Blog Posts for advancing arts locally

Arts and Mountains: Cultivating a Sense of Place – and Environmental Literacy - in Northern New Hampshire

Posted by Jamie Feinberg, Feb 22, 2014 0 comments

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.

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It’s the Ecology, Stupid

Posted by Donna Neuwirth and Jay Salinas, Feb 22, 2014 0 comments

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.

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Arts and Culture: Essential for Transition in the Kentucky Coalfields

Posted by Mark Kidd, Ada Smith, Feb 21, 2014 0 comments

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.

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Historic Buildings, Embodied Energy and Placemaking

Posted by Michele Anderson, Feb 20, 2014 0 comments

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.

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6 Characteristics to Successful Arts and Rural Economic Development Efforts

Posted by Shannon Ford, Feb 20, 2014 5 comments

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.

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Rethinking Cultural Districts for Small Towns in Small States

Posted by Michael Lange, Feb 18, 2014 1 comment

Michael Lange Michael Lange

Using cultural districts as a structure for arts and cultural activities is a central catalyst for revitalization efforts that build better communities. Many states and urban areas have setup structures, often through legislation, that promote cultural districts as a way to build vibrant communities that lead to social and economic development.

Getting to the end outcome - the arts playing a leading role in revitalization efforts - is a necessary endeavor, but setting up structures in the same way as urban areas may not be the best approach for a rural state like Wyoming.

Laramie Mural picture 3 Laramie, WY Mural

Wyoming is one of the largest states geographically, but has the smallest population of any state with 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 over 1,000 people, and only a handful of those have a population over 10,000.

How can small populated states invest in the outcomes of cultural districts?

In Wyoming, the Wyoming Arts Council has joined in a strategic partnership with Wyoming Main Street which manages the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street program. Located inside the Wyoming Business Council, the Wyoming Main Street program assists Wyoming communities of various sizes and resource levels with their downtown revitalization efforts. Between fully certified and affiliate communities, Wyoming has fifteen active communities in their Main Street Program.

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