Michele Anderson

Michele Anderson

I live in a small town, I am an artist, and I am young.

In my work helping other artists with their careers, I spend a lot of time thinking about the types of resources younger artists need in rural communities.  For the most part, this means just what you would expect: developing or identifying ways to help them find funding, sell their work, or learn new skills. But I also want to think more deeply than that: What kind of unique resources might actually motivate young artists to create art in the first place, be connected to their community and stick around to provide the strong, innovative leadership that small towns need right now?

In other words, what are the conditions of creativity and talent development in a small town, and how does this affect the $100 million-dollar question of rural America: Why do our young people stay or go?

Here at Springboard for the Arts’ rural office, working with and encouraging younger artists has become a priority. Last Saturday, we led a day-long creative placemaking workshop on the role of art in historic preservation and economic development as part of our Imagine Fergus Falls initiative. Much to our surprise and delight, this workshop attracted a powerhouse of young artists from the region, most of whom had never met one another before. Read the rest of this entry »

Nicole Faller

Nicole Faller

The following is an excerpt of an article originally posted on Business News Daily, written by staff writer Nicole Fallon, in which she cites a list how creativity is a truly essential business skill, particularly for entrepreneurs. Visit BusinessNewsDaily.com to read the full article.

What is the most important quality of an entrepreneur? Many would argue it is passion—an overwhelming love of what one is doing, and the drive and determination to see one’s dreams realized. Others might say leadership—the ability to bring a team of people together and guide them toward a common goal. But some believe that creativity—a boundless imagination that is constantly innovating and seeing the world through a different lens—is the ultimate key to business success.

Phoebe Cade Miles, daughter of Gatorade inventor Dr. James Robert Cade, is one such believer in the power of creativity. She watched her father work tirelessly to invent a product that, five decades after its introduction, is still used by athletes around the world. Today, Cade Miles is working on her own entrepreneurial project, The Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention. The museum, scheduled to open in 2015 to commemorate Gatorade’s 50th anniversary, explores the history of the famous athletic drink, and highlights the crucial role creativity played in its invention. Read the rest of this entry »

Pat Boyd

Pat Boyd

Rural arts organizations like us are always hunting for resources. Sometimes it’s a treasure hunt.  Sometimes it’s a scavenger hunt. Sounds like fun. That must be why we just can’t stop searching out ways to support ourselves!  (Trumpets sound.) 

Resourceful is near the top of the list of most admirable traits of rural Americans, followed unfortunately but necessarily by self-reliant and thrifty.  We have to use as much imagination and skill to support arts opportunities as we do to create them.

You have license to go resource hunting within the territory defined by this circle of support and creation. Your carefully crafted mission and its resulting programs and projects come from there. They make your map, but there are no x’s to show where the hidden treasures lie.

Stray too far in your hunt for support and you risk losing your way in the real work of art.  Your role as an arts organization in your rural community is complicated in ways that belie the apparent simplicity of size and setting. Best be clear in your purpose.

As hunters and gatherers for the arts, we have to stand in that clearing and think about that purpose. If you are having trouble finding support, it is good to figure out what is the matter. So start with what really matters:

            What good does it do?                                                        

                        Who cares?

                                    What does it take to do it?

                                                What do you have now?

                                                            What are you looking for?

                                                                        How much do you need and when?

If you know the answers without thinking, you are probably wrong.  Take the time to explore the answers in full. If you go off half-cocked by making assumptions, you might hunt up some help and simultaneously create some problems you don’t need.

Getting and understanding the answers can lead to your best resources. You may be looking for support for general operations, a major program or a small project — starting up, sustaining, or starting over, you make your case successfully if you know.  Read the rest of this entry »

Jamie Feinberg

Jamie Feinberg

It’s impossible to talk about what makes northern New Hampshire unique without talking about the environment. I’ve found that the stereotype of North Country residents — hardy, resourceful and independent – is basically true, and I’m sure this is in no small part due to the landscape of our region, which captivates us – and, in some ways, holds us captive.

