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 arts.gov. 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 info@ruralgeneration.org. The Twitter hashtag for Our Town program is #NEAOurTown15





Film Focus: Cavedigger (2013)

Editor’s Note: The Film Focus trailer series is part of AOTR’s rural cinema project, SMALLSCREEN. SMALLSCREEN is a multimedia project dedicated to mapping all forms of rural independent cinema exhibition and highlighting rural productions, place-based documentaries, and filmmakers who have an eye on the rural. Along the way, project designer Jessie Sims will develop a variety of cultural materials and contribute to the formation of an online rural film community. Most of all, Jessie is working to “Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.”- Robert Bresson]

By Jessie Sims

This Oscar-nominated short follows the extraordinary process of artist Ra Paulette. For more than 25 years, by intense, solitary labor, Paulette has turned sandstone cliffs in Northern New Mexico into transformative space. He is self-taught and uses only hand tools.

Before Cavedigger, Paulette’s underground art was largely unknown and his labor sorely under appreciated. Director Jeffrey Karoff gives us an inspiring picture of Paulette, his material constraints, and what drives him to do his work despite it all.

Since 2008, Paulette has been working on his magnum opus, Luminous Caves. Since he’s determined to realize his own vision, this final cave complex isn’t a private commission. He describes it as an environmental and social art project:

A mile walk in the wilderness becomes a pilgrimage journey to a hand dug, elaborately sculpted cave complex illuminated by the sun through multiple tunneled windows. The cave is both a shared ecumenical shrine and an otherworldly venue for presentations and performances designed to address issues of social welfare and the art of well being.”

Luminous Caves, he says, “is a culmination of everything I have learned and dreamed of in creating caves.”

Read more about Paulette’s final work and its rural social context on his official site. Cavedigger is available on demand from iTunes and Vimeo.





Stories, Human Flourishing, and Spaces of Abundance in BETSY!

Roadside Theater Artistic Director Dudley Cocke facilitates a story circle. Photo by Jim Carroll.

[Editor’s Note: Throughout the month of April, Art of the Rural shared a series of new writing and multimedia from HowlRoundabout 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. The musical premiered off-Broadway and completed its three week run on April 26, 2015. 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!. This is our final post in this series, and we’re proud to share the work of HowlRound, Imagining America, Roadside Theater, and Pregones Theater.]

Today we share excerpts from Stephani Etheridge Woodson’s essay “Stories, Human Flourishing, and Spaces of Abundance”, in which she discusses her interest in the “how” of how arts and culture builds stronger communities. She talks about building collective efficacy and expanding community networks, and about transparency and effective documentation. She also talks about “how stories build homes and social places for human flourishing”. Mostly, she reminds us that art and theatre can “develop abundant communities through their focus on the narrative wealth of a community, community efficacy, and community meaning-making”:

“Human flourishing does not function as a zero-sum game or a set of inputs for defined outputs (x + y = happiness). A focus on flourishing grows from understanding communities as sites of plenty, not sets of risks. Pregones and Roadside are partners and even catalysts, framing their communities as spaces of power.”

“Theatre companies like Pregones and Roadside function as public intellectuals and cultural development institutions. Their focus on stories, on connections, on the messy reality of the human condition and U.S. American ideologies of self and other don’t offer easy answers.  But they move in a space of abundance in the communion of art.”

 To read Woodson’s full essay, visit: http://howlround.com/stories-human-flourishing-and-spaces-of-abundance