Usually I mispronounce at least one town in a talk and risked it when I pronounced Milan as My-Lan, rather than Mee-Lan, like in Italy. Milan, MN (population 326) was being honored by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines for how they proactively and progressively were pushing for the betterment of their community. I was impressed with the information that I had read about them, but even more impressed when I talked with several of the townspeople. They brought a whole busload of citizens three hours from Milan to Minneapolis for the conference and award ceremony.
Local residents established the Milan Village Arts School, both as an economic development tool and to preserve traditional Scandinavian arts and crafts. The school offers over two dozen courses that range from an Introduction to Pottery to Norwegian Knife Making to Silversmithing to Rug Weaving. The two incredible murals that celebrate the history of Milan can be seen on their website, which would be the envy of towns ten to twenty times their size.
You could tell that this was a group with a lot of pride in their town. Mayor Ron Anderson told me, “We have our own economic development authority that is working regionally in the areas of economic development and tourism. We saved our elementary school. Our local bank helped to bring in 40 Micronesian immigrants who have been embraced by the town. We have a group of people in town who get things done. We call them the Milan Movers and they work with AT—Audacity and Tenacity.”
For the past three years the town has participated in The Meander Art Crawl the last weekend of September. The Milan Village Arts School has mapped out 45 artists in the region and put out one of the best map/picture/descriptions that I’ve seen. Karen Jenson of Trestuen Gallery & Studio told me, “We had over 560 people show up for this event and I was able to sell $5,000 worth of my product during those three days.”
There are lots of things that I learn from towns like Milan, even if they only have a population of 326. Every one of them was a dynamo!