By JOANNA TEBBS YOUNG
CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY
I had heard of Elsie Gilmore long before I met her. In my mind’s eye, she came back into town like a whirlwind ready to churn things up, blow away the dust of negativity, and — to mix metaphors — turn over the soil for seeds of change to be planted.
Gilmore grew up in Tinmouth on a dairy farm and graduated from Castleton State College, but later moved away. She returned to the area part-time in 2011 to earn her Masters from Vermont Law School.
Upon her full-time return to Rutland last summer, Gilmore — who provides marketing assistance to small businesses and organizations — found a town still marred by a poor self-image but struggling toward revitalization. Wanting to contribute to the efforts already underway, she looked for ways to make a shift towards the positive.
“I want to love the place I’m in, no matter where it is,” Gilmore says.
So, the self-named “marketing guru and mischief maker” decided to start something. What she started was mayhem. The Urban Mayhem Project, that is.
“Urban Mayhem Project is about me convincing myself that Rutland is a place worth loving and then taking that energy and using it convince others,” says Gilmore. The project’s Facebook page explains it further; “Urban Mayhem Project is a celebration of Rutland, Vermont. It’s a positive look at the good things happening here that are making our city more vibrant.”
Some have questioned the choice of the word “mayhem” in the project’s title, concerned, I assume, that it sounds a little too riotous. Gilmore explains: “I meant it in the ‘mischief’ sense in which it often used. I wanted to emphasize the fact that it’s geared toward city living and that it’s fun and sometimes mischievous. I think city living is very fun and should be. In a city, you have the opportunity to touch many people’s lives in a positive way through small actions.”
An example of this mischief and mayhem? Gilmore’s adoration of “yarn bombers, seed bombers, street artists and anyone who contributes in some small way to the unique character of a place,” has prompted those fun signs and posters you may have seen downtown. One sign, with a photo of Lionel Richie, says, “Hello. Is it me you are looking for?” Rip-off tabs at the bottom give you a choice of “Yes” or “No.” A photo on Facebook shows that all the “Yes” tabs are taken.
“I think in a place like Rutland where the economy is a little depressed and it’s really frickin’ cold, it’s easy for people to get down,” Gilmore says. “So, even just to get people laughing or smiling and focusing on what’s positive serves a gigantic purpose.”
Citing a group in Portland, Ore., who help community members paint intersections in bright colors as a warning to motorists to slow down in a residential area, or the “Little Free Libraries” which, such as Ruthellen Weston’s on Church Street in Rutland, are popping up all over the country, Gilmore says, “I’ve been inspired over the years by small efforts people have taken to make communities safer and stronger.”
“My main goal is to get people to focus on something other than just the drugs and crime in Rutland,” Gilmore says. “There is much more to our city than that. There are great things going on that often get overshadowed by the bad news. I truly believe the good far outweighs the bad in Rutland, and I want to retrain the brains of the Negative Nellies to see how rich our city is in creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and brains.”
The online home of Urban Mayhem (urbanmayhemproject.com) lists events, a downtown directory, a blog highlighting local businesses and events, and a list of Rutland “creatives.” The Facebook page, Gilmore notes, posts “a lot of upbeat and fun images and links related to Rutland.”
One of Gilmore’s projects under the “Urban Mayhem” umbrella is Rutland Uprising. “Rutland is on the verge of some very good things, but we need to get everyone engaged and thinking positively about the future. Positive energy is contagious!,” she writes on rutlanduprising.com, “Because every time someone commits to being positive about Rutland, it makes Rutland a better place to live.”
Spreading the word through a T-shirt campaign — which can provide the wearer discounts at local businesses — weekly interviews with Kenn Hayes on WSYB and writing articles in the Rutland Herald, Gilmore is “geared at raising morale” in Rutland. The T-shirt sales are also part of an endeavor to raise $10,000 for NeighborWorks to help toward revitalization projects in the northwest neighborhood of Rutland.
“I’ve gotten a really incredible response from a lot of folks. People are hungry for positive energy and new ideas,” Gilmore says. “And fortunately, I’m not the only one engaged in spreading positive news, and I can feel it starting to make a difference.”
“Honestly, if most of the news about Rutland is bad, why would any person or business want to move or stay here?” Gilmore asks. “Young people — whose energy and talents we desperately need here — want to live where it’s fun and where there are fun, creative people. I’m trying to help show them that ‘Yeah, we have that.’”
If you want to help create positive mischief in Rutland, contact Gilmore at zookeeper[at]urbanmayhemproject.com or visit urbanmayhemproject.com. For the Rutland Uprising campaign, visit rutlanduprising.com.
Weekly Writing Prompt
Each week I will post two prompts related to this week’s article; one for personal insight and one for a creative springboard. Let them lead you where you want to go.
- Prompt 1: The last mischievous thing I did was …”
- Prompt 2: “It made her giggle, which made me smile, and …”