Gaining understanding through the arts
By Emma Bohmann, development manager
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
From Tel Aviv to Sisseton, 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.
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.
Investing in the arts to invest in a community
By Emma Bohmann, development manager
Bordered by Canada to the north and Lake Superior to the south, Cook County, Minnesota, has one traffic light and a thriving arts and culture community. Local craftspeople, artisans, traditional culture bearers, potters, weavers, painters, musicians, and many others make their home there.
“I’m really excited about the future here in Grand Marais and also all rural areas that are investing in the arts.” —Amy Demmer
It’s that cultural richness that attracted Amy Demmer, executive director of Grand Marais Art Colony, to move to Cook County from Minneapolis in 2006. But with those artistic offerings also come issues that have struck many rural areas across the country. Cook County is battling declining population, a dearth of affordable housing, and a lack of opportunities for young people. “A lot of the artists I know live without running water and are very poor,” shares Demmer.
To combat these challenges, Demmer joined forces with a group of Cook Countians—including members of the Economic Development Authority, local business owners, artists, craftspeople, tribal members, and others—to find a way to weave arts and culture into the county’s economic priorities. Their goal was to determine strategies to both revitalize the economy and retain and attract creatives and young people.
However, Demmer and her colleagues soon realized that they couldn’t achieve this goal without help—and so, in 2016, she turned to Arts Midwest and, specifically, ArtsLab.
Leading from behind
Throughout its 18-year history, ArtsLab has always focused on strengthening the role of arts and culture organizations in their communities. Senior Program Director Sharon Rodning Bash drew on this expertise as she led a team of facilitators to Cook County. Utilizing ArtsLab’s signature peer learning method, Rodning Bash was able to harvest the expertise, passion, and ideas of the group to move them toward the creation of a cultural plan.
“They were essential throughout the process for us,” Demmer said of the ArtsLab team. She described ArtsLab as skilled process facilitators who led from behind, allowing members of the group to maintain their independent ideas while working toward a larger goal.
A new plan
The year-long initiative resulted in a Cook County Cultural Plan, which is folded into the county’s economic agenda. The plan contains four main strategic goals and a three-year implementation plan, designed to expand the arts and culture sector and create new opportunities for residents and visitors alike. Action items range from the creation of monthly convenings of the county’s arts organizations to the development of a website and shipping center for local artists. And to make sure tasks are accomplished, Demmer and her colleagues established a steering committee, housed in Cook County’s Economic Development Authority, to oversee activities.
“ArtsLab was such a gift for us in bringing the resources, both in terms of money and facilitation to bring people together and have those really, really important conversations,” Demmer said. “I’m really excited about the future here in Grand Marais and also all rural areas that are investing in the arts.”
In making the arts part of Cook County’s economic agenda, Demmer and her colleagues have helped ensure the creative sector—and the community—will continue to grow and thrive in the years to come.
Arts Midwest is launching new programs, funding creative engagements
Arts Midwest Folkefest artists, Kardemimmit will tour the Midwest this fall. Photo by Jimmy Träskelin.
As we begin fiscal year 2018, we are excited to launch a new program, partner with new communities, support arts organizations with grants, and stay connected to you both in person and online.
Arts Midwest Folkefest
This new program will bring traditional music groups from two Nordic countries—one from Finland and one from Sweden—for intensive, week-long residencies that feature educational activities and public performances designed for all ages and levels of musical experience.
Arts Midwest Touring Fund
When we share creative experiences, we build powerful connections with the people we are closest to, with our community and the world around us, and with ourselves. So get out there and connect with your family, neighbors, and co-workers at one of the Arts Midwest Touring Fund’s fantastic performances! Stay tuned to the Events page for 2017–2018 funded engagements, which will be announced later this month.
Arts Midwest World Fest
Now in its 14th year, Arts Midwest World Fest launches a new cycle in September 2017. We are thrilled to be working with new communities and connecting individuals across the Midwest with artists from China, Japan, Israel, and Norway over the next two years. Find the community closest to you and learn more about the artists.
Have you seen our new website?
Your good friends always notice when you get a new haircut, so you’ve probably already admired our new website. If not, we invite you to check it out and browse some of the more interesting features— find events near you, catch up on the latest Arts Midwest news, or learn more about our programs.
Looking ahead with optimism
Arts Midwest staff and board. Photo by Joshua Feist.
By Susan Chandler, vice president
Last year, I was given the opportunity to lead the process of creating a new strategic plan for Arts Midwest. The task at hand felt both exciting and daunting: organizational planning at any time is a tall order, and it felt especially so amidst so much national turmoil and change.
As we began planning, however, our team found its footing. It’s been invigorating to listen to our constituents, consider how the national landscape can positively influence our goals and strategies, and dream big for Arts Midwest. Our new goals look outward to our Midwest region with strategies that recognize and embrace its creativity, and focus internally on strengthening our capacity so we can better serve our diverse constituents.
We deeply believe in the power of creative experiences and in the vitality of the Midwest—and we’re excited to realize our vision for Arts Midwest and the communities we serve. Through the outcomes of this plan, I hope you are enriched, engaged, and inspired by Arts Midwest in the coming years! View the new plan.