success because of the energy of this tiny Minnesota town. To walk around and feel that with you is always a gift.


Riverspace Celebration and Mill Pond Music Trail Dedication!


Join us for a FREE celebration of the projects made possible by the ArtPlace America Riverspace creative place-making grant! Take a walking/talking tour of the installments and events. Listen to live music by local bands stationed along the Mill Pond path. Be a part of the dedication of the Mill Pond Music Trail, and then stay for a short film that celebrates these projects and our creative community as a whole! (Oh, and have a root beer float)

Glimpses of the Music Trail:


Now let’s see if you can make it through ALL THESE PHOTOS, the reminders of the installments and events for you to learn more about on September 17th! (photos included are most but not all projects…this is a teaser):

13592579_1080536848679572_4496849708318526808_n 13686579_10154576804962446_3723134760922765484_n 13732065_10210368734320186_6915875150194785090_o 14045985_10207377381812116_111102489631771118_n 20150716_111837 img_20150719_133414078 img_20160305_155130259 img_20160615_134713541 img_20160628_180405035-1 img_20160707_145704590_hdr img_20160713_105616630 img_20160715_165745100 img_20160807_153758046 riverspacemural yoga-on-the-water-01IMG_20160523_153134036
13419017_1743015872637404_351985483713618211_n12036399_10153201263387825_5996276509439657799_nIMG_20160416_153151601kid project20151017_12010212063655_985526908173956_8644400294833531801_nIMG_7334wpid-20140411_175401.jpgwpid-20150430_102738.jpg20141016_14290712036698_10153197725707825_2849796931116052273_nedc_6115

PHEW! We’ve been using this generous grant carefully, wisely and with so much creative intention and FUN. Join us in celebrating this rare opportunity and our fantastic community!



Yoga on the Water

Yoga on the Water-01

This summer’s Riverspace Projects have been unfolding quickly amidst all the other seasonal events and activities. And yet, we’re experiencing great community support for our project leaders and their events. (Thank you, Community!)

Teri McCarthy is a certified yoga instructor that came up with the fantastic idea to host yoga classes outdoors, near water, as a way to celebrate our natural resources and bring locals together for a fun and healthy yoga experience!

Many have gathered (unfortunately this writer was unable to attend so alas, no photos as of yet) to lay yoga mats on the ground, listen to the waters and meditate and stretch with the backdrop of the sunrise. Then later morning classes have been offered for those who just can’t quite pull it together by sunrise. (Good thinking, Teri!)

Next up? TOMORROW,

Paddle & Practice Adventure- Tuesday, August 9 at 6:00 pm. This class requires a watercraft. Bring your canoe, kayak or other (non-motorized please) for a paddle from Crow River Water Access to a mystery location where we will pull out our yoga mats for practice.

Yoga materials will be available but feel free to bring your personal yoga mat if you like and dress comfortably.

Instructor information: Teri McCarthy is RYT 200, trained by Mary Beth Nehl at the Yoga Loft in Willmar and presently in training for RYT 500. She has lived on the river in New London for over 10 years.

Haiku and Brew with Poets Lauren Carlson and Saara Myrene Raappana


Yesterday, at Goat Ridge Brewery, a large gathering of folks both local and not, sat together for a fantastic workshop, and then we all got up to walk around the portage alley area, or anywhere in town we could walk in about fifteen minutes.


Walking while writing Haiku. Filed under “Things that happen in New London.”

We learned about haiku poetry and then we wrote some haiku poetry. Creative people who maybe did not even realize they are creative stood up with their small notebook and read aloud their poetry. They were sent out to experience their walk with all their senses, and to write about it. They did not disappoint. Their words were everything from descriptive to funny to powerful.


I would share with you what those haikus were, but you’re going to have to wait. Some of them are going to become word art around town! In October, you can look for nature and Riverspace-inspired words to appear on the sides of buildings, on pathways or on large stones. (Actual places TBD)

Join us for the next Haiku and Brew event in October at Goat Ridge Brewery! Follow the event and project by liking it on Facebook.

{Select poems will be installed throughout New London as part of the New London Arts Alliance Riverspace project. No experience neccesary. Beginners welcome. Writing materials provided. Beverage purchase optional.}

This project is brought to us by the talents of poet Lauren Carlson with assistance from her friend and poet, Saara Myrene Raappana

Look at their light!


The Roaming Cinema Part 2


The Roaming Cinema, with leader Deb Mortenson has been traveling around town in the last few weeks and months. The latest movie showing took place at the New London Little Theatre with a showing of “The Willmar 8”. The audience appreciated the show and were truly invested in the story and the ways that it impacted our community.

Project Leader Deb Mortenson stated that she may show this one again in the future, so more people have a chance to experience it.

Next up, join Deb and other locals to view “Minnesota Stories in a Changing Climate” on August 26th at 7pm at the New London Little Theatre.

Then, stay tuned for upcoming roaming movies around town! Especially near the end of September as we say goodbye to watching movies outdoors with autumn upon us. (No worries, there’s always next year!)

The Pianos Were Painted, and Played!

Awhile back we let you know that Bethany Lacktorin’s Paint-n-Play project was under way. Today, we’re back to tell you that the pianos were painted and then they were paraded, which was such a hoot!

After the parade, votes were made for the favorite piano. This winner will be the main piano moved about town for the spontaneous playing of tunes!


Bethany is now working at choosing upcoming locations for both pianos, which have been resting in portage alley, near the fire sculpture. Tarps were purchased to protect the pianos from rain and ideas are cooking for how to keep the pianos more visible in the spring, summer and fall.

The winner of the piano voting extravaganza was the sun/moon piano, so this means it will be the first one featured around town, moving from location to location for any passerby to stop and play, sing, dance, or just take in the spectacle of a brightly colored piano in their midst.

These pianos, they smile, I swear.

Mosaic 2016

Once again, community members both small and adult, have come together to work on a mosaic which will be featured along the small wall behind Rusty Tin Boutique, next to the dam and the winding sidewalk that pulls the walkway from the Memorial on Main Street, to the water’s edge.

This mosaic piece is a tribute to the natural resources our community is blessed with, and will feature fish and waves, laid by community hands. IMG_20160713_105616630 (1)

It’s another work in progress among many others that are unfolding this summer. Every single day, we get to look around and witness creative-placemaking happening all around us in our beautiful small town.

Keep watching!