The Building Home project is a story of faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students from the Department of Theatre and Cinema at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, and community artists, actors, and musicians working in partnership with our regional planning office. Building Home use storytelling and theater-making techniques to facilitate and stimulate public conversation about the future of the New River Valley region of southwest Virginia. Through this, Building Home has facilitated community engagement with participatory democracy and civic practice.
In 2010, the New River Valley Planning District Commission (PDC), an independent agency funded by local governments in combination with state and federal funds, received a three-year grant that provided funding to develop a long-term, comprehensive regional plan for the Valley. The PDC's project, called the Livability Initiative, sought public involvement and input. Their leadership looked to go beyond their standard practices of surveys and public hearings, and try innovative approaches. The Building Home project was created in response to this uncommon invitation. The PDC contracted with Building Home to assist in engaging specific populations who would be unlikely to participate in the PDC's conventional data gathering methods.
During its two years, Building Home organized and facilitated discussions within small community gatherings throughout the 1,457 square mile, four-county and one-city region known as the New River Valley. We conducted 49 community gatherings, reaching more than 1000 citizens who otherwise would not likely have participated in the planning process.