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Road sign for Pittsburgh’s cultural district [Editor’s Note: This article is the continuation of a series we are calling “The State of the Rural Arts” — reflections, interviews,…
By Louise Vasher
Arnaudville, Louisiana sits at the junction of Bayou Teche and Bayou Fuselier in the heart of the Acadania region. Each year in early December, the town hosts Le Feu et L’Eau, or Fire and Water, a Rural Arts Celebration named for the initial event’s signature feature of floating fires. Organized by NUNU Arts Collective and hosted in the Collective’s 5,000 square ft. facility, the Rural Arts Celebration underscores the community of 1,400’sFrench Louisiana culture and features area artists and craftsmen, regional music, and free cultural demonstrations.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, local painter and Arnaudville native George Marks recognized an opportunity to revitalize his struggling community. He aimed to accomplish this through interweaving local arts and cultural assets to create businesses and boost Arnaudville’s economy. Towards this goal, the NUNU Arts Collective designed a multistep process of identifying existing cultural assets, connecting businesses to the arts, developing art commerce, and finally creating recurring arts and culture events. Le Feu et L’Eau Rural Arts Celebration has become the most iconic of these annual events. As a result, the Collective’s impact extends far beyond the arts: they strive to connect businesses, artists, organizations, and citizens; encourage local knowledge and skill sharing; and aim to enliven the small Louisiana community through celebration of their own identity and assets.
Le Feu et L’Eau initially featured the work of visual artists, and now celebrates a myriad of art and culture. In their tenth year, the Celebration featured three stages of music, with performances ranging from the traditional French music of Byron Boudreaux’s Pot Luck Jam to the Americana tunes of The Specklers. Meanwhile, downtown Arnaudville displayed a screening of short films from students and faculty of the University of Louisiana Lafayette Moving Image Arts program. The festival’s expanded visual arts displays include two-dimensional works as well as pottery, glass blowing, and iron works.
Jacqueline Cochran of NUNU Arts Collective characterized the highlights of Le Feu et L’Eau 2014 to include the dusk lighting of bonfires by “Fire Maiden” and dancer Jeri Brown and the topping of five mosaic columns with the first Louisiana architecturally-inspired birdhouse. Other community favorites included public art pieces by Opelousas artist Michelle Fontenot as part of an ongoing Louisiane-Bretagne art exchange, titled, “Gone with the Birds,” which uses arts and cultural production to address a metaphor: a tiny home for birds helps to build dialog and promote community cohesion.
For more information about the Le Feu et l’Eau Rural Arts Celebration and Arnaudville, LA please visit:http://www.fireandwaterfestival.org, and for more information about the NUNU Arts Collective please visit: http://www.nunucollective.org/. Check out the Le Feu et l’Eau Rural Arts Celebration story on the Atlas of Rural Arts and Culture, and report back to us at Art of the Rural to tell us about your experience! Mark your calendars, and make plans to attend this fantastic event towards the end of next year. Please use the social media hash tag #ruralarts in any social media posts from the event.
THE YEAR OF THE RURAL ARTS is a biennial program of events, conversations, and online features celebrating the diverse, vital ways in which rural arts and culture contribute to American life. The Year is coordinated by Art of the Rural and organized by a collective of individuals, organizations, and communities from rural and urban locales across the nation. The inaugural Year is a collaborative, grassroots effort designed to build steam over the course of 2014, this article is the final addition to the series. For more information on the Year of the Rural Arts 2014, visit: www.artoftherural.org.
On an October afternoon in McKittrick, Mo., just a few steps beyond bottomland fields and a gravel path spotted with bikes, Joey Los was stuffing wild mushrooms into wonton cups, giving advice on bouquets, staging musicians and arranging paintings. A spunky metal artist, bed and breakfast host, and mayor of the town, she was excited to be running an art auction fundraiser for Missouri River Relief, a crew of volunteers who spend their weekends cleaning trash off the banks of the Missouri River.
It seems like an unlikely pairing: keepers of culture supporting self-described “river rats.” But like most ecologies in rural activism, the two groups enjoy a symbiotic relationship that centers on celebrating and protecting their home. The longest stream in the country, the Missouri River sews together all the towns it touches with a thread of history, symbolism and aesthetics.
The McKittrick Mercantile: a hub of river culture gets a fresh shine
Consider McKittrick one stitch in that fabric. Once booming from a river ferry, a railroad, and a fertile floodplain, it’s now a sleepy village. A bridge built in the ‘30s made the town’s ferry moot, and later the Army Corps of Engineers pushed the river two miles south. The railroad has become a bike trail, its depot a parking lot. All that’s left is a larger floodplain.