Northern New Hampshire is beautiful in all seasons, but our communities are also isolated; much of the region’s land mass is part of the 1,200 square mile White Mountain National Forest, with mountains, lakes, and rivers defining the area’s character, offering locals and visitors alike a wealth of recreation opportunities – and simultaneously separating even “neighboring” communities from one another.

Northern New Hampshire is more depressed economically than the rest of the Granite State. Since the economic center of New Hampshire is in its southern corridor, making a living up north is often a struggle, especially since the past few decades have seen almost all of the manufacturing and “big” businesses in the region close down or move elsewhere.

In the nineteenth century, our mountains drew some of the country’s greatest artists to the region, and the White Mountain artists and their work became associated with the identity, expansion and development of the region. Many of the grand (and not-so-grand) hotels housed “artists in residence,” whose images became important drivers and symbols of the new and thriving tourism industry. Read the rest of this entry »

Donna Neuwirth and Jay Salinas

Donna Neuwirth and Jay Salinas

Ecology and economy share the same root word, oikos referring to a household or family. Because it is at that level that these concepts can best be understood –a discrete unit that can sustain itself, financially, culturally and environmentally; large enough to have impact; diversified enough to be resilient, yet small enough to retain knowledge and control of its elements.

Economies in rural communities retains some of this compact nature. We operate at a level where our work can have measurable impact. We can communicate directly with elected officials, business leaders and seldom have to introduce ourselves more than twice.

Our original household economic goals were modest- we sought to derive a living by growing and marketing organic vegetables. Though our backgrounds were in the arts, we were used to performing duties not directly related to our vocation in order to pay the bills. But we quickly discovered that there were connections between the fields of culture and agriculture- not the least of which is the work of farming.  But for us, without the necessary balance of art, it would prove unsustainable.

Wormfarm Institute Combine

Wormfarm Institute Combine

Because of this, the Wormfarm Institute has always found the relationship between a vibrant culture and economic activity to be a natural one. Over the past several years, as our projects have grown larger and more complex, involving several communities simultaneously we have come to value projects in part in terms of economic development. This isn’t a stretch or compromise but instead a natural result of working to increase diversity, vibrancy and resilience whether in our farm fields or our small downtown. This coincides with a nascent re-localization movement growing in response to the global economic upheavals of the last 8 years. It is easier now to make this oikos (human-scale) argument since most folks are aware how unwise it is to be dependent upon distant financial markets operated by self-interested entities, personal or corporate, untethered to any community.

Read the rest of this entry »

Janet Brown

Janet Brown

People who work in the arts live in a perpetual state of aspiration and hope. We balance our budgets by projecting income that we “need” instead of income that we “expect.” Grantmakers in the Arts has spent four years focusing on the capitalization of arts organizations at GIA and other national conferences; through our web conferences, blogs, articles in the GIA Reader; and at our workshops for funders entitled Conversations on Capitalization and Community. Capitalization is defined simply as the resources an organization needs to accomplish its mission. The entire nonprofit sector operates in a business environment that is chaotic. It is the unpredictable nature of contributed income that makes the job of resource identification so difficult, requiring extreme cynicism and practical thinking by those trying to project budgets for the future.

This idea of projecting income in a chaotic marketplace is as important to the smallest of organizations as it is to the largest museum or opera company. Understanding how much money you need to exist and then understanding where that money will come from – this is the foundation of a good business model.

There is a false hope within the nonprofit world that all organizations, and even artists for that matter, can be saved by a good grant writer, that all we need to do is find a foundation and write a grant. The reality is that most organizations (and artists) are funded by only a small percentage of America’s foundations. About 10% of all foundation giving goes to the arts and one can probably predict without doing much research that the bulk of funding goes to institutions in urban centers. Read the rest of this entry »

Savannah Barrett

Savannah Barrett

From the coalfields of Appalachia to the lumber mills of the Cascades, rural people across the nation share a common desire to see the places where they live grow and prosper as livable, energetic communities. Many small communities in rural America have witnessed dwindling philanthropic investment in the twenty-first century. Although rural communities, labor, and expertise remain vital to health of our nation, reports of philanthropic investment in small communities average between 1-5%. As Rick Cohen referenced in the Non Profit Quarterly earlier this year, “Many rural nonprofits have probably given up on seeing philanthropy double its rural grant making in five years, as per the challenge issued by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) to the Council on Foundations seven years ago, because of the historic underfunding of rural communities by foundations.”

