Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Rural arts and culture scenes enhance small-town life, could improve communities' local economies

Artists Greta McClain and Natchez Beaulieu with the mural they installed in Grand
Rapids, Minn., for the arts and culture summit. (Emily Carlson/Grand Rapids Herald Review)
Rural communities and policy experts across the nation have spoken at length about things that can help rural areas: more jobs, improved broadband connection, better infrastructure. But one area that shouldn't be overlooked: the impact of the arts on rural communities.

A recent PBS NewsHour story showed how arts and cultural organizations can enhance life in a small town. Jeffrey Brown reports from the northern Minnesota town of Grand Rapids, pop. 11,000, the latest site of the biennial Rural Arts and Culture Summit. "This one brought together some 350 artists and community leaders from 25 states to exchange ideas, celebrate the role of creativity in small towns, and fight a national narrative about rural America in decline," Brown reports.

Laura Zabel, who heads Minnesota's Springboard for the Arts, said the reductionist narrative "kind of ignores the history and the complexity, and it often ignores all of the people who are working really hard to make what's next for that community." Rural artists can often find meaning in the hard parts of rural life, she said: "That's necessary for a community to move forward, that, rather than just telling people, get over it, people need outlets for their pain and their shame and their joy."

Beyond that, the arts can help improve the local economy, according to a recent National Governors Association study. Rural communities seeking to enhance their arts scene can look to the Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement, which was recently recognized for its work in developing a model for arts-based community and economic development that pairs university resources with rural communities' assets.

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