Growing up in New Hampshire, my favorite days of the year -- a few major holidays excepted -- were Old Home Days. I loved the crafts, the animals, the special parades, performances and fireworks – it was part of what made our town so special. Cultural traditions still play a large role in defining local community identity in northern New Hampshire towns. While it can be tempting to focus exclusively on new art forms when we look for ways to use the arts as a driver of 21st century rural economic development, we’ve found that the key is often in discovering, acknowledging, appreciating, nurturing -- and then marketing and building upon -- what we already have.
The New Hampshire State Council on the Arts defines traditional arts as “artistic activities that are passed down from one generation to the next within families and communities and are regarded by the community as part of their heritage”. Whether we’re attending contra dances, purchasing locally woven ash baskets or fishing with a hand-tied fly, traditional arts feature prominently in both our daily life and in our celebrations.
Old Home Days were created in New Hampshire in the late nineteenth century to encourage sons and daughters who’d moved west after the Civil War to come home – for a visit or to stay – and to support their hometowns. This same need – to attract young people and to reconnect with one another -- exists in our rural communities today. Traditional arts have always been showcased at these celebrations, but it isn’t just the locals who appreciate them. These events have become popular with both tourists and new residents, people who are looking for authentic experiences and a glimpse of a unique community and culture. People from eight to eighty-eight can be seen both observing and participating in these community celebrations, which reflect past traditions while showcasing the best the town currently has to offer. (Oh, and did I mention they’re fun?!)