Positively Local, Fearlessly Original: The Art and Life of Tim West


This World, a photography by Diana Michelle Hausam of Tim West

Fayetteville Underground is now featuring a retrospective of the work of outsider artist and Ozark legend Tim West, displaying a range of the artist’s landscapes, prints, sculptures and drawings. This show, organized by curator and folklorist Willi Goehring, also features the photographs of the artist by Diana Michelle Hausam; a selection from her provocative, lyrical documentary-in-progress on the artist was screened at the opening reception:

“That Tim West was a positively local and fearlessly original was further confirmed to me by the huge turnout of our opening,” Goethring wrote in an email to Art of the Rural. “Dozens of people who knew Tim, either as a crazy neighbor or an honored friend, were in attendance, and our work on digging up as much of Tim’s work as possible and making a documentary on Tim’s life was much improved! We were able to do a couple of interviews that may prove instrumental. All in all, a legendary figure and a truly original talent was honored by the community. It is the first major retrospective of Tim’s work in the Ozarks.”

Now in partnership with the Fayetteville Roots Festival, visitors and locals to Northwest Arkansas can experience a huge variety of programming at Fayetteville Underground during the last weekend of August, including an Expert Talk with folklorist Robert Cochran and Diana Hausam, folk-art workshops, and dozens of never-before seen pieces of Tim’s work. Find more information on that programming at

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Photograph from the Tim West retrospective by Taylor Shepherd

For glimpse into the life of Tim West — and the ways in which his biography intersects with so many avenues within and beyond the Ozarks — we can turn to Mike Luster’s reflection on the artist, previously published here, in the wake of his passing in 2012:

Tim West was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1938, but he was very soon brought to live in the Ozark Mountains near the town of Winslow where his parents had long dreamed of homesteading and writing. His father Don West did write a fine novel Broadside to the Sun based on the family’s backwoods life which was published in 1946 by W.W. Norton. Those barefoot years were idyllic for young Tim, but interrupted by a move 22 miles north to the university town of Fayetteville where his father collected fiddle tunes for the Arkansas Folklore Society and his mother Muriel West earned an MA in English in 1952 with her own fine novel Under Every Green Tree. The Wests soon separated, Don relocating to the artist’s colony of Eureka Springs and Muriel taking a job at Southern Illinois University –Carbondale in 1958 when young Tim went there to study visual arts.

Tim West proved both an extraordinary artist and a troublesome young man. At age eighteen he mailed off a print and had it accepted into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, and he would soon send a pair of works off to the Louvre in Paris where they would also be accepted. His former instructors and classmates remembered both his ingenious talent – including a wall in his home constructed of bicycle wheels—but also his brushes with the law for everything from attempted robbery to skinnydipping. He earned his MFA there in 1962 and stayed on another eight years, drinking, making art, making mischief, and riding his bicycle about town, before he decided he’d had enough of Carbondale and headed back to the Ozarks in 1970.

For most of the next forty years, he remained a barefoot recluse on the old family place, scrounging for materials, making his art, periodically riding his bicycle into town. More sober if not more conventional, he became a part of the spectral fabric of the passing years, not often visually distinguished from the many latter-day back-to-the-landers. 

That is, until one summer day in 2006 when Fayetteville photographer Diana Michelle Hausam was driving the backroads and came upon a fence constructed of deconstructed bicycles. She left a note asking if she could photograph there and in a few days received a telephone call from Tim West. He invited her down, instructing her to honk her horn three times and, as in a fairytale, he would appear. The two became good friends and she spent several months photographing the gray and leathery West, his work, and his environment.




The Rural-Urban Exchange Highlights Kentucky’s Creativity

RUX 2015 Whitesburg story circle with JJ by Kim

Imagine a networking project that feels like a matchmaking service. Organizers get to know you and your community, and then find someone somewhere else in the state for you to get to know and collaborate with– based on your interests and work. You meet your match in their hometown alongside dozens of other exceptional young leaders, spend a weekend getting to know their culture and environment, and then map out a plan to collaborate on a project. You start working together, then you host them and they come to know your place and your passions. Together, you design a project that responds to the needs of your communities and helps shape a new vision for the state of Kentucky. That’s the premise of an Art of the Rural collaboration in Kentucky that’s rapidly gaining national acclaim.

