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Wallace House Foundation

The Wallace House Foundation commemorates the remarkable influences of the Wallace Family on Iowa, the nation and the world. The Foundation preserves the Wallace House as a historical center and meeting facility, and facilitates discussion of and education about contemporary issues in agriculture, conservation, democracy and quality of life.

The Wallace House Foundation is a neutral, non-partisan facilitator of dialogue to build community and solve problems. The Foundation sponsors and staffs citizen dialogue projects in Central Iowa, works to support civic investment in Iowa communities, and provides consulting services to citizens, organizations, and government to facilitate communication, build consensus, and develop collaborative partnerships for effective action. The foundation is affiliated with the Study Circles Resource Center in Pomfret, CT. They have tested and piloted several discussion guides for SCRC, and provide training for study circles organizers and facilitators.

The Animating Democracy Initiative of Americans for the Arts featured the Wallace House Foundation’s project “Common Ground: The Future of Iowa-Convening Community Dialogue to Build a Shared Vision of a Sustainable Future” in its exploration of successful arts-based dialogue programs. The project utilized the play American Dreamer as a catalyst to engage citizens in discussions about pressing issues of developing a vision of a sustainable future.

Here is Animating Democracy’s write-up about the project:

Common Ground: The Future of Iowa was designed to engage Wayne, Adair, and Kossuth Counties in Iowa in a structured dialogue process to create a regional vision of a sustainable future. Using the play American Dreamer as a catalyst, the Wallace House Foundation sought to engage citizens in discussions that would frame actions to address pressing issues in these communities.

The primary goal of this project was to engage what the Wallace House termed “the critical layers of society”-citizens, public and private organizations, and government in each of the three selected communities-in a visioning process. The visioning process intended to help communities articulate common values and local assets, define critical challenges, identify available resources and partners, and implement specific actions. To that end, dialogues engaged participants in discussion around issues of community sustainability and economic viability, environmental quality, a decrease in young people in the state, and the importance of agriculture and natural resources in their communities.

A touring production of American Dreamer was the kick-off event in each of the three counties. This one-man play, written by Cynthia Mercoti and performed by Tom Milligan, is based on the book American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Henry A. Wallace, by John C. Culver and John Hyde. The play tells the story of Wallace, a native Iowan and geneticist, author, economist, and businessman who became the Secretary of Agriculture and Vice President of the United States. Each performance of American Dreamer was followed by a facilitated discussion of the issues raised by the production. These discussions often served as the framework for visioning process dialogues. As the project progressed, displays were produced to summarize the process and the outcomes in each county. Photographers were hired to help portray the land, people, and attractions; and writers were hired to provide their perceptions of each county, the process, and the outcomes. Additionally, a crew shot 35 hours of material that was edited into a 15-minute documentary as a summary of the project.

The project had a significant impact on the local level in all three communities. In response to concerns over agriculture, recommendations were made to develop a directory of local producers as a means of connecting them with consumers. Additionally, Wayne County added two new Farmers’ Markets. On the cultural level, Adair County called for the revival of a community theater group, and the Henry A. Wallace Country Life Center commissioned the creation of an original score, also called American Dreamer, by an Iowa composer.

Civic Engagement/Dialogue Activities

Working with the Study Circles Resource Center, the foundation designed a process to help each community define priority issues. The Wallace House Foundation provided resources and training to partner organizations and community coalitions in each county, who in turn sponsored and led study circles in their community. Each county was provided with reports on key statewide initiatives to inform the dialogues.

After facilitated discussions that followed performances of American Dreamer, community partners then brought together 10-15 citizens from across the county. They met four to five times to discuss an issue or issues of mutual concern; each discussion was led by a local facilitator. In these sessions, which often began with a shared meal, participants assessed community values, identified critical issues and available resources, and developed action plans. Each group went through the same process and sequence of meetings, with topics ranging from “What do we like about living here?” and “What concerns to we have?” to “What policy issues are there?” and “What ideas do we have for action?” Additionally, all three groups met together in a community forum to share outcomes and develop plans to implement action steps.

Resource Link: www.wallace.org

Richard Graves, Executive Director



756 16th Street

Des Moines



In partnership with the Animating Democracy Initiative of Americans for the Arts (www.americansforthearts.org/animatingdemocracy/), NCDD’s Leah Lamb researched arts-based civic dialogue programs in order to help dialogue & deliberation practitioners strengthen their work by linking it to the arts. NCDD hopes these resources will inspire you, and encourages you to connect with the artists, many of whom are interested in working with D&D practitioners.

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