“Study # 3,” a drawing by Alexander Bradbury, accompanies his online profile. There, Bradbury describes himself as an artist, photographer and guitar-playing songwriter.

Talk all you want about big-city business incubators and speed networking. There’s still lots to be said for a plan launched spontaneously over lunch at a small-town restaurant. Case in point: the day Steve Maravetz walked into Mount Vernon’s Lincoln Café and grabbed a seat at the busy counter alongside his friend Dave Miller. Together they conceived MountVernonCreates.com, a community-strengthening website.

If Maravetz and Miller had only reviewed football scores and parted cheerfully that day, the surprising number of artistically inclined types in leafy Mount Vernon (population, 4,506) would no doubt have carried on chalking sidewalk murals, knitting, strumming guitars, sculpting and writing—because as far back as anyone remembers, they’ve been doing just that. Mount Vernon embraces its free spirits, up to and including the fellow who claims a gift for “goatsinging.” But because they now can post on MountVernonCreates, the wider world gets a chance to embrace them as well.

During the week, Maravetz works as director of new media at University of Iowa Health Care. He describes Miller as “a grower, animal raiser, organizer, entertainer and smart guy.” During their lunch at the cafe, “I said I was amazed at all the talent there was in our town,” Maravetz recalls. “Dave agreed, and started naming names. I realized I knew very few of those people. Then I named names, and Dave didn’t recognize them.”

So Maravetz proposed a website where everybody could meet everybody. He drove home, bought the domain name, got the account established and began construction. Local photographers chipped in by submitting compelling images. Artists emailed work samples and shared their stories. An April 2012 reception brought together about three-fourths of the site’s dozens of contributors; new friendships and collaborations sprang up, and more events were added to the online calendar.

“Mount Vernon’s very Norman Rockwell, but with really good Internet connections,” says Maravetz, whose town melds quaint with contemporary seamlessly. As an inspiration for his and Miller’s project, he cites Grant Wood’s fondly remembered Stone City Art Colony. He also acknowledges the influence of Mount Vernon’s much-respected Cornell College. And local residents, Maravetz emphasizes, have always been proud and protective of their reputation for creativity. But now, their reputation has more bandwidth.

 

Written by Brianne Sanchez

Chicago native Brianne Sanchez proudly displays an “Iowa Transplant” bumper sticker on her hatchback. Stints at The Des Moines Register and Juice magazine introduced her to “State-Fair-everything-on-a-stick, an array of bars and restaurants and a cast of charismatic characters, including my husband.” Sanchez keeps a personal blog at bsinthemidwest.com.

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