Common Ground of Community

In early 2003, when a small group of us neighbors (soon to become the nonprofit Violet Crown Community Works) envisioned the very first Violet Crown Festival, the heart of the event was clear:

  • See that Jean Graham’s mosaic Wall of Welcome becomes a reality.
  • Celebrate the Brentwood and Crestview neighborhoods, which we see as sharing many common concerns and goals.
  • Bring together all elements of the community—individuals of all ages, schools, neighborhood associations, community groups, churches, and businesses.
  • Strengthen our sense of place, by gathering and preserving our neighborhood’s history and community resources and sharing those with festivalgoers.
  • Create an event that, like the Wall of Welcome, would reflect the unique spirit of Brentwood and Crestview.

I remember those early planning meetings for the festival and nonprofit being collaborative, creative, and productive—filled with lively discussion and laughter. We designed the festival to be more community oriented than commercial. We were inspired by the people and beginnings of Brentwood and Crestview and incorporated that into VCCW’s bylaws:

Through its projects, VCCW seeks to build and support a strong sense of community and history among neighborhood residents.

Since the first festival was held in May 2003, it has become an annual neighborhood tradition. At the beginning, though, we weren’t sure if what we were creating would appeal to neighbors, or if we could pull together all the pieces of it in time. Then, we weren’t sure we could sustain it long enough to raise funds for the Wall of Welcome to be built (it took five festivals), not to mention other projects that might come later. At times all the work that needed to be done seemed daunting, but still it felt worthwhile.

Some of us pitched in to help in more than one area, whether it was publicity, sponsorships, set-up/tear-down, or anything else that needed to be done, including getting VCCW up and running as a nonprofit. That helped us compensate for not having enough volunteers and keep the festival and nonprofit going. It also helped that the small core group of neighbors who volunteered year after year could share their knowledge with new volunteers who stepped up to help.

With each festival, the bond among us grew stronger, and we came to see ourselves as an enduring circle of neighbors doing what we could to make a difference. We always gathered soon after the festival to celebrate the good work we had done together. For some of us, being part of the core group was a singular experience, perhaps never to be repeated in our lives. We shared a common love of the neighborhood and felt we were part of something greater than our individual lives—a bridge between the original residents and new families moving in. Together, we helped create something that never had existed before and stayed with it as long as we could. We wanted everything to be perfect; being human, we had some missteps along the way. We had the opportunity to forgive ourselves and others, too, and to rediscover the common ground that we shared. That’s what I choose to remember.

I was a festival volunteer for seven years. What I enjoyed the most—getting to know lots of neighbors and helping them feel welcome at the festival, designing the Community Tent and inviting individuals and groups to share news of their neighborhood projects there, creating community and history exhibits and talking with festivalgoers about them, and helping write and design publicity so that people would want to come and be part of of what we were doing.

The completion and dedication of the Wall of Welcome in March 2008 was a milestone. By then, some of us longtime core volunteers were ready to move on to other projects, and other neighbors were stepping up to lead the group. In Spring 2010, I also chose to move on, and the neighborhood history, now 12 feet long, became too challenging to set up at the festival. You’ll find almost all of what we have in the exhibit on this website, and we still loan it for neighborhood events. Contact us, and we’d be happy to talk with you more about it.

During my time with VCCW and the festival, I found new ways to be more creative personally and to feel more connected to my neighborhood—a wellspring of experiences that inspired me to create this website, keep the Voices of the Violet Crown project going, and get involved in other community projects.

In 2012, I was grateful to read what Crestview neighbor Karen Lorenzini had to say about Violet Crown volunteers, and I thought of the hundreds of neighbors who have sustained the festival and nonprofit over the years:

If you have contributed your precious energy, sweat, and time to VCCW, you are valuable and appreciated.

To those who continue what we began in 2003, I wish you well. I hope that you always stay connected to the heart of why we created the nonprofit and festival; that you welcome all who step up to help, along with their unique skills and ideas; and that you never lose sight of the common ground we all share as neighbors.

