Gaining understanding through the arts

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From Israel to South Dakota, Arts Midwest World Fest bridges geographic distances and connects people through the international language of music. Left photo by Jane Rasmussen, right by Eric Young Smith.

A drum circle on a college quad. Face painting and handheld printing presses. Dozens of conversations about the role of arts and culture in rural areas.

This was the Rural Arts and Culture Summit, held June 6–8 in Morris, Minnesota. More than 400 people gathered from across the country to network, share knowledge and resources, and celebrate rural arts and culture.

I attended the Summit with the goal of listening to the voices of individuals living and working in rural areas, and to learn how Arts Midwest could be a potential partner.

Revitalizing the arts

Leading up to the Summit, I’d heard a lot about the “rural-urban divide.” Yet I witnessed no divide there. Instead, attendees and panelists framed it as a continuum on which we all fall.

Over and over, I heard that rural communities and the arts are closely intertwined. Rural artists and arts organizations, like their neighbors, seek to create towns that thrive. And while we speak often of using the arts to revitalize small towns, one panelist commented that, in fact, those same towns can also revitalize the arts.

Across the United States, artists and advocates are engaging rural residents in creative experiences that demonstrate that the arts truly are for everyone. Whether through the creation of a community garden, a multicultural music festival, or an arts center in a previously-empty storefront, the many artistic opportunities in rural districts sends a powerful message: Creativity matters. Whether you are rural or urban, the arts matter.

The path forward

There are no easy answers or solutions to bridging the “rural-urban divide.” But the Summit helped me realize that if we frame it differently, in a way that focuses on our commonalities, we can begin to take steps in the right direction.

A continuum creates space for each of us. A continuum allows for overlap and for adjustment. A continuum encourages us to seek out others. A continuum means that we are not alone.

We won’t get there overnight, or this month, or even this year. But it is my belief that, together, we can forge partnerships between rural and urban people and places that will enhance our understanding of one another—and the arts can help us get there.