The Story of a Town

photo credit: Taylor Harris

How did your hometown become the place it is today? And how will it continue to change to keep up with the modern world?

Three students in Lanesboro, MN have completed their ambitious documentary film project, in collaboration with Lanesboro Arts and Sandy Webb at the Lanesboro History Museum, that seeks to answer these questions about their hometown. The young women researched, conducted interviews, and edited this remarkable three-part documentary series, framed around the theme of how small towns can thrive in the modern world, with a focus on Lanesboro’s history and future. 

This project was made possible by the Youth Access Technology Project (YATP) grant from Museum On Main Street, a part of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. The design and particular approach of the project was directed by historian, documentarian and community organizer, Erin Dorbin. She led the project as both the program coordinator and technology leader and taught the students the necessary 21st century skills to complete the films.

And the result was that not only did they make something that they could look back on and be proud of, they also learned about the town in a way that actually got them excited about living there.

image courtesy of Lanesboro Arts

This project is an impressive achievement from young students (Mai and Nora were in eighth grade at the start of this project, and Olivia was a home-schooled senior), and it has also shown how powerful it can be to get youth involved in the story of their community. As the students expressed, creating this project wasn’t “like a class” as they expected it would be. It was a creative endeavor in which they were enabled to learn about their community in their own way. Arts and creativity may be a great way to engage youth in this type of learning, in which they can take their own ideas and turn them into a creative learning project of their own design.

And the result was that not only did they make something that they could look back on and be proud of, they also learned about the town in a way that actually got them excited about living there. As stated in a Winona Post article “Gjere said that after completing the documentary she would consider moving back to Lanesboro after college. ‘Before, I would say absolutely not. Now that I know more and know more of the history and the people, I would be a lot more open to it.’” And Dorbin, the program coordinator, has stated that she sees this work as “only the beginning of this youth multimedia program. These stories are not only about Lanesboro, MN, but about contemporary rural America as a whole. I would like to see the program expand in Southeast Minnesota particularly, and continue to tackle regional issues. It would best serve communities by involving youth from neighboring communities and counties and include the leadership of Mai, Nora, and Olivia in the process. I’m committed to exploring partnerships with local entities to make this happen.”

The films, along with more information, can be found on the Smithsonian website. The first installment is called Small Town, Big Changes, and it explores why people settled in Lanesboro originally in the 19th century, contrasted with a deeply personal and local perspective on what it takes to sustain a small town in the 21st century.”

image courtesy of Tyler Anderson

The second installment is called Farming, Then and Now , which explores “agriculture and century farms” and “generations of one family and what happened to change small family farming into bigger commercial farms.”

image courtesy of Taylor Harris

And the third and final installment is The Rebirth of a Town, in which “residents’ recollections of Lanesboro in the 1970s and 80s are interspersed with the transformation of the Root River State Trail, from railroad line to outdoor sports attraction” and the “story is elegantly summed up in the question asked at the beginning: ‘What caused the transformation of Lanesboro from its semi-neglected state to the vibrant town it is today?’”

image courtesy of Lanesboro History Museum



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