by Andrew Norman
There's been this rectangular, etched-glass award sitting chest level on the bookshelf in Angie's and my house since last Saturday that reads, in bold, white letters: "Friend of Tourism 2012 — presented to Hear Nebraska for your contribution to the positive growth of Nebraska's Tourism Industry."
Coming from the Nebraska Tourism Commission in only Hear Nebraska's second year of existence, the award is a very nice honor. It may as well have been written with the nonprofit's mission statement in mind, which includes making Nebraska "an internationally known cultural destination."
It looks nice in our dining room. And it can't stay there.
I'll explain: Hear Nebraska's primary objective is to tell the story of the state's music and arts culture to Nebraskans and to the world. Our volunteer contributors do this by producing compelling, informative multimedia reporting, organizing socially focused community events and conducting perpetual grassroots outreach. We consistently broadcast all of this on hearnebraska.org and across our social media channels, incorporating best practices and working hard to engage our audience.
With a very small budget — and only one paid employee at half-time — we communicate with our volunteer contributors through social media groups, email, video chat and text messages. We schedule physical meetups at local venues and bars and at our homes. We rent (very cheaply) space in the versatile DP Muller Photography Co. studio — where we often hold events, but it's a place of work, rather than a showroom. A more formal brick-and-mortar space may be in HN's future cards — for instance, we'd love to provide residencies — but for now, we're remaining sleek as we put our funds directly to programming.
That brings me to a question: Where should we display this award?
It certainly doesn't belong in our house. Hear Nebraska started with Angie and I brainstorming my master project ideas at the Unicorn Tavern in Lansing, Mich. But the night before we launched hearnebraska.org on Jan. 24, 2011, it had grown to almost 10 people in our living room furiously creating content, while HN programmer Ian Hewlett wrote code from his apartment in East Lansing. And after we launched, it quickly became bigger than any of us.
Hear Nebraska has turned into a community of people across the state who believe in the mission, and support the development of our state's music and arts. It's Hear Nebraska's board members and advisors. It's videographers, photographers, writers, designers, programmers, engineers and producers. It's bands and DJs and recording studios, instrument stores and record shops. It's venue operators and promoters, people who pay the cover and tip their bartenders. It's people who help fund Kickstarters and buy their child her first guitar.
You won this award.
But there on our bookshelf, the award sits near novels by some of my favorite writers, including sage Midwesterner Kurt Vonnegut, who might contribute a couple of his written thoughts to this discussion:
"What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured."
"The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something."
We want to continue to create, and we're proud to have your support. With or without the recognition, we're proud to be considered a "friend of tourism." Because along with documenting important cultural history, we aim to positively impact travel to and within the state, small business economic development and arts education. We love living here, and we want to make it even more attractive to creative class members and music-and-arts lovers from outside our borders.
So as we get back to work, tell us: What should we do with this award? Where should we display it? Please give me your ideas, either in the comments section or by email.
And while you're thinking, consider the most important message that appears on the Friend of Tourism award: "Nebraska — possibilities … endless."
Andrew Norman is Hear Nebraska's director. He extends his sincere appreciation to Muriel Clark at Nebraska Outback for nominating Hear Nebraska for the award, and for her hard work to secure this recognition. She'd make Vonnegut proud. Reach Andrew at email@example.com.