From the first Violet Crown Festival in May 2003, we have seen how powerful creativity can be when its roots are set deep in the community, and its branches reach out to all of our neighbors.

Each of us is like one of the thousands of mosaic pieces on the Wall of Welcome, so unique on its own and yet so much more as part of a greater whole.

FIRST FESTIVAL: MAY 17, 2003

Few of us planning the first festival got much sleep the night before, and two highlights of that too-early morning stand out especially for me.

The first happened before the festival even began. Domino the Pig escaped from the petting zoo, disappeared into the neighborhood, and six months later resurfaced as someone’s pet, living for a time at Woodrow and Arroyo Seco. (Read more about him here.)

The second became part of something I wrote in 2006 about that morning. Vision was my view of the festival and of Violet Crown Community Works, as a longtime volunteer and founding board member. It became part of a VCCW festival handbook the same year. I have continued to update it, and you can read it in its entirety here. Most of the indented quotes in this post are from Vision, including this one:

Somehow, even with too little time, too much to do, and too few volunteers to plan it, on the morning of our first festival we were ready. After putting up displays in the Community Tent, we looked out to see if anyone at all would show up. Slowly, young families, older neighbors, and people of every age in-between began to arrive, and they kept coming all day. They looked around as if the festival was something they’d waited for all their lives but didn’t know it until that moment.

CoreGirls5Above, from left, Diane Bennett, Jean Graham, Susan Burneson, Sandra Miron, and Shayla Fleshman, at the end of the first festival.

COMMUNITY TENT

The first five spring festivals, 2003-2007, featured a 30×60- or 40×50-foot Community Tent in the middle of Brentwood Park, where the festival was held for many years. A smaller, 10×20 Welcome Tent greeted people attending the Wall of Welcome dedication in 2008 and was featured at the festival from 2009 to 2010, the last year I was involved with the event. Brentwood neighbor Sandra Miron and I coordinated the tent together for the first few years, and I continued for several more, with the help of other neighbors. My husband, Rob, pitched in to help each time.

Our intention with the Community Tent and Welcome Tent was to strengthen festivalgoers’ sense of place and roots in the neighborhood. We shared Brentwood and Crestview history and community resources, including opportunities for volunteering, through information tables and exhibits. Brentwood and Crestview neighborhood associations, local schools, churches, groups such as Friends of Brentwood Park and Sustainable Neighborhoods of North Central Austin, and others were regular participants. In the large Community Tent, we held domino tournaments, coordinated by Seth Brower of the North Austin Lions Club. We also featured demonstrations by community groups and many talented neighbors, including artist Jean Graham and Nadine Murphy and other quilters from Crestview United Methodist Church.

I remember especially some of the older neighbors who visited the Community Tent, where there was plenty of shade and a quiet place to sit. Almost all of them stopped at the Welcome Table, talked with us, and signed our guestbook. We handed out 25- and 50-year pins, created by Jean Graham, to neighbors who had lived here that long, and all were pleased to be acknowledged in that way.

I watched as one older couple walked through the park hand-in-hand, stopped to watch the action at the dunking booth, then strolled into the Community Tent, smiling like teenagers. An older gentleman who lived near the park visited us in the tent, checked out the festival, walked home, then came back again to see us in the afternoon. With each festival, we recognized older neighbors who came back year after year.

FROM JUGGLING TO UNICYCLING

Since 2003, no matter what their ages, neighbors have come together to share the common ground of community at the Violet Crown Festival. In 2006, we added a popular juggling demonstration between the Community Tent and the kids’ area at the festival. Madi Ward was one of the people who tried their hand at it. Madi’s one of the youngest people we interviewed for our oral history project (Finn Holt, at 6, was the youngest), and she’s an avid fan of the Violet Crown Festival. In the video clip below, recorded September 19, 2009, Madi describes how juggling at the festival led her to learn another skill.

Join us next time for another installment of Voices of the Violet Crown!

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