We Are Madison County

A storytelling initiative in Madison County, Indiana. It’s a campaign that allows Madison County residents tell their stories so that others in the county can learn about all the good that is happening here.  It’s a reclaiming of the community’s self-identity — a move to take back control of the story that has for so long defined the region in negative terms.

Madison County like so many other counties before, suffered greatly when big manufacturing pulled out. You’ve heard the story a hundred times – a small ghost town is born in the wake of exiting industry. But, amid the political and economic implications of such profound transformations, little is often said about the cost to the human spirit of those who remain. Along with the tangible loss of jobs and the economic and social depression that fills the vacuum in these places, a more subversive stain is left on the spirits of those who remain. These are stains that bleed deep into the very identity of a people, leaving an indelible mark that ultimately transforms the way they think and feel about themselves. Conversations change. The light gets choked out. The narrative darkens. Hopelessness and despair sets in.

But not every community rolls over and willfully suffers the predicted fate. In some places, like Madison County, there is a will to live, a passion to thrive, and a commitment to looking at the big changes differently. In places like these, there are still some who believe that, when the sun goes down, the stars come out… and they are beautiful.

The brainchild of Luke Renner and David Neidert, owners of The Story Shop in Pendleton, ‘We Are Madison County’ is about taking pride in what is right within the community.  ‘We Are Madison County’ exists because Luke and David refused to accept the negative narrative that has been handed down from outsiders for so long.

“Essentially,” as Renner puts it, “we reject the idea that the factories made us great. Instead, the opposite is true. We made them great, and we’re still those people. We Are Madison County is a celebration of the arts, culture and innovation of Madison County, Indiana. There are tremendous things to celebrate here and we are working with the community to do just that.”

“It’s really profound,” says Neidert. “You can only hear bad things about yourself for so long before you eventually start to believe them. As simple as it sounds, this campaign is about turning the attention back on what is good and worth celebrating. It’s a chance to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and see ourselves as we truly are – dreamers, creators and innovators. Madison County, Indiana, is a remarkable place, full of some of the best people on earth and we are proud to say that with our heads held high.”

The campaign consists of a website ( where quality films about community members are posted alongside community-written blogs, photo galleries, games and more. In addition to the website, Facebook is a vibrant portal into the world of ‘We Are.’  Growing to nearly 3,000 followers in only a few months, the people of Madison County have shown a real interest in hearing more of the kinds of stories that are coming out of the ‘We Are’ movement.

Other communities are jumping on board and talking with Luke and David about reclaiming their own stories.  You can reach Luke or David at The Story Shop, or 317-669-9246.

Submitted By:
Richard Clough
SI 2016 Regional Coordinator, Indianapolis