Danville Sister Cities wins international accolades for its innovation 

Published 3:14 am Thursday, July 11, 2019

Danville Sister Cities (DSC) just found out it won a huge honor — the local group won the 2019 Innovation Award for Arts and Culture from Sister Cities International. DSC Commission member Milton Reigelman said he and member Mary Beth Touchstone returned the application to be considered around the first of the year. 

The international award competition is open to more than 500 sister city programs nationwide, with more than 2,000 partnerships in over 140 countries. A release from Sister Cities International says the award recognizes the accomplishments of “outstanding individuals and community sister city programs that are promoting peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation.”

“To tell you the truth, I forgot about it,” Reigelman said. He said Touchstone brought him the idea for the group to compete for the international award sometime in January. They sent off the application, and didn’t really think about it again. 

What led up to the international office’s selection of DSC was “the perfect storm,” as he described it. Although Danville’s artist exchange program began in 2016, it took some time to get it going with Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland — Danville’s sister city, which was going through a local government reorganization at the time, merging with another district. 

But once it began, it hit the ground running. DSC sponsored three trips to Ireland, and previous ambassadorial and artist exchanges. Then 2018 featured the group’s second artist exchange. Each city nominated three artists, and the hosting city made its selection from among the candidates based on needs and interests. 

Local artist Brandon Long was chosen by Carrickfergus. During his residency in May, Long employed software to combine drawings by children with special needs into a design for a whimsical mural that answers the question “What makes your community great?” He used the help of the Irish children to paint a mural for their school, the Castle Tower School. 

In October of 2018, Northern Ireland artist Dee Craig taught local high school students and artists his techniques for creating murals on fabric that is “wallpapered” on exterior walls and lasts for decades.  

Over the course of Craig’s three-week Danville residency, a community mural was created, which DSC says “depicts the generosity of spirit achieved when people of different backgrounds share a cup of tea.” The mural can be found on the side of Elmwood Inn Fine Teas, on North Second Street in Danville.

Playwright and 2013 Sister Cities exchange artist Liz Orndorff wrote two plays based on her time in Carrickfergus. The second one, “The Return of Tinker Doyle” premiered in June of 2018 at Pioneer Playhouse, Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theatre located in Danville. “And of course we had the two Irish actors who were due to play parts in the play, but couldn’t get here due to Visa issues,” Reigelman said. 

Then in July of last year, the annual visit of Ryan Moffett and his crew from UPLIFT Performing Arts in Carrickfergus kept the trend going. Moffett returns to West T. Hill Community Theatre each summer to run arts camps for 200 schoolchildren. Karen Logue, managing director of the theater, said the entire Irish crew is family, now. This summer, the Irish crew also offers an arts camp for adults at WTH. 

“And then, Centre College’s football team had 125 people go over there and play in Carrickfergus. It really was a perfect storm — everything happened, and it was amazing,” Reigelman said. 

Reigelman credits former Mayor John W.D. Bowling with starting DSC. He said they have about 65 people who support the organization, and “our local fundraising has gone pretty well.” 

As for winning the award, Reigelman thinks “the murals were the key, it was innovative to do murals in both cases.” And he credits some amazing pictures taken by local photographer Nick Lacy that were included with the application for the award. 

“I led off the application about how we’d been able to go through a Kentucky contact and get to Prince William and Kate Middleton, and I haven’t given up on that …” Reigelman said, about the group’s attempts to get the royal couple to visit. He included a letter received from William and Kate’s private secretary so they would know “it was legit.” 

He had to get their attention, Reigelman said. After all, it is an international award. “And by golly, we got it.” 

Sister Cities International President and CEO Roger-Mark De Souza said,  “We all stand to learn from these superstar Sister City programs as they impact their communities across a broad range of sectors that include business entrepreneurship, youth leadership, and arts and culture.” 

De Souza said individuals and local organizations, like DSC, “inspire us to be better citizens as their work exemplifies President Eisenhower’s vision of engaged international citizen diplomats. They create beneficial connections and lasting relationships which will help their communities today and for years to come.”

Sister Cities International was founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. It brings together thousands of citizen diplomats and volunteers who work to promote the organizations’ mission of creating world peace and understanding through programs and projects focusing on arts and culture, youth and education, business and trade, and community development.

Danville and the other winners will be honored at the SCI’s 2019 Annual Conference, July 17-19 in Houston, Texas. Former President George W. Bush will give the keynote address. 

For more on Danville Sister Cities, visit danvillesistercities.org, or like them on Facebook.