June 5, 2019
Rural Abundance and Prosperity through the Arts
On the heels of NASAA’s Arts and Rural Prosperity Capitol Hill Briefing in May, I had the opportunity to participate in the Rural Generation Summit, hosted in Jackson, Mississippi, and organized by Art of the Rural. It was an ideal space for sharing our recent work on Rural Prosperity through the Arts and Creative Sector: A Rural Action Guide for Governors and States. I’m pleased to report that our collaborative venture with the National Governors Association and the National Endowment for the Arts was well embraced by attendees.
Just as important, Rural Generation gave me the opportunity to witness a movement in action, a movement where rural thought leadership, by the people, for the people, is central to the learning, collaborations and collective action required for building rural wealth—cultural and economic. Here are some brief observations from my time at the summit.
- I experienced a laser-sharp focus on the abundance of rural America. All too often, rural communities are defined by what they lack rather than what they have. Participants from across the country brought a wealth of vision, energy and can-do to the summit. The entire experience, both physical (as we traveled across the Mississippi Delta) and in the spirit provided by participants, exemplified the abundance that rural America can leverage toward a more prosperous new day.
- In many cases, young creatives are leading the way. We casually refer to these good folks as “next gen”; I’m convinced their moniker should be “now gen,” because young creatives are leading arts, culture and placemaking movements in rural communities all across the country right now.
- The rural creative placemaking movement is evolving and growing; it’s a rapidly emerging part of our field that requires unique strategies for state arts agencies (and other funders) to meaningfully support their efforts.
- The participation and centrality of rural Indian Country is a core part of the movement. U.S. territories are also beginning to connect to this work.
- Sixteen state arts agencies attended the summit, certainly all committed to reimagining their work with rural communities.
- During individual and group conversations, conference values were upheld: listening, generosity and reflection. In homeroom groups and throughout the summit, attendees listened with open hearts and minds. There was great generosity of spirit, and individuals and groups shared ideas in honor of and out of respect for their communities and for all rural, remote and tribal communities across America. Ongoing reflection was built in to the summit’s DNA, and that kind of reflection (individually and in groups) is integral to the continuation of any movement.
- I was reminded of the importance of the journey itself toward rural prosperity. The end goal is of course critical, yet how we occupy the journey, alongside colleagues and neighbors, is every bit as critical. Where state arts agencies are concerned, working in partnership with rural communities on this journey should be inextricably linked to providing services to them. The relationship with communities is a vital part of moving this important work forward.
- Folks from rural communities have not forgotten how to be neighborly. They know how to take care of each other and they do it. It’s a simple yet powerful reminder as we consider our country’s great divides. In the words of Rural Generation organizers, “If the future of our country relies on common ground, rural America and Indian Country will lead the way.”
Here are a few convenings and resources you may find helpful, each shared during the Rural Generation Summit.
- The Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design (CIRD) is encouraging requests for applications from communities until July 22. CIRD is a National Endowment for the Arts leadership initiative in partnership with the Housing Assistance Council and buildingcommunityWORKSHOP. It will offer local design workshops that address specific community challenges and create a new cohort learning program to engage rural leaders from up to 20 communities.
- Springboard for the Arts is an economic development and community development organization for and by artists. It works to build stronger communities where artists are acknowledged and engaged as important leverage points in this work. Springboard works to empower reciprocal relationships between artists and communities as they work collaboratively to contribute to community issues. Springboard also notably created the resource Creative People Power, a new report and framework that combines creativity-centered and people-centered development to build strong, healthy and resilient communities.
- Springboard for the Arts will host the Rural Arts and Culture Summit October 3-5 at the Reif Center in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The summit is a biennial event that gathers artists, arts organizations and economic development leaders from the upper Midwest and beyond with the goal of building capacity for partnerships between artists and rural communities. I’m pleased to be joining the summit this fall, where I’ll share NASAA’s recent work with the National Governors Association and the National Endowment for the Arts to produce the Rural Prosperity Action Guide. The Rural Arts and Culture Summit is supported by a grant from our colleagues at the Minnesota State Arts Board.
- The Rural Assembly will host the Rural Women’s Summit in Greenville, South Carolina, October 27-29. Designed for rural practitioners, leaders and advocates, the summit will dive into the civic, political and cultural impact of women’s leadership in rural America. It will emphasize women’s roles as leaders who create, organize and implement change in rural communities, and will explore the barriers and inequities rural women face each day. For more than a decade, the Rural Assembly has convened a cadre of leaders and advocates from across the country who represent the rural experience. Participants include local grass-roots organizers, nonprofit and business leaders, government officials, funders, and next-generation leaders. The assembly sets the table for rural leaders and allies to unite in common cause, which includes advocating for policies that improve the outlook for rural communities. As stated by the Rural Assembly, “We are on a path toward building a rural movement that empowers leaders, and connects them to each other, helps urban-based institutions engage with rural communities effectively, and offers the country a reliable network of rural problem solvers.”
As you consider your work with rural communities at home, please remember that your NASAA team is here to help. Whether you’re looking for data or best practices or just need to bounce some ideas around, give us a call. That’s why we’re here, and we’re always glad to connect.
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