Rural refers to communities around 10,000 or less in population and isolated from metropolitan areas.
Being situated away from larger urban centers, rural areas often have challenges coordinating work with consultants who do not reside locally.
In Marfa, TX, they found that, “keeping the design team aware of the unique location of Marfa and the traditional building systems of Marfa was a challenge. We wanted to use as many local tradespeople on construction as we could and we wanted the project to be welcoming and feel created out of its own context. Since Marfa is too small to have design professionals, the design team was spread out across the country. The distance made it challenging to keep up the pace on design decisions and changes.”
Project managers in Aiea, being located on the island of Hawaii, found the same issue as well and had to ensure that for each visit by the consultant that they were able to focus on the most technical aspects possible, and defer the other project aspects to phone calls and emails.
Like many urban projects, rural projects were grounded in an essential optimism about the possibilities for art to transform an area’s quality of life and create vital communities – even in the face of numerous challenges.
From Independence, Kansas project mangers tell others that, “Nothing happens if it isn't attempted."
Failure is only assured by not trying,” and from Sitka, Alaska where they transformed an abandoned college campus into the site of a successful arts festival with over 44,000 attendees, project manger Rodger Schmidt advise others to “dream big, and fuel enthusiasm with idealism that can be shared and be cold, logical, and strategic about the logistics behind the success.”
Our Town rural projects showed some distinct similarities in the ways they worked to confront the issue of the demographic and economic shifts happening in their communities.
In Last Chance, Colorado, where they created a way to capture local cultural practices, “the project was directly linked to the shifting realities of rural communities not being able to sustain themselves. In every interview we did there was a real sense of loss, families leaving, the elders being left behind and their knowledge (& life) is no longer being relevant.”
Through their conversations with community elders and young people alike they were able to, “challenge today's notions that rural communities are failing. We talked with people about the shifts in rural America and how important the culture in rural places is important.” Further more they urge people to be aware that“shifts to the project are going to happen. Your projects should be designed with enough flexibility for the artists and for the organization to adjust and make the work stronger."
In Montgomery, New York, project organizers looked at the regional economy and saw the way it was effecting local farmers and local artists. In their area many farmers saw the influx of artists from New York City and the "new residents" that came to the region after 9/11 “as part of the problem.” “Their lands are being snapped up by developers who build $500K houses for yuppies,” said project manager Shawn Dell Joyce, “which forces the farmer out out because they can't pay the taxes, or generate enough agricultural income to warrant land use.” Project managers saw that the artists were facing the same challenge but that they rarely interfaced with the agricultural community. So project organizers responded with, “education, patience and communication” and created partnerships between county departments and a local arts school in order to host a series of regional dialogue sessions. “We introduce the farmers and let them speak about the challenges they face in their own words, then a representative from the creative community spoke about how they can help solve both communities' problems by collaborating.” These dialogues allowed for ideas to emerge that could serve both the farmers and the artists and help address the economic challenges that faced them both.
The issue of equity is not just an urban phenomena.
For example, project mangers in Montgomery, New York for the Arts and Agriculture Transforming Orange County project remarked that, “equity can also mean white collar/blue collar issues and in our case, those are more dividing than race. Farmers are disrespected in our culture and artists are often lumped with the petite bourgeois, when actually many of us are as hard-working and down to earth as the blue collar crowd. We had to put all of these disparate personalities on the same plane.”
By bringing the different communities together on an equal playing field, they were able to have a larger conversation about, “the challenges faced by both communities and how the two were similar. Then we showed potential partnerships and what that would look like in terms of benefit for both communities. Farmers were invited to paint during classes on the farms, and artists witnessed first hand the hard day's work a farmer puts in. We introduce the farmers and let them speak about the challenges they face in their own words, then a representative from the creative community spoke about how they can help solve both communities' problems by collaborating.”