Thankfully, this narrative is beginning to shift. While inequity in resource allocation to rural communities persists across the arts and culture sector; agencies, foundations, and support organizations are beginning to take note of the value of rural arts and humanities organizations, and are increasing their investment in rural communities. This blog post is aimed to inform rural arts and culture practitioners of the opportunities available for capital, human, and social investment in rural organizations.

The Year of the Rural Arts and the Rural Arts Resource Directory
2014 marks the inaugural Year of the Rural Arts: a biennial program of events, conversations, and online features celebrating the diverse, vital ways in which rural arts and humanities contribute to American life. This inaugural effort connects citizens, artists, scholars, designers, and entrepreneurs and meets with audiences on the grounds of universities, museums and galleries, cultural organizations, and across rural and urban communities. Coordinated by Art of the Rural and organized by a collective of individuals, organizations, and communities; we utilize a digital platform to elevate the rural arts field by facilitating rural-urban dialogue and cross-sector exchange.

Each time we partner with regional organizations to build digital networks on the Atlas of Rural Arts and Culture, we attempt to strengthen those networks on the ground by connecting rural organizations and individuals to one another, and to regional and national associations and opportunities. Through this process and the contributions of many advisors and stakeholders, we’ve created an online rural arts resource directory, complete with a variety of helpful toolkits, funding opportunities, networks and associations, conferences, webinars, professional development opportunities, websites, books, and articles related to rural arts and culture.

The range and diversity of resources included in this directory are exciting. We identified more than 50 funding and support opportunities for rural and cultural organizations from federal assistance programs, foundations, and corporate grant makers. Read the rest of this entry »

Donna Neuwirth and Jay Salinas.

Donna Neuwirth and Jay Salinas.

Some are born rural, some achieve rural, and some have rural thrust upon them. I am somewhere between the second two and have been immersed in rural life in Wisconsin for 20 years now. Though I was formed by urban and suburban places, none would claim me.

I used to call it portable roots and came by them honestly. Ours was a military family who moved every 3-4 years. There was once a time when my peripatetic life was unusual, but now even people like myself, who are most passionate about the places we live, once lived somewhere else and may likely relocate again. I live as I believe we all do—with varying degrees of awareness, along a rural/urban continuum.

This continuum is especially vivid to me today as I write from Mexico City, which has a population of 25 million.  Here among ancient and contemporary ruins, throngs of people, and centuries of visible history on nearly every corner, is live music or bizarre performances; every wall is either a reminder of Spanish conquest or crowded with murals and graffiti. The stream of romantic couples, the well behaved children, the ornate churches, the incense, the roaming vendors, and the incredible street food all goes through my senses into my brain and winds up comingled with Fermentation Fest or Roadside Culture Stands. Experiences here in Mexico for a couple weeks (during a polar vortex back home) can’t help but shape ideas to enliven and transform our very small, very different agricultural community. Read the rest of this entry »

Mark Kidd

Mark Kidd

Ada Smith

Ada Smith

January marked the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, President Johnson’s initiative that charged America’s institutions to create “maximum feasible participation” for those most affected by lack of opportunity. This focused effort made a lasting difference on living standards in Appalachia – but poverty, high unemployment, and shortened lifespans outlasted the war. During the last 18 months, Eastern Kentucky lost 6,000 coal mining jobs, often the highest paying career available in our region, leaving coal employment at its lowest levels since record keeping began in the 1920s.

Eastern Kentucky has 20 counties which are federally-designated as distressed, more than twice the number of any other state in Appalachia. Distressed counties have a three-year average unemployment rate, per capita market income, and poverty rate that fall within the bottom ten percent of the nation. On a recent winter weekday in Pikeville, Kentucky, almost 1,700 people traveled from mountain counties throughout Eastern Kentucky to participate in a day-long summit named “SOAR” — Shaping Our Appalachian Region. State and federal political leaders solicited ideas for a new regional planning process, which produced 600 written ideas about how to make positive change. We could not ask for a more encouraging sign that the local will exists to sustain our communities regardless of persistent, grinding economic distress.

