The very first day I launched My Midwest Is Showing, I received a message from Evan Olson. All it said was, "Literally just writing to say that I think the name of your site is hysterical and awesome and topical." Clearly, I loved him right away.
I noticed his email address ended with "sayhellotothecity.com," so I looked it up and discovered he had a pretty amazing website of his own. Say Hello To The City is dedicated to the people and places of Des Moines, Iowa with an emphasis in art and culture. Since discovering his site, Des Moines has hit the top of my must-see list. It looks like the coolest city filled with talented people, but honestly, I wouldn't expect any less from a Midwestern city.
Check out my Q&A with Evan to find out more about him and his website, Say Hello To The City:
My Midwest Is Showing: When did you launch Say Hello To The City, and what inspired you to do so?
Evan Olson: I launched Say Hello to the City back in February 2016. Before launching, I had a Tumblr account where I started dabbling in blogging and attempted to find my voice as an author. I wrote essays, shared music videos, linked to articles from the New York Times, and slowly began trying my hand at interviewing people.
After a few years, I really felt I needed a more formal presence online and that's how this all came to be! I met with a web designer, purchased my URL through GoDaddy, and it all went from there.
MMWIS: What kind of content do you have on your site?
EO: When I was thinking over the layout and design for my site, I knew I wanted there to be a tab on the menu entitled "Des Moines." I read so many blogs based out of major cities and the writers often having a tab on their menu concerning their location (e.g. "New York City" or "L.A.") but I didn't know of any sites with a "Des Moines" tab. So I decided to make one!
My site has a mixture of interviews, essays, and reviews of cultural events around town. I'm on a couple of press lists, so I get to attend interesting things around town I normally wouldn't be able to. If I'd known blogging would lead to so many interesting opportunities, I would've started sooner!
MMWIS: What have you learned about Des Moines and the people there through your site?
EO: Almost everyone I talk with tells me that people in Des Moines (in particular, artists in the city) are very generous with their time and talents. I've found this to be very true! I've interviewed many people who probably are very busy, but they made time to sit with me for an hour and share their story. It's very humbling and I think it's uniquely Midwest, too. I think if I was living in a bigger city, people would tell me no more often.
I've also found that Des Moines is smaller than I thought. Everyone is connected and it's not surprising to rattle off a list of names to someone and have them recognize every single name on the list. It happens all the time!
MMWIS: What do you think has been your biggest accomplishment or achievement with Say Hello To The City?
EO: I'm proud that I've been able to produce quality content for a consistent amount of time. It can be really difficult to think of original content when you're competing with newspapers or other local entities, but it also spurs you on and helps you search for better stories. As my audience has grown, I think I've been able to figure out what they enjoy reading and what they want to see more of.
I've also learned to "stay in my own lane" and not try to copy what others are doing. There are other blogs in town with more likes on Facebook and more followers on Instagram, but I've decided to just keep my head down and keep creating work that I enjoy. I want to be in this for the long run and I think in order to do that you have to commit to your vision and your work and not pay too much attention to what others are doing around you. Des Moines is small, but there's more than enough room for everyone do their thing and do it well.
Through the site, I've been able to meet a lot of people. I'm not a huge fan of networking, but I do enjoy making friends and I've made quite a few friends around town over the last few years. And they're all so talented, too! Des Moines is small enough that if you're around town enough, you always bump into someone you know. It makes the city feel small and it makes you feel loved. Everyone wants to feel like they belong. I feel that I belong here.
MMWIS: What keeps you motivated with your website?
EO: Seeing my readership grow has been really cool! I started out with around 300 unique visitors that first month and ten months later I had about 1000. To be honest, there's been fluctuations in my readership, but I've found it has less to do with people not visiting the site and more to do with me not creating enough new content for them.
MMWIS: What is your day job?
EO: During the day, I work at my local library and I really enjoy it. We're connected to a middle school, so between 3:30-4:16 it's very loud and boisterous. It's not your typical library by any means!
When I'm not at my workplace, I'm working on the site or helping plan events with a local organization called Around the Table. I started hosting these little dinners in my friend's barn and its evolved into something really special.
At one of my events a few years ago, a friend's sister attended and she came up at the end and said, "I'm a chef and I love what you're doing. I want to help." Because of her, we've evolved into this creative experience where guests come to our table and enjoy a long, leisurely meal with other adventurous folks. It's great having two different creative outlets, between the site and the dinners, my mind is always occupied with plans, concepts, and ideas.
MMWIS: Where do you see yourself in five years?
EO: I've always wanted to live and work in New York City. I'm sure part of it is because I grew up on a steady stream of pop culture concerning the Big Apple. Movies like You've Got Mail made the city feel wide and eternal and limitless.
I also read a lot of blogs and websites based out of New York and it's made me very aware of how important New York City is. It's cultural hub, financial hub, political hub – it's the hub. So many things intersect on its street and it would be nice to live there for a time. It would feel like a rite of passage to me.
But if I were to be realistic, I think I'll probably move someplace outside of the United States. I don't think I'll ever permanently live overseas, but I do have a strong desire to see the rest of the world. There's so much and you know there's that adage about "the world is a book and if you stay in one place, you only get to read a page..." I sometimes feel like I've been reading the same page for many years and I want to begin reading new ones.
MMWIS: If someone was visiting Iowa for the first time, what would you tell them to do first?
EO: Grab a Sputnik at Mars Cafe and then take a walk around the East Village, followed by a trek through the Sculpture Garden, and finish it off with tacos at Malo or half-priced pizza at Eatery A's pizza. But if I was with friends who were really into food, we'd probably go to Reed's Hollow instead. Their menu is unlike anything else in town.
MMWIS: Favorite thing about the Midwest?
EO: People are generous with their time! Also, people are generally considerate on the road.
MMWIS: How does your Midwest show through your personality and/or what you do?
EO: I think my Midwest shows the most when it snows and I know it's pointless hoping work will close or plans will be cancelled. Unless it's an actual the-White-Walkers-are-coming-blizzard, nothing gets cancelled and nothing closes. I've become a better driver, but the snow and ice still stress me out sometimes. I usually turn on John Coltrane while I drive and that helps me calm down.