You won’t find the community of West Rose, New York listed on any maps, and I’m not sure it is really there any more. But when I was younger, growing up in rural Central New York, the hills west of Rose had a fading reputation for oddity and hipness. In prior decades, a variety of urban and suburbanites moved there from elsewhere, seeking an escape from grinding sameness. Laboring as organic farmers and craftspeople, they attracted one another to a place, with each settling in his or her own home. There was no one place where these people met, and as time passed each member of the community withdrew into family and work life, reducing the place to just one more location among many.
How small is the town of Hope, Maine? The Hope Elementary School serves the whole town of Hope, providing education from Kindergarten up through Grade 8. Across those nine years of schooling, there are just 89 students. If you travel to the Hope General Store, you can pick up a bumper sticker there that reads “Hope is Hip.” Is Hope hip? To be hip is to be one step ahead of the “latest thing” you see on the TV, to be placed one step beyond those who follow the latest trends, to actually generate trends. Hipness is not just about the generation of ideas but about the implementation of them. Hip people work in hip communities where the density of ideas is high. The hip condense ideas like moisture from the air and precipitate change. Communities that are hip are communities of creation where things are not just dreamed but made and done.
Hope is hip because the small number people of Hope are nevertheless at the edge of trends in various forms of creation. As a forthcoming article in next month’s Down East magazine will relate, Hope is home to CSA (community supported agriculture), to a wind-powered spinnery, to a series of wacky races like a run up a mountain for the prize of a sandwich, to a rural jazz festival, and to other events that I can’t easily classify. The creativity in Hope, Maine trickles down to the local school, whose students not only can boast bucking the rural trend with high state test scores, but can also be proud of some pretty good contraptions for the 4th grade. Will Hope endure as a hip community? My guess is yes because it has a place that brings people together — the resurrected Hope General Store is where people gather to come up with many of these plans, and where they coordinate to bring them to fruition.
Nobody would mistake Columbus, Ohio for a rural community; it stands just below San Francisco in population. Taking any random block from Columbus, one wouldn’t think to describe the city as particularly hip, either. Most of the city is taken up by cookie-cutter homes and the repetition of Jiffy Lubes, Wendy’s drive throughs, Kroger groceries and BP gas stations that could be plunked down just about anywhere. But random samplings of Columbus aren’t the best way to search for the hip factor in Columbus, because hipness happens when it concentrates itself. Filling that function in Columbus is Wild Goose Creative, a cooperative effort that nominally is made up of six people but that draws in many more. The idea isn’t for the members of Wild Goose Creative to wow everyone with their amazing productions, but rather for the group to bring in local community talents (in food, in music, in visual art, in theater, in movies, in apparel, in poetry, in the as-yet-to-be-classified) in regular showcases attended by other creative people. The showcases are opportunities for creative types to become “known” and to get feedback on works in process, to cross-pollinate and hybridize and to find the production people and resources they need to get a play produced, a cheese sold, a book printed. By putting themselves in the background and giving others a stage with a spotlight in which to shine, Wild Goose Creative has gotten a bit of its own limelight lately, deservedly so.