If you’re following along with our Builder program, perhaps by now you’ve noticed a pattern.
Surely, this pattern exists across the world — we would hope — but I’m talking about the passion we have for our communities. The places we call Home.
To all of these Builders, our region is more than an address. It’s a reason to strive for something. A reason to advocate. Something to be proud of.
But for Joshua Hofer, that just might not be enough.
Even more than passion and respect for his hometown of Freeman, South Dakota, Joshua bestows a responsibility within him to stand up for his community and help them reveal their most prosperous, best self. He wants to help Freeman grow and utilize their strong cultural heritage, and he knows the time is now.
“I believe in this vision!”
That is, the vision to save Freeman.
In 2014, Joshua’s hometown of Freeman received a $150,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The grant is part of a program called Our Town, a national investment to help revitalize communities by integrating arts and culture and focusing on a better quality of life for residents.
The grant was awarded to Freeman to help with a proposed “arts and earth center,” a facility that will support the local performing arts while also serving as an educational and research center.
It’s an incredible opportunity for Freeman, and it wouldn’t have been possible without Joshua’s help.
When he first heard about the grant, Joshua was working on his graduate degree at Indiana University. But without hesitation, he “called home” and urged the community to apply.
I think there’s a little of that is in all of us — to always be thinking of home — but Joshua has so many plans and hopes for Freeman, that when the grant became a possibility, he knew this was an opportunity to initiate real growth — whether the center is built or not.
“The building is a focus, and if we get the center at the end of the day, that’s fantastic.”
But Joshua is focused on just a bit more, and he sees branding as the more important endeavor.
“Right now, we need to build a centralized brand — around arts, entertainment, agriculture — we just need to figure out how to catalyze all that economic activity,” Joshua says. “Because by the end of the day, it has to make money.”
Joshua says the need for a performing arts center is nothing new. There are people and groups who have been pushing a building like that for years. And, hopefully, this grant will only propel plans further.
But focusing on a successful brand recognition for Freeman — that is necessary.
What is that sense of belonging?
What kind of community does Freeman feel like?
What is the reason for wanting to stay and build a life there?
This is what matters to Joshua, and it matters to him because his hometown matters to him. He knows that a thriving culture already exists in Freeman, but is the community paying enough attention to keep it so?
If you ask Joshua, the situation is dire.
“Freeman has stabilized,” he says. “The community has managed to plateau their population because people love their area, but the surrounding towns have not. And eventually, Freeman will be just like everyone else. So you have a window, and you have to figure out what to do with it.”
He’s doing his best. “If you have all this great cultural activity, you need someone to catalyze it!”
It’s about caring for rural living — communities who depend on one another to stay afloat — and it’s about the people.
“To me, the answer is bringing people back. Rural towns need to find ways to identify themselves in a way that makes people want to move back, and creating economic activity that can replace what’s been lost.
“That’s where you start to think about branding.”
‘I believe in the arts culture’ in Freeman
Joshua grew up 8 miles north of Freeman on a farm with his family. He knows this community, he has infinite respect for everyone who lives there, but he also knows that it’s a community that has struggled to find an identity nationally.
So let this be the change, he encourages. Let this grant and this proposed arts center be the reason to explore a fresh identity for Freeman.
“Let’s build a brand, a Freeman product, around arts, entertainments, heritage and foods,” he says. “We want to bring in as many people as possible, and we want an open brand that everyone can be excited about.”
Excited and eager and adamant as Joshua? That’d be nice. But for now, he just wants to stress that this is possible. Freeman is worthy of discovering its true worth, and the time is now.
“I believe in the arts culture, and I believe that Freeman has a unique cultural heritage that could be branded,” he says. “ I’d just like to see people thrive and continue to find meaning in what they’re doing where they live.”
How could you not get on board with that?