This summer, Kentuckians from across the state are coming together to celebrate the rich cultural diversity and innovation that is driving our Commonwealth’s regions. The Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange is regional development strategy that began as a partnership between Art of the Rural and Appalshop, and engages more than fifty next generation community leaders from Louisville, Paducah, and Southeastern Kentucky together to articulate a shared vision for Kentucky and collaborate on projects to build a unified platform for new models of community-driven development throughout the state. The Exchange met in Whitesburg in June in conjunction with the Seedtime on the Cumberland Festival, will convene in Louisville August 7-9 during the Flea Off Market, and will meet in Paducah during Maiden Alley’s Oktoberfest, October 16-18, 2015.

The Louisville weekend begins on August 7th with a story circle at the People’s Garden, then hosts Juanita (the Rural-Urban Exchange band in residence) and guest Bonnie Prince Billy, Jaye Jayle, and Alex Coltharp (Paducah) at Nelligan Hall. Saturday’s events include a hike and plant tour of Iroquois Park, followed by facilitated project planning at Americana Community Center, then on to Wenzel Street for a block party celebrating this statewide network and the 8th of August Emancipation Day in partnership with Flea Off Market. This block party celebration of interdependece will feature the River City Drum Corps, Roots and Wings performers, Mixdown Monday Louisville DJs, , and a range of speakers highlighting rich cultural diversity of the state. We’ll close out the night with a art warehouse gathering and finish up the weekend with a collaborative brunch at Wiltshire on Market featuring Chefs Reed Johnson and Jenny Williams.

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Participants in the Rural-Urban Exchange hike to Bad Branch Falls, June, 2015. Photo Credit Tyler McDaniel.

The network connects multiple generations of business leaders, creative professionals, artists, farmers, and entrepreneurs to align with three sectors essential to a regional creative placemaking strategy: Arts and Culture, Agriculture and Food Systems, and Small Business. While many sectors are contributing to each region’s growth, these networks are advancing projects that not only provide significant economic impact, but cultivate place-based development that improves the quality of life in communities across Kentucky.

The first cycle of this project began with exchange between Louisville and Whitesburg, while the long term vision will expand the Exchange’s reach to include all five regions of Kentucky over the next five years. These initial “matches” will grow into the formation of discipline-specific working groups alongside a larger constellation network of Exchange participants across the Commonwealth. Now in it’s second year, the Exchange has partnered with the Kentucky Arts Council and Maiden Alley Cinema in Paducah, and a steering committee representing cross-sector leadership from all regions of Kentucky. This work is sponsored by the Kentucky Arts Council, the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, Kentucky for Kentucky, the Louisville Flea Off Market, Wiltshire Pantry, and Heine Brothers Coffee.


Rural-Urban Exchange network members release lanterns during a gathering at Lala Land Studios in Louisville, KY in September, 2014. Photo credit Aron Conaway.

More than a dozen collaborative cross-sector projects have developed as a result of the Exchange, including: a collaboration with the University of Louisville School of Business to produce a feasibility study to reopen the century-old Daniel Boone Hotel, a partnership to produce programming related to the repatriation of historic field recordings back to their original communities across the Appalachian region; film documentary and radio program development; collaborative art projects; ongoing conversations between farmers and local health care providers to advance food systems and health and wellness partnerships across these regions; and the continued exchange of knowledge, resources, and cultural traditions.

Through engagement with community leaders from across the state, the exchange is building shared creative and financial capital within and across communities. This network presents a model of self-investment in Kentucky’s economic viability and cultural heritage, rooted in personal investment of time and resources alongside those of stakeholders, partners, and sponsors. The Exchange network has invested $50,000 to date and together, we are working towards investment in Kentucky’s common ground.

Regions Map Nick Covault

Rural-Urban Exchange member’s “relationship to Kentucky” map. June, 2015.

Defined by the National Endowment for the Arts: “creative placemaking projects strategically link communities and local governments with artists, designers, and arts organizations to improve quality of life, create a sense of place, and revitalize local economies.” Within three years, the National Endowment for the Arts and  ArtPlace have invested more than $87 million in creative placemaking projects. More than two million dollars have come into Kentucky through these programs, including major national and federal investments to Appalshop, Art of the Rural, Berea College, and Roots and Wings in 2015. Other Kentucky projects have been funded by the NEA and/or ArtPlace in Covington, Cumberland, Hazard, Hindman, Jenkins, Lexington, Louisville, & Vanceburg.

We see the Exchange as a new approach to creative placemaking that builds a statewide constellation network and integrates key sectorsin partnership strategies that address our shared social and economic future. This holistic approach to placemaking prioritizes network building, collective capacity, andresource sharing within local communities and across regions of Kentucky.


Rural-Urban Exchange network members visit ReSurfaced. Louisville, 2014. Photo credit Aron Conaway.

The Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange is a Regional Network within the national “Next Generation: The Future of Arts & Culture Placemaking in Rural America” initiative. Through the combined expertise of the Rural Policy Research Institute and Art of the Rural, Next Generation engages artists, organizations and communities across public and private sectors to advance collaboration, innovative strategies, and “Next Generation” leadership in rural creative placemaking. Next Generation will enhance the potential for common mission collaboration across Regional Networks, asserting the essential role of arts and cultural organizations in economic and community development. Recently, the Next Generation initiative received one of five National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Our Town: Projects that Build Knowledge About Creative Placemaking awards.   

The Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange has been featured in conference presentations at the Rural Arts and Culture Summit in Morris, MN and the Crosscurrents: Art + Agriculture Conference in Greensboro, NC. You can learn more on the National Endowment for the Arts’ Community Matters webinar, in the Kentucky Arts Council’s Creative Industries Report, and in the April issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine. To view images and video from the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange, visit:


Rural-Urban Exchange steering committee members meet in Lexington. July, 2015.

The Exchange network believes that all Kentuckians have a stake in this work and that when rural communities advance, we all prosper. Please consider joining our effort and supporting the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange.

About Appalshop: Appalshop is a non-profit multi-disciplinary arts and education center in the heart of Appalachia producing original films, video, theater, music and spoken-word recordings, radio, photography, multimedia, and books. Their education and training programs support communities’ efforts to solve their own problems in a just and equitable way. Each year, Appalshop productions and services reach several million people nationally and internationally.

About Art of the Rural: Art of the Rural is a collaborative organization with a mission to help build the field of the rural arts and shape new narratives on rural culture and community. We work online and on the ground through interdisciplinary and cross-sector partnerships to advance engaged collaboration and policy that transcends imposed boundaries and articulates the shared reality of rural and urban America.

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Thank you to our partners and sponsors!






Art of the Rural Awarded an Our Town Grant by the National Endowment for the Arts


The Next Generation Regional Network in Kentucky supports the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange; above: Alex Udis, a square dance caller and community organizer from Louisville, joins Kim Owsley, a Native American artist and healer from Hindman, to take in the view from Pine Mountain during a Rural-Urban Exchange. Photo Credit: Savannah Barrett

This morning, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Jane Chu announced 69 Our Town awards totaling almost $5 million through the Our Town program’s fifth year of funding. The Next Generation initiative, a collaboration between Art of the Rural, the Rural Policy Research Institute, and a host of regional and national partners, is one of those recommended projects and will receive $75,000 to engage artists, organizations and communities across the public and private sectors to advance field building, innovative strategies, and “next generation” leadership in rural creative placemaking. The NEA received 275 applications for Our Town this year and will make grants ranging from $25,000 to $200,000.

The Our Town grant program supports creative placemaking projects that help to transform communities into lively, beautiful, and resilient places with the arts at their core.Since the program’s inception in 2011 and including these projects, the NEA will have awarded 325 Our Town grants totaling almost $26 million in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.

Through the expertise and networks of the Rural Policy Research Institute and Art of the Rural, as well as the program’s regional and national partners, Next Generation links three activities: Regional Networks that spark exchange, collaboration, and dissemination of best practices; a Digital Learning Commons that shares this knowledge and contributes further perspectives from across the rural arts and culture field; and a Next Generation Conference that will merge the activities of the Networks and Commons, combine digital and face-to-face exchange, and expand the rural placemaking network.

“Next Generation demonstrates the best in creative community development and whose work will have a valuable impact on its community,” said Chairman Chu. “Through Our Town funding, arts organizations continue to spark vitality that support neighborhoods and public spaces, enhancing a sense of place for residents and visitors alike.”

“Our partnership with the Rural Policy Research Institute unites strong public policy perspectives with robust arts and culture innovations taking place across America,” said Matthew Fluharty, Executive Director of Art of the Rural. “The next generation of rural citizens and leaders demand resilient, inclusive, and creative places. We find the pathways to that future in the space where these fields converge.”

“To the NEA, the future of creative placemaking relies on investing in partnerships that embed the arts in long-term community development,” said NEA Director of Design Programs Jason Schupbach. “The Art of the Rural and Rural Policy Research Institute partnership exemplifies a new and exciting approach to this work and we look forward to sharing the results of their project with the field.”

For a complete listing of projects recommended for Our Town grant support, please visit the NEA web site at Project descriptions, grants listed by state and by project type, and resources are available as well. The NEA’s online resource, Exploring Our Town, features case studies of more than 70 Our Town projects along with lessons learned and other resources.

For further information on Next Generation, please contact The Twitter hashtag for Our Town program is #NEAOurTown15