Planning for the Arts in Rural Wyoming Communities

Posted by Michael Lange, Feb 19, 2014 0 comments

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.

Main Street Mural in Laramie, WY Main Street Mural in Laramie, WY

As mentioned above, these are community driven assessments. Those who show up and share their desires for the community have their ideas placed in strategic plans and action items for future community development. This is true for a community outcry about recreation facilities, swimming pools, better drinking water, etc. In many other cases, and in larger urban areas, arts and cultural initiatives have a minority voice at the planning table, falling to a mere mention or second thought in many community planning documents. In the WRDC assessment, this is not the case. Those showing support for the arts have the same common ground as business development and infrastructure initiatives.

For many of these communities, due to their small size and limited resources, this free assessment by the WRDC and suggested plan will be the only assessment with action items for development opportunities. This gives the arts a level playing field if those who want to see the arts thrive in a community show up and let their voices be heard. This is why the WAC promotes the WRDC assessments to local communities.

Before each assessment, the WAC reaches out to local leadership to talk about their goals for the assessment. The WAC also contacts local arts organizations, cultural centers, and museums to make sure they are aware of the assessment, and that their voices need to be heard. These groups, along with local artists and arts advocates, are sent data and stories about the importance of the arts in communities to help them feel comfortable about sharing their own personal experiences and desires with the rural assessment team.

Additionally, several WAC staff members have been trained to serve on the assessment teams put together by the WRDC. While serving on an assessment team, WAC staff members remain impartial during the community input phase, which gives them an amazing resource on different community needs in the state. Being involved on these assessment teams also brings visibility and credibility, showing that the arts should be an active member of community development.

Helping Local Organizations Plan for the Arts

Lander Arts Center Lander Arts Center

Like many non-profit organizations, arts organizations in Wyoming are ran by a group of volunteers. Very few of the arts organizations in the state have any staff or even part-time help. Many of these organizations are the sole entity in their community delivering arts programming. This is why, like many state agencies, the Wyoming Arts Council has recently created a new Capacity Building Grant. This grant was specifically developed to help organizations with strategic planning, organizational development, board development, fundraising, and grant writing, etc. Additionally, this grant can include development plans for a community to start an arts organization, build a cultural center, and help non-arts entities develop plans to use the arts to meet their mission and vision. The WAC has recently received a grant from an organization to help them develop a plan to bring younger members into the organization’s planning process.

The arts in rural communities are important to the development of citizens. Geographic isolation and a small population should not be the driving factor for citizens to enjoy and learn from the arts. Without any planning and vision, many communities would get no, or at best mediocre, arts programming. Our communities deserve better, and these are two ways that the Wyoming Arts Council is focusing on helping communities develop through the arts.









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