Using Arts Events to Connect to Your Community – by Toby Hanson

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Toby Hanson

Junior Past Grand Master
Grand Lodge of Washington, IOOF

Sovereign Grand Musician
Independent Order of Odd Fellows

I am a musician by trade. My first professional gig was at age 16, playing for a retirement party held at a fraternal hall in Tacoma, WA.  That was the early 90s and I made $50. For someone in high school, that was a really amazing experience. While the rest of my classmates were working entry-level service jobs as fast-food cashiers or courtesy clerks in grocery stores, I was playing music to earn money. The idea that someone would give me their hard-earned money in exchange for sharing my skills was an idea that stuck with me and ultimately guided my livelihood to this point.

Toby jamming in 1998

There was another experience from that night that stuck with me and also guided me in life, and that was the experience of interacting with a fraternal order. I come from a family that has never had any involvement with fraternalism. While many of our Odd Fellows and Rebekahs come from legacy families, with several generations who have served the Order, that whole experience was foreign to me. I saw the buildings with bright signs featuring animal logos but I never cared to inquire further about what it was like inside.

On that night, an impressionable teenager was filled with admiration for the warm, collegial way everyone treated each other. I was impressed with the way in which everyone was genuinely glad to see one another and how they were attentive to each others’ needs. There was a true feeling of fraternity between the members which was freely expressed. I carried that experience with me for several more years.

After I was done with college, I met a local church music director through a mutual friend. That music director happened to be an Odd Fellow and, at the end of our first meeting, he suggested that I might make a good Odd Fellow. He offered an application and, remembering the wonderful experience from my earlier encounter with a fraternal order, I accepted and filled it out. After that I was initiated into Ballard-Alki Lodge #170 in Seattle, beginning my journey as an Odd Fellow.

I share all of this background because my journey into Odd Fellowship was almost entirely dependent on my involvement with music. I never would have had any idea about fraternalism or had the opportunity to join the Odd Fellows were it not for my profession. Involvement with the arts can be an excellent way for lodges to interact with their communities and help community members find their way into the lodge as members.

Toby as Grand Master of WA, 2018

One of the easiest ways for lodges to build connections with their local community is by partnering up with local arts organizations. My home lodge partners with a youth theater group that does an annual presentation of a Shakespeare play. We donate space for rehearsal and performance. Every year, we get over a hundred people coming into the building learning about Odd Fellowship who would never have known anything about us. Lodges with their own buildings can easily donate space to all kinds of arts groups for rehearsals and performances. If the lodge has an active enough membership, they can even volunteer to set up chairs, take tickets, and assist in other aspects of putting on performances.

There are many different kinds of arts events that lodges can participate in. They can host concerts, lectures, dance recitals, art shows, plays, and many others. If your town has an Art Walk near your lodge hall, you can become a host and bring artists into your lodge to display their work on Art Walk nights. This also gives an opportunity to have members on hand to answer questions about Odd Fellowship. If you have a local arts council you can reach out to them and find out which arts groups in your neighborhood might need extra space for performances or rehearsals. You can contact dance academies and find out if they need additional performance or rehearsal spaces. It’s surprising how many old Odd Fellows halls have been transformed into dance studios because of the solid walls and wooden floors.

Ballard Alki Lodge sponsored art show 2014.
Ballard Alki Lodge movie night
Ballard Alki live band social

Whichever way your lodge chooses to be involved with the arts to engage with your local community, make sure you’re branding yourselves appropriately. If your hall is dingy and uninviting, spruce it up and make it look inviting! Even old simulated wood paneling can look better with a good scrubbing. Make sure there are plenty of bright, legible signs with the name of your lodge and the Three Links on them. Get t-shirts or polo shirts with your lodge name and number on them. Hang a banner out in front of the hall or put a sandwich board on the sidewalk promoting the event and prominently displaying your lodge information. It’s essential to make the connection to Odd Fellowship when new people walk in the door of your lodge hall, whether their reason for showing up is for a concert, play, or recital.

Right now, at this particular point in history, our world is dealing with the effects of a pandemic. As communities start to open up and the possibility of community events comes back, we have a golden opportunity to show people that our lodges can be essential spaces for community involvement. After so much isolation for so many months, people will be actively seeking out involvement in their communities. The time will never be better to reintroduce Odd Fellowship to our neighbors and let them know that our lodges can be vital places, central to community life. Using our lodge halls as spaces for arts presentations is a wonderful way to get people in and introduce them to Odd Fellowship. Don’t let this opportunity pass your lodge by!

Odd Fellows painting by James Henry

I’ll close with the story of a member who ended up helping to save one of our vulnerable lodges here in the jurisdiction of Washington. As a teen, he went to punk rock shows at the Odd Fellows Hall in his home town. Now, as a family man, he was looking for some way to do something in his community that would give him a sense of purpose. Thinking back to those days at the Odd Fellows Hall, he wanted to join the lodge. Because the lodge was almost dead, it was difficult for him to find his way to an application. He persisted and eventually was able to join. Now he’s a valued member of that lodge and is helping to bring about their revival. That’s a connection that wouldn’t have been made were it not for the hall hosting punk rock shows twenty years ago. Make connections with the arts community and use the arts in your lodge hall as a conduit to community engagement. The dividends can pay off for years to come.

Independent Order of Odd Fellows

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