Our region’s arts and culture sector is poised to make contributions to the civic, social, and economic transitions that are necessary for the future. Local partnerships that incorporate artists, arts organizations, social services, civic organizations, and the public have proven themselves a potent way to help a broad cross-section of community members take on complex projects here, including economic development. With this kind of infrastructure in place, communities can identify local issues and develop creative, ongoing solutions. Read the rest of this entry »

Michele Anderson

Michele Anderson

Embodied energy. For anyone working to save a historic building from the wrecking ball in their town, this preservation term has likely come up in the fight— it powerfully illustrates the fact that buildings are literal repositories of the energy, labor and materials that they took to be constructed.

I love this image of energy just bubbling under the surface of our old buildings. It also makes me think about the stories, relationships and imagination that our historic buildings hold within their walls. For a long time I have wondered: How might creative placemaking be a strategy in activating a building’s embodied cultural energy – even before a permanent solution is found for its reuse? And how might many small creative gestures lead us to authentic and compelling reuse of the building, and attract responsible stewards of both the building’s cultural and physical embodied energy?

In Fergus Falls, our former state mental hospital, or the Kirkbride Building, has been front and center as a key community and economic development issue since 2005. Last July, the narrative of this complex problem began to shift closer to a renaissance, as a new developer and the city finally began the complicated process of working out a purchase agreement and redevelopment plan.

There is still a lot of work to be done and I admire the individuals behind the scenes who are working out the complicated web of tax credits and other things I don’t fully understand. As the rest of us wait to see if the building will finally have a new life, small acts of creative placemaking through our community’s Imagine Fergus Falls project have been helping the community step back ever so slightly from the preservation fight, and focus more on temporary animation of the space and artist-led storytelling about the building.

Our first official activity of Imagine Fergus Falls, a project funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts Our Town program, was a community picnic this fall in front of the hospital’s administrative tower. The picnic featured our community jazz band, The Lakes Area All-Stars, who played from the same sheet music that was used by the hospital’s resident band, The Happy Ramblers. Our community college choir also performed. A local photographer created a lovely (and hilarious) photo booth with costumes for friends and family to pose in, and another visual artist facilitated a community history collage with photos both of the buildings history and the preservation efforts in more recent years. We even had a camera obscura booth set up in front of the tower, made from a portable ice fishing house.

This event was a hit, and a way to demonstrate to the community what we had in mind with using the arts to foster interaction about the building. But this winter, the magic has really taken hold as we have been forced to take our creative placemaking efforts indoors, and unable to do activities at the Kirkbride Building itself because, well, we would freeze there. The average temperature here in west central Minnesota has not risen above zero for several months, which makes creative placemaking in an abandoned building near impossible.

As it turns out, indoor creative placemaking, slightly removed from the place that you are focusing on, is something really special too. Read the rest of this entry »

Shannon Ford

Shannon Ford

“I’m not aware of too many things
I know what I know, if you know what I mean”

With this refrain, Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians began the song “What I Am,” an anthem for simplicity, honesty, and common sense that has helped me in both my personal and professional life since I was a teen.  (And yes, I know I am dating myself, and I am happy to own my middle age.)

As a staff member of the Tennessee Arts Commission, I’ve assisted people from rural places with packaging their hopes, dreams, and aspirations into proposals that anticipate skeptical questions and outline the community benefits to be achieved. It’s my job as a grants administrator and steward of public dollars to think how to economize and get the largest return from small investments, since our grants often represent a fraction of the funds raised for any given constituent’s project or operational budget. What makes my job rewarding is that I work for a state full of incredibly talented artists and administrators who continually innovate and show me how to squeeze grant dollars for every ounce of public value possible.