But Los sees promise in the future of McKittrick, a quaint neighborhood of 61 people who still identify strongly with the Missouri River. For the past five years, she has worked with Rich Lauer, a real estate agent and fellow visionary who lives across the river in Hermann, Mo., to restore the town’s old Mercantile building to its early-1900s glory. Los and Lauer attract area visitors with martial arts classes, a farmers market and food circle meetings, square dances, and two bed and breakfast spaces. When Joey first offered cooking classes to tour bus groups, Rich shot down the idea. “But you know what?” he said, gesturing behind him to the Katy Trail parking lot, where cyclists unstrapped bikes from their cars. “The people who do these bus tours are like the guys over there. They’re just older, and maybe can’t bike anymore, but they don’t want to miss anything, so they hop on a bus instead of a bike.” They’re adventurers.
Protecting land and water: Missouri River Relief and the Katy Land Trust
How appropriate, then, that Rich and Joey should host a group of people who find thrills in traversing logjams, count success by trash bags and tire piles, and have no qualms with camping, boating and scrounging around Missouri River mud for days at a time.
One year into the Mercantile project, Los had crossed paths with River Relief at the Washington River Festival. They have enjoyed a relationship ever since. When the crew finds cool metal on the river, they save buckets of scraps for her; she then uses the metal to build sculptures on-site at riverside events. When an opportunity arose to host the River Relief crew at the end of a barge trip this year, she jumped at the opportunity to give back.
“I love Missouri River Relief,” Los says. “And I have been wanting to participate more and do cleanups and all that, and I never have time. Several months ago, Steve [Schnarr, program manager for River Relief] came over to Merck for a meeting and said, ‘We’re doing a cleanup in October next year, and we’d like to have a place for a supper or something.’ And I said, ‘do it here!’”
The original plan for River Relief this fall was to employ a barge and crew to run cleanup operations along 150 miles from Brunswick, Mo. to Hermann. This would allow them to tackle hard-to-access dumpsites, but it would also cause a scene. “The big appeal of the Clean Sweep was the visual impact that a barge full of trash and tires and scrap metal presents,” says Jeff Barrow, director of Missouri River Relief. “When people see that, their jaws drop and they ask, ‘where did that come from?’” Although the barge plan fell through, the team continued with its traditional approach: camping in towns all along the Missouri, connecting with schools for educational days on the river, and taking local volunteers out in boats to clean trash from nearby banks.
Undeterred by changing plans, Los went forward with the art auction. Partnerships came together up as if caught in an eddy: more artists, more activists, and more supporters joined in week by week. “A lot of these people we have met through river cleanups and other events on the river,” Schnarr says. “I had been poking them all for donations for a while.” When Dan Burkhardt, director of the Katy Land Trust, heard about the auction, he threw his organization’s weight into the affair. The land trust had commissioned a mural for the McKittrick coal tower by painter Billyo O’Donnell, and Burkhardt set the dedication date to coincide with the auction. He also came with the a recently pressed CD, Magnificent Missouri Music, and donated all proceeds to River Relief, along with a $1,000 check.
“Katy Land Trust is trying to do for land along the River what Missouri River Relief does for the river itself,” Burkhardt told the auction audience. Formed in 2010 to protect rural land from development, they hope bikers who see their name across the bottom of O’Donnell’s paintings will remember the group and learn more.
The Art and the Auction
More than 50 people attended the art auction that Friday night. Some dressed in fancy boots, others came in river shoes, and all listened in rapt attention as Joey’s sonorous voice echoed off a red tin ceiling. She was persuasive, announcing for one of her pieces that, “This was sculpted by the Missouri River, I merely stuck them together.” Later, when a vase came up for sale, she emphasized a heron detail. “You see herons all the time on the Missouri River.” That sold for $100, and in all, art and CD sales totaled more than $4,000.
Why does an art auction for an environmental organization work? Because just as art’s snapshots of single moments can encapsulate an area’s entire history, so does the Missouri River. “I like to do narrative pieces,” says Bryan Haynes, whose “New Regionalism” paintings amplify the river’s effect on both landscape and people. “They hopefully have a story that makes people think or imagine a little bit. The rivers have been corridors of travel and stories for a couple hundred years at least.” When it’s high, we think of rain and snowmelt from the thousands of streams upriver. When it’s low, we think of farmers’ worried brows. Its waters catch the color of the sky, and it manipulates materials around it: trees, wildlife, bluffs and mud and metal and yes, of course, trash.
Just look at the submissions that night: The Missouri River is the primary creator in the bending, twisting, rusting and distressing of Los’s sculptures. It’s the prominent subject of O’Donnell’s murals. It’s implied in a turtle carving, fish-shaped shot glass, and photo canvas of foggy trees; it’s the setting for the folk songs performed and imagined backdrop of Bryan Haynes’ “Making Music” donation. Even a Pickney Bend gin and tonic set, born on the banks of the Missouri in New Haven, incorporates Big Muddy maps into its packaging design. Every piece paid homage to the way a powerful force can inspire appreciation and imagination.
