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Notes on day one of the Rural Arts and Culture Summit

My goodness, but did we ever pack a lot of great information into just a few short hours at today’s Rural Arts and Culture Summit (RACS), held on the beautiful (and enviably sustainable) campus of the University of Minnesota Morris. Here are my notes from day one of the festivities (and yes, there was a bit of a festival vibe in the air); please leave your own in the comments.

Morning keynote. We couldn’t have had a better speaker to kick off the summit than John Davis. His story begins with turning a $10,000 farmhouse (above) bought with the funds made from selling shoes and painting houses into an artist retreat. Then, he turned his attention to an impressive turnaround in a dilapidated building in New York Mills, Minn., to create a cultural center. Next on his list: the Great American Think-Off, an annual event that has the distinction of both popularizing philosophical debate and putting New York Mills, population 1,197, in the national spotlight. And it goes on from there. His work was cited by the National Endowment for the Arts in its request to Congress for funds for Our Town, a tentpole of national arts policy. And here’s the kicker: he was funny, too.

Quoteable. “Look how firmly we can move the Earth when we stand firmly on Main Street.” – poet Athena Kildegaard in a commissioned poem opening the summit.

Creative placemaking. For a morning session, we heard from four voices explaining the role of creative placemaking in rural communities. Donna Neuworth of Wisconsin’s Wormfarm Institute; Terri Aldrich of the Minot (N.D.) Area Council of the Arts (currently putting the finishing touches on a new mixed-use arts/living/office space there); Heidi Kurtz of Artspace; and Chris Beck of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which often provides supplemental funding for rural arts and community development projects. We saw plenty of demonstration on the idea of rural creative placemaking, but we also got some savvy advice from Beck: “The interest groups that drive rural policy need to realize the power of arts and culture to drive economic development.”

Matthew Fluharty of Art of the Rural. Here at ARTSpulse, we’ve been a fan of Art of the Rural for quite a while. Led by Matthew Fluharty, the blog has been working to both correct the notion that no art emerges from our rural areas and to provide a theoretical underpinning for rural arts and culture practitioners. For his breakout session, Fluharty led the group on a series of questions on the process of rural art, the possibility of a rural aesthetic, the definition of the word “rural,” and if it’s possible to define “the rural condition.” Invoking James Baldwin, Raymond Williams, Thomas Hardy, and Jay-Z, Fluharty gave us a lot to think about, but he also asked us to note that rural arts and culture is at a crucial tipping point and may soon be poised to answer some tough questions about American life.

The tiramisu at lunch. It was awesome. Hosannas galore to the UMM folks for some very fine desserts. Oh, and good strong coffee.

There’s so, so much more. We’ve got a Storify below of tweets from us and plenty more RACS attendees, and we’d love to hear your favorite moments from day one.

See you tomorrow!



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