Imogene + Willie: Community + Change

Imogene + Willie: Community + Change

Culture
culture

iw_3A number of years ago we told you about a new denim maker that had taken over an old gas station in the 12South neighborhood of Nashville. As we walked around Imogene + Willie we couldn’t help but notice their large backyard. “We want to have live music out there, invite the neighborhood, maybe bring in some food,” co-owner Matt Eddmenson told us. In 2011, we celebrated the fruition of their idea as they launched Supper + Song, which became a monthly gathering where community lived and breathed.

“Musicians from down the street and around the world plugged in and played to whomever showed up,” said Carrie, Matt’s wife and co-owner. “Mas Tacos served dinner out of the truck. People hauled blankets, chairs, strollers and dogs on leashes, and made our home theirs on this special night, once a month.”

Despite the beauty of the event, their respect for the neighborhood and a 9 p.m. unplugging time, government bureaucracy threw a wet blanket on these evenings and shut it down. “We chose not to fight to keep Supper + Song going. But because of the community and people from all over, what we designated as ‘the end,’ became a new beginning.”

It’s a story beyond the commerce of denim and of something bigger than ourselves – where community creates positive change. Here’s what Matt and Carrie told us happened next:

What’s happened since then? 

We received thousands of correspondences from people not only in our community, but from all over the world. Some were outreaches of condolences, but others were requests to help us take a proactive stand. There was a community standing behind us.

We spent a year and a half diligently problem-solving with city council members, code, police, the mayor’s office, council attorneys and neighborhood leaders to come up with a solution that works for everyone. There have been different iterations of the current bill over the course of that time, but we seem to be at a crux where things are moving forward smoothly now.

Why do you think it touched so many people – even those who hadn’t been to a Supper + Song? 

The response has been overwhelming to say the least. At the time it ended in the summer of 2012, there were thousands of emails, calls and letters not only to us, but also to council members, neighborhood leaders and the mayor’s office, detailing the community’s experiences and support for Supper + Song. We quietly worked with the city until last week when we announced what the bill looked like and that there would be a public hearing. We had an outpouring of emails that day and they continue to roll in. We also had a surprisingly large number of folks present at the council meeting to raise their hands in support of the bill.

People from all over the world reached out and many of those folks had never been to a Supper + Song, but have experienced its resonance due to word of mouth. Seemingly folks are inspired by the idea and not only want to join in the experience, but also extend the idea of a gathering of friends and neighbors for music, food and camaraderie in their own neck of the woods.

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What has all this taught you about creating change and impacting culture?

Song + Supper was so simple because of the support of the community, musicians, vendors and the whole team at Imogene + Willie. This simplicity and the ease of the experience translated to the event itself, and it was a time to relax, talk to old friends and meet new ones. The part that is not simple is working to make everyone impacted comfortable and find a solution for everyone. Impacting change in the city means listening to all sides and helping to piece together the best possible system.

What have you learned about the reality of community and its possibilities?

In the simplest way, true community comes from opening doors and inviting people in and in turn being careful to monitor the impact on everyone. When those moments of community come together, the reverberations last much longer than the evening itself. We recently had a visit at the shop from a couple who met at Supper + Song, fell in love and are getting married in a few short months. We’ve met lifelong friends and collaborators in the backyard. Ideas, love and friendship are all possibilities in these moments of true community.

What advice would you have for anyone facing a hurdle in his or her community that seems insurmountable?

It takes hard work, a lot of phone calls, emails, constant contact and due diligence so that there is clarity at every turn. Most importantly, never lose sight of what the community seeks to gain by attempting to jump over the hurdle.

Note:  Right now the bill that would allow Supper + Song is pending a vote with the city council. If you’d like to help and show support you can write to erin@imogeneandwillie.com

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