For many of us working in the rural arts and culture movement, years have been spent incubating and developing our model. This April marks Double Edge Theatre’s 20th year of its Farm Center in Ashfield, MA—once a thriving dairy farm community that lost almost all of its nearly thirty farms over the course of the 80s. Double Edge previously was based in Boston and had established itself as an international company both in make-up and its touring/ research activities. The company first inhabited the Farm as a part time theatrical laboratory in April 1994 and eventually moved its full-time operations here by 1997 to create an international center for performance, collaboration, and training in the heart of rural Western Mass.
The Farm Center, a vision of Double Edge Founder and Artistic Director Stacy Klein, is this singular sort of place where creative research thrives and creativity and sustainability are deeply intertwined. The mutuality and duality between ‘W’ Work and ‘w’ work is fluid and holistic in the best and most earthbound sense. Performance, farming, administration, education, and deep individual and group research flow harmoniously on this fertile landscape in cyclical evolutions.
A slow, steady, and organic development has taken place in the past twenty years that includes renovations of barns, animal stalls, and buildings – but also a focused honing of our artistic practice and methodology and a continuous elevation of collaboration with our local community.
After recent touring to major cities in transition such as Baltimore and Hartford, as well as to more developed and gentrified places like Chicago and Washington D.C. (not to mention Moscow), it has become clear to our company through these interactions with these urban communities that now is the time for more highly developed inter-local exchange and cross pollination between these rural models and urban contexts as well as cross-pollination through rural to rural exchanges.
There is so much in common between the paradigms and lessons found in the arts-driven revitalization of rural communities that can and should be applied to cities grappling with anemic economies and social issues. Even for cities struggling with gentrification and bloated over-development there lies an analogous hunger for alternatives, the spirit of community and intimacy found in rural contexts, and the holism at play in arts and culture driven development. From Baltimore to Moscow, there was a pattern of enthusiasm and incredulity: “How does this exist in a rural place?! How would a rural community and economy benefit from a theatre like this and how can we do it here? ”
The rural arts and culture movement in many cases has incubated and tested its model over lengthy arcs of time—connecting artistic process with natural and local resources, learning how to ask the right questions of its local community to understand what’s important and unspoken, uncovering mutuality, bartering, connecting to local food and industry, and most of all, connecting to a community’s sense of meaning and higher purpose. This is not to say that this does not happen in urban places, yet there is an important otherness and singularity to the rural model that merits some real exploration and exchange.
With this otherness in mind, now is the optimal moment to be conducting urban/ rural exchange and a time for experimentation with rural to rural exchanges. We need to take work and models of work to rural places without access—red states and blue states with heritage tied to its land but situated perhaps with less resources as the places where these models have sprung. This will cultivate a farm-to-farm experience where identification of resources and creating of templates allows for the conditions of collaboration to take place and exemplify virtuous models of economic and social development.