My job has also afforded me the privilege of speaking to teachers, public officials, and community boosters who believe that the arts are good for students, seniors, downtowns, tourism, as well as plenty of other groups and initiatives. However, sometimes they don’t know what to say or do to persuade movers, shakers, and/or non-believers. In particular, they express frustration that the arts are kept on the fringes of discussions about moving their communities strategically forward, or that the arts are perceived as expendable amenities, rather than as essential forces of positive change.

I’m not aware of too many magic bullets for incorporating the arts into rural economic development, but I know to look for six characteristics from constituents who’ve been successful.

1)      Clarity of Goals – A plan is not a plan without an end in mind. If you want to do something, then be clear about the intended effects it will have on your community. A vehicle for reaching your community goals could be opening an arts center, or organizing a festival, or starting a gallery crawl, but those activities won’t have short-term or long-term effects without an expressed purpose. So your goals need to be clear, logically related to the means for achieving them, and attainable. Be very aware that if you are pitching your project or program as a component of economic development, then one of your long-term goals must be to generate revenue. Whatever form it takes – income for local artists, new business for the hospitality industry, a bump in the county tax rolls – it is important to show how economic benefits will accrue to the community at large. Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Lange

Michael Lange

Planning for the Arts in Rural Wyoming Communities

Due to Wyoming’s population and rural nature, the arts and cultural entities have the ability to be considered in key community development strategies in Wyoming. Below are two of the ways that the Wyoming Arts Council (WAC) has been focusing on development of the arts in rural communities.

Wyoming is one of the largest states geographically, but has the smallest population of any state with only 575,000 people. Wyoming is better categorized as frontier or even remote. The largest populated city in Wyoming is the state capital Cheyenne, with a population just over 61,000 people. Of the 99 incorporated municipalities, only about half have populations more than 1,000 people, and only a handful of those have a population more than 10,000 people.

Getting the Arts in Community Plans

The Wyoming Rural Development Council (WRDC), part of the Wyoming Business Council, has developed a comprehensive assessment program to help communities develop locally conceived and locally driven development strategies, and provide a long term support system to help achieve development goals. Of the 99 incorporated communities, the WRDC has facilitated community assessments in almost 80 Wyoming communities, as well as revisited communities at five and 10 year increments. Read the rest of this entry »

savannah

Savannah Barrett

There are many ways that the arts contribute to a more diversified economy. As the funding consortium ArtPlace America demonstrates, creative placemaking has become an investment priority for many funders. With 32% of arts event attendees travelling from another county, cultural tourism is increasingly popular as an earned income generator for small towns across America. Arts organizations and the events that they host generate a significant boost to the economy, estimated at $135.2 billion annually by the Arts and Economic Prosperity IV study. The question is no longer IF the arts contribute to a thriving economy, but HOW to best employ arts and cultural amenities to promote economic stability and social uplift in disparate communities.

Many strategies have worked well in communities large and small across the nation, and many of those position the arts at the strategy’s core. Still, there is no silver bullet to address the comprehensive needs of a whole community, as a different approach is necessarily used in each success. While we should study, reflect, and aspire to the opportunities for investment that each type of arts and economic opportunity provides, we as artists and organizers must envision a plan with our communities that amplify the resonance of our own cultural assets. That reverberation attracts others, and that collective energy can resound across the spectrum of a place to impact the social, domestic, and economic health of your community.

Engage Your Whole Community
Opportunities to engage with diverse perspectives and cultural experiences aren’t urban amenities, but quality of life amenities. When a region (rural or urban) envisions a future through art and demonstrates consistent offerings of varied activities that people can not only observe but participate in, those people (both tourists and locals) have the kinds of remarkable experiences that inspire devotion to a destination. The buzz that the arts and culture prompt in a community draws people into social space, which attracts business. Those kinds of thriving markets accomplish a dual task: they engage with their cultural richness by coming together as a whole community, which attracts new markets overtime and continues to honor their cultural heritage in a genuine, sustainable way. Read the rest of this entry »

Arnold Aprill

Arnold Aprill

ArtEdArt education in schools exists, to the extent that it exists at all, within the contexts of wider school cultures. School cultures are currently in the thrall of high stakes—undifferentiated, system-wide models of measurement and accountability. How does art education function in such an environment? Not so well.

