Grant Wood Mississippi River Region Community Storytelling Project

In Spring 2018, the University of Iowa School of Urban and Regional Planning, in cooperation with the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities, offered its second Iowa Community Storytelling Project. Our purpose is to use the humanities and the arts, specifically storytelling and videography, to create stories about a specific place in Iowa.  

In 2018 we collaborated with the East Central Intergovernmental Association and the Jackson County Economic Alliance to tell the story of the Grant Wood—Mississippi River Region in eastern Iowa.  The Region, which consists of Jones, Jackson, and Dubuque counties, features the heritage of Grant Wood as well as a picturesque, hilly terrain whose bluffs meet the Mississippi River.  The Region is dotted with small towns that are complemented by the Dubuque metropolitan area.    

Our overall goal was to use these stories to portray to both residents and the broader public the richness of the Region, not only as a place to visit, but also as a place to live.   Graduate and advanced undergraduates in urban planning, the social sciences, the humanities, the arts, public health, and education were invited to join us.  Our starting point for these stories was the “experiences” conveyed by the Region’s Grant Wood Loop web site. Teams of students worked with the instructor and with the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities to produce professional quality films as well as to gain a greater appreciation for the challenges and opportunities faced by Upper Midwest communities and regions in Iowa.  

Our work seeks to emulate travel guides who visit a place and use videos, including conversations with people, to tell a story about that place.  One model for this is Rick Steves’ travel videos in which he tells a story of a place in an attempt to overcome misunderstandings and thereby present a more complete picture of that place.  One example of this is Steves’ 2009 travel video on Iran. It is our view that “travelogues” such as this will help both residents and visitors to develop a sense of place within the Grant Wood—Mississippi River Region which will inform planning for that region and its communities.    

Each group of students in the class used the Grant Wood Loop website to develop a route or transect through the Region that enabled the group to sample a portion of the region much as Steves does in the Iran film.  Students then took the opportunity to film the route, visit places featured on the Grant Wood Loop website, and talk to people who live or work in the Grant Wood Mississippi Region.  The results are the three short videos found below, each of which tells a story about the Grant Wood Mississippi River Region.  We hope that you will not only enjoy these films, but also gain a greater appreciation for the Region in all its possibilities.