Becoming a Small Town Creative

Although Laurel is a small town relatively speaking, I grew up in a town that makes Laurel look like New York City.  It was understood that if fun was happening, it was up to me and my brothers to find it. Television was a Saturday morning thing, cartoons on demand certainly didn’t exist and the closest thing to an iPad was my etch-a-sketch. I vividly remember creating back yard soup concoctions in a green five gallon bucket with my next door neighbor on a regular basis. I also remember spending three consecutive days one summer choreographing a line dance to “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.” I still know every move to this day.


Childhood brings out our inner creative, doesn’t it? Yet, at some point, as we grow up, the outside world filters into the beautiful imagination we’ve been given and tells us there’s no time for that anymore. It’s time to be an adult, get practical and chase the American dream. I would argue, though, that the key to living out that dream is going right back to the place where we created things for the sake of creating. After all, creativity is simply imagination mixed with a goal to make things better. Forget the three car garage. Give me something that inspires the soul.


The Creative “Gene”

I often hear people say they don’t have the creative “gene.” While it’s impossible to
ignore that some people have a distinct, God-given artistic talent, I also believe that
genuine creativity can be found in something as simple as a “yes.” And I believe it’s
critical for those living small towns to recognize that a “yes” is all it takes to make a
significant impact where you live. While we may not all be artists or sculptors, we
can all contribute our ideas and time to create positive change.

Here in Laurel, we have artists, woodworkers, boutique owners and antique finders.
And we also have volunteers, churches, organizations, clubs, athletes and people
young and old – all who have the ability to make a contribution to this town. Laurel
has seen a transformation in the last few years, not only because of a television show, but also because a lot of people genuinely care about making things better. In a small town, a “yes” goes a long way. And Laurel is proof of that.
There are a few key things that, whether a creative by definition or by self-
designation, are shared by “yes” people.

1. The willingness to work for it.
Years ago, I entered a graduate school program that assumed the students admitted knew how to use the latest graphic software. Not only was I older than most in my program (I had worked between undergraduate and graduate school), I also had never learned how to use this particular type of software. It presented quite a problem when our first assignment was to design an advertising campaign using the software. Lucky me.

Regardless of what I knew or didn’t, the assignment was the same for me as it was formy peers, most of whom were quite skilled graphic designers. But letting that
intimidate me wouldn’t help a single thing. The assignment resulted in many long
nights alone in the computer lab, teaching myself how to become a graphic designer. Today, my methods might seem odd to a trained professional, and you’ll never see me teach a YouTube video on how to create a logo, but the end goal was accomplished.

I’ll never forget the girl who sat next to me in that class. Not only is she still friend to
this day, but I’m not sure I would have completed the class had she not helped me.
Doing something to make an impact in your town will require extra hours and help
from others, but it will always be worth it.

2. Outside-the-box thinking.

If your town does the same thing every year because “that’s the way we did it last year,” I want to issue a challenge. Start the next conversation, board or committee meeting with, “What can we do this year to make it better?” Creative gene or not, everyone has original ideas to contribute that can make a difference. And if everything is working, then great! But the more we open ourselves to new perspectives, we may find that there is room for improvement.
 Small towns tend to get stuck in a rut. The remedy is being intentional about outside-the-box thinking. Encourage diversity, listen to perspectives from all ages, empower others to lead and let their “yes” truly make a difference.


3. Leave it better than you found it.

 This goes for everything from cleaning up trash on the sidewalk to turning an old, dilapidated building into a new coffee shop. Active, creative thinking in a small town means finding ways to leave something better than you found it. This means turning five gallon bucket into a massive bowl of soup, y’all. Looking for space for your next event? Find a parking lot or public space that needs some love, grab some friends and make it your mission to turn it into something beautiful. 

It doesn’t take a degree in fine art, knowledge of graphic design software (trust me) or the ability to play an instrument to be creative in a small town. It takes a community of people willing to say “yes,” the investment of time, open minds and hearts. It’s not rocket science. It’s creativity- imagination mixed with a goal to make things better.


Laura Johns is a small business marketing strategist and blogger at The Small Town Creative. Find her on Instagram at @thesmalltowncreative.