Because models for assessing arts learning are underdeveloped, the arts come to represent for many students a safe haven from relentless testing. At the same time, the arts are broadly discounted by policy makers as not being serious enough disciplines worthy of time, attention, or funding, because they are untested.

How might we find our way through the labyrinth of this double-bind? One approach is to look at the metaphors that undergird approaches to assessment at the policy level.

Bush Era “No Child Left Behind”: Known colloquially as “NCLB”, and sometimes as “Nickleby” (I’m thinking of the cruel Uncle Ralph Nickleby, not the sweet and brave hero in Dickens’ novel Nicholas Nickleby). NCLB in a nutshell is schools and individual teachers that do not demonstrate Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) on standardized test scores risk losing their funding or their jobs. The problem that I have always had with NCLB is implicit in the name itself. The policy is not named something like EPIC (Enhancing the Powers in Children). The policy is named “No Child Left Behind” – conjuring up an image of abandoned loser children and of winner children schlepped along to the potatoesgoalposts of achievement. This is not a metaphor representing child agency, child capacity, child initiative, or child power. Learning in this model is not something that children do, but rather is something done to them. The core metaphor here is a “potato race”–a game in which competitors (teachers) carry inert potatoes (lumpy and lumpen children) precariously balanced on spoons as they rush back and forth across a finish line, dropping some potatoes and depositing others in a heap to win.

climbing

Obama Era “Race to the Top”, or R2T: A contest between states and local districts for big bucks, with points given for evidence of such things as intervening in low achieving schools, demonstrating significant progress in raising achievement and in closing gaps, developing charter schools, privatization of public services, and computerization. The metaphor for R2T is as the name says, a race, but while NCLB was a horizontal race, Race to the Top is a vertical race; a climbing wall. Again, we have a metaphor built around winners and losers, but this time among states and districts rather than schools and teachers. A level up in the policy food supply chain and a quantum leap away from children, parents, and teachers.

RhizomeRhizomes: There is another metaphor, developed by Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze, which is emerging as a useful tool for rethinking social systems like school districts. This is the “rhizome” – networks of biological roots that expand out, grow up, and draw sustenance from and in many directions. This metaphor opposes linear, dualist thinking (dubbed “arborescent” by Guattari and Deleuze based on the image of a tree with a siloed root system and one trunk.) Read the rest of this entry »

Janet Brown

Janet Brown

I’ve been a community arts developer for over 26 years. Most of that time was spent working in rural communities in South Dakota and the Great Plains. Moving back to South Dakota after a stint in New York City and San Francisco, I became increasingly aware of how people passionate about the arts impact rural and small communities making certain that art is a part of the lives of their children and their neighbors. Community arts councils, community theatres, visual art galleries, community choruses and bands…all defined the word “community” for me.

In South Dakota, many amazing professional artists draw inspiration from the rural countryside where they were raised. Others have escaped from the city and now feel at home on the prairie. There was no mistaking that these artists live and work in rural settings because it inspires their art. These professional artists, as well as the community artists who would not think of themselves as professionals, became my inspiration. This is where I learned that the arts do not need to be taught, that they are instinctive. Formalized learning can expand and inform art making, but the practice of music, dance, theatre, literature and visual art comes from the soul, from everyone’s soul. I’m still not sure what the terms “placemaking” and “rural arts” mean but I know what it means to be inspired by your home, your neighbors, your land and its people—and to express that inspiration through the arts that envelops an entire community. I know the sorrow of losing an elementary school and the pride of turning that school into a local center for the arts. I know the joy of combined church choirs singing Handel in December and of music and arts festivals in the parks in the summer.

We had our state centennial while I was director of South Dakotans for the Arts. For that event, I was honored to be part of an amazing team of artists and arts administrators who helped to write the following Declaration of Dakota Cultural Identity. (We wrote it with North Dakotans since we have the same state birthday.) I love this language but mostly I love the memories of people and places that come back to me, of ordinary people singing, dancing and celebrating through the arts in the place they call home. Read the rest of this entry »