Sharing “Beyond Cliché: Dramatizing Our American Identity”


[Editor’s Note: Throughout the month of April, Art of the Rural will share a series of new writing and multimedia from HowlRound about the twenty-one-year artistic collaboration between Pregones Theater and Roadside Theater. The collaboration bridges two vast geographies and cultures, Puerto Rican and Appalachian, and two distinct aesthetics. Curated by Imagining America’s Jamie Haft and Dr. Arnaldo López of Pregones Theater/PRTT, the series explores the creation of BETSY!, a musical about a Bronx singer and performer uncovering the secrets of her family’s history.

BETSY! offers an important lens on a long-term rural-urban exchange and the many threads of commonality along America’s rural-urban continuum. This series is part of a strategy to develop new scholarship and multimedia about the vision, values, practice, and complexities of intercultural artistic collaboration, which will eventually be digested into a learning guide for teaching BETSY!. We’re proud to share the work of HowlRound, Imagining America, Roadside Theater, and Pregones Theater. BETSY! the musical premieres off-Broadway, April 9-26, 2015 (purchase tickets by clicking here).]

Today’s essay explores popular theater, the roots of intercultural artistic production and exchange, and Imagining America’s collaborative knowledge production through the collaboration of two unique ensembles committed to “a diverse, popular audience at the center of its process to make theatre, both at home and on the road.”

“Beyond Cliché: Dramatizing Our American Identity”
By Jamie Haft Arnaldo J. López

“How can we produce works of art that probe beyond clichés into the frayed ends of American pluralism? What kind of love-making work does it take to engender an artistic product that aspires to tell the story of us today—skeletons out of the closet and all?

Artists and scholars from across the country will discuss these questions articulated by noted folklorist and anthropologist Dr. Maribel Álvarez in the context of the twenty-one-year artistic collaboration between Pregones Theater and Roadside Theater. The collaboration bridges two vast geographies and cultures, Puerto Rican and Appalachian, and two distinct aesthetics. Our series explores the creation of BETSY!, a musical about a Bronx Jazz singer and performer uncovering the secrets of her family’s history, which will premiere Off-Broadway, April 8­–26. Join us for discussion with artists and scholars about creating works of art that probe beyond clichés into the frayed ends of American pluralism.”

 Read more:




Creative Rural Urban Alliances Webinar

Last week, we shared information about Art of the Rural collaborations that address both rural and urban communities alongside staff from the Rural Policy Research Institute and M12 Collective on the CommunityMatters and Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design™ Creative Rural Urban Alliances Webinar. Art of the Rural’s Savannah Barrett joined M12 (artist collective) member Kirsten Stoltz and RUPRI’s Chuck Fluharty to discuss creative rural urban alliances, including our Middle Landscape projects and the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange.

The Art of the Rural community believes rural and urban places are vitally interdependent and often experience a common social and economic future. Our projects build on the shared cultural and historical experiences across rural and urban regions and celebrate rural places while also including perspectives along the rural-urban continuum.

Listen in to learn about rural-urban collaborations that are is bridging divides, building common ground, and positioning arts and culture as a key component of community and economic development. The CommunityMatters® Conference Call series offers a variety of 60-minute conversations about critical issues, tools and inspiring stories of community building. CommunityMatters® is  a program of the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design and the Orton Family Foundation.




Creative Rural-Urban Alliances Webinar: March 12


Art of the Rural is excited to participate in an upcoming webinar hosted by Community Matters and the Citizens’ Institute for Rural Design, alongside partners at M12 and RUPRI. Join us to learn more about three Art of the Rural projects in Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri that engage both rural and urban communities in each region.

We look forward to talking with you tomorrowThursday, March 12 at 4 PM EST. The webinar is free and open to the public; to register, visit:

Here’s further information from the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design blog:

Say the word “rural” and a particular set of images comes to mind—fields of grain, livestock, or the general store. Talk about “urban” and you imagine busy streets and tall buildings.

It’s unusual for urban and rural to intersect. We compartmentalize the two contexts as separate and unique—not to be mixed. In many parts of the country these real and perceived differences—from competing political priorities to divergent cultural norms—divide rural and urban communities.

Yet, communities are increasingly acknowledging areas of interdependence and common interests.

Emerging rural-urban alliances capitalize on the unique assets of both rural and urban places to bridge divides, build mutual understanding, and infuse creative energy into community development.

Here are four examples of creative rural-urban partnerships spearheading this trend:

1. Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange: Community leaders in Kentucky are pairing up to exchange ideas, build relationships, and establish regional collaborations. Art of the Rural and Appalshop formed the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange to spark cooperation between rural Whitesburg (pop. 2,057) and urban Louisville (pop. 756,832), based on the belief that if people like each other they are more likely to care about one another’s places. Following an initial three-day workshop in 2014, new partnerships are already emerging—a city councilman from Whitesburg and a Louisville-based real estate developer are exploring creating a boutique art hotel in one of Whitesburg’s historic buildings.

2. Artist-Manufacturer Alliance: WST Industries, a manufacturer in Sanford, North Carolina (pop. 29,470) was looking to even out its business cycle and to provide more local job opportunities. Art-Force, Inc. paired WST with Cox-Cannon Studio of Raleigh to develop ideas for expansion through an artist-manufacturer alliance. Building on local assets and conversations with community members and business owners, WST and Cox-Cannon designed a new product reflective of community interests—portable metal camping tables. The tables generate income for both companies, and are a point of civic pride in Sanford.

3. Community Clustering Initiative: Looking to explore principles of effective governance in rural regions of the Northwest, the Rural Policy Research Institute  (RUPRI) established the Community Clustering Initiative (CCI). Through three pilot projects, RURPI discovered keys to regional cooperation in local governance. One takeaway? It takes deliberate attention to maintain a regional focus, especially in areas where the urban and affluent dominate politics in otherwise rural communities. Pilot communities overcame historic power dynamics by hosting meetings in rural towns rather than core urban areas and by selecting rural residents for key leadership roles in the cluster.

 4. Artist on the Plains: Artists interested in pushing the dialogue on urban and rural realities are joining forces through the M12 Collective’s Artist on the Plains artist-in-residency program. Last year, M12 worked with Swedish art collective Kultivator, the University of Colorado, and community members in Colorado’s Washington County to create Gran’s University in the tiny town of Last Chance, Colorado (pop. 20). Gran’s University celebrates the wisdom of grandmothers while building dialogue around the importance of rural cultural connections and larger global issues. Through storytelling and engagement, artists’ work validated traditional wisdom and culture, while connecting Colorado’s urban communities to the state’s rural heritage. Gran’s University brought over 600 people to remote Last Chance.

Join the next CommunityMatters and Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design™ event for inspiration on creative urban and rural connections that could happen in your area. We’ll hear from Savannah Barrett, program director, Art of the Rural; Kirsten Stoltz, programming director, M12 Collective; and Chuck Fluharty, founder and vice president for policy programs, Rural Policy Research Institute.

This free webinar on Creative Rural-Urban Alliances is Thursday, March 12, 2015 from 4-5 p.m. Eastern. Register now!