“The Missouri River is so massive, you know?” Haynes says. “It will be here long after we’re gone. It’s really cool to get out on it paddling, and I wish more people did. This sounds so corny, but there’s an awesome power to it, especially when you’re on the river itself.”
It is another place where the trash-hungry river rats and the culture-advancing river artists find themselves in agreement—where the bottom line is respect, no matter the avenue to get there. River Relief has adopted the phrase, “We protect what we love.” Those who gathered in McKittrick that night saw this love repeated in dozens of different ways, and in supporting those who protect the river, helped protect every living thing in its course.
One of the artists featured on the Magnificent Missouri album is Gloria Attoun-Bauermeister, a smiling, straight-backed songwriter with a flair for contemporary folk songs. When she announced the night’s final song, “Everything Changes,” Barrow leaned over and whispered, “Always,” clearly thinking of the river rising and falling, and the way new friends can make River Relief’s work even better.
“Between bluff and land, where the iron rails clanged
The tracks are all lifted; there is no more train.
We walk and we ride on the trails that were made,
Rivers flow by, limestone path in the shade.
Give thanks to the dreamers, to the working clean-streamers
The relievers of the rivers, the protectors of the woods.
To the sons and to the daughters, to the land and the living waters,
Trusters of the trails who make sure that it’s good.
To all of the receivers who make change that is good.”
- “Everything Changes” by Gloria Attoun-Bauermeister
Today we are excited to share Visible Connections: Contemporary Artists in Rural Space, an Atlas of Rural Arts and Culture project led by AOTR intern Rosemary Markowski that seeks to visualize and connect the network of artists working beyond the city. In this previous reflection on our blog, folks can learn more about Rosemary, her art, and her farm in Virginia. Please stay tuned for more updates, and please feel welcome to contribute to this project!
By Rosemary Markowski
Discovery is at the heart of how we both make and experience art. “Work makes work” references the artist’s ability to produce, but also suggests how the process of witnessing – and reflecting upon –the work of others helps to advance the entire field. Many myths surround creativity, inspiration, and genius, and often these myths exclude the role of exchange and connection. Nowhere, on the map of American art, is this more palpably felt that in rural America.
From Tokyo to Berlin to New York City, a quick art history review will demonstrate that many of the significant movements in the arts have incubated in cities as – until recently – location dictated cultural connection. With the birth of modern art in the mid-1800’s, geographic proximity became essential for both communication and the innovation of new artistic approaches. Thus, we have inherited an identity of the contemporary artist as closely tied to urban space – while those working in rural areas or confined to their home-place by roles such as motherhood or agriculture remain hungry for visibility and feedback. Even well into the twenty-first century, assumptions still persist that that the work of rural-based artists occupies a place “outside” of our broader cultural conversation on the arts, and that it sacrifices aesthetic depth for sentimentality and a sense of place.
We are now in the midst of a new creative dynamic. New media has provided pathways for previously isolated artists and organizations to collaborate, innovate, and, at last, articulate the specifics of their own artistic vision.
With Visible Connections, we aim to challenge worn out conceptions and bring these rural artists and their cultural landscapes into the foreground. In doing so we also seek to make an important connection – and expansion – of the term rural art itself, by welcoming artists placed in rural America while also seeking to include work that may be made in the city but comments and reflects upon questions of the cultural and aesthetic position of rural America. In addition, we welcome collaborators interested in helping all of us understand the broader historical, cultural, and aesthetic context of this work.
We invite artists, individuals, educators, and arts organizations to contribute to building Visible Connections and join in building a collective survey of the landscape of contemporary rural art.
How to Begin:
Contributing to Visible Connections begins with creating a profile:
• Select “Atlas of Rural Arts and Culture”
• By clicking on “My Projects”, you’ll be able to add a project. Select the project “Visible Connections: Contemporary Artists in Rural Space” and once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to add stories.
Here’s how to create a story in the Visible Connections project:
All you’ll need for each story is an image, sound, or video, and 100-500 words of text about your organization, artwork, or project. You’ll also want to list your location, and/or the location of the project. If you have a website, facebook, or other online representation, you’ll want to include those links as well so that you can benefit from the connections that the Atlas can provide.
Here are some tips:
• Image – Landscape shaped images (wider than high) generally work better in the postcard template than portrait shaped images.
• Text– the postcard template displays around 100 words. If you would like to include more text than fits on the postcard it will display in full on the story web page.
• Audio- this is an extra option – you may record audio to accompany your postcard.
• Location – every story must be given a location. The place name you type in appears on the front of the postcard. It can be as specific as a street address.
• Publishing and Tags- your postcard will be published straight into the Visible ConnectionspProject. The project is part of the Atlas of Rural Arts and Culture Community. If you would like any other tags associated with your postcard, please list them in your response. Tags are a great way to expand connection.