Americans For the Arts Features Matthew Fluharty As A Change Agent

IMG_2602-639x746With the 2014 Americans for the Arts national convention approaching next week in Nashville, I am both humbled and excited to share that I have recently been featured in the organization’s Arts Link magazine as a Change Agent.

From the earliest days of Art of the Rural, Americans for the Arts has been a voice of encouragement and a partner who has helped introduce AOTR to leaders from across the country who are working every day to advance the arts in rural and urban communities. In particular, we are deeply grateful for Theresa Cameron’s energy and insights — and all the ways she has helped to shape the national conversation on these issues.

Moments like this reinforce how thankful I am for all our friends and collaborators and the myriad ways they have inspired and sustained this work . I am looking forward, in the next few weeks, to sharing some new projects that I hope will open up new avenues for such energy.

Below, I’ll include the reflection I wrote for Arts Link. Thanks again for reading, contributing, and being a part of this journey.

— Matthew Fluharty

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I believe the process of founding and directing Art of the Rural over the last four years has changed me more than I have yet to change the field.

I began AOTR in response to an imperative I felt after my grandmother passed away: she had done so much for our family, our farm, and, as a high school teacher for decades, the community. At the time, I was in the midst of writing what seemed like (as most do) a never-ending-dissertation, and I felt like there was little I could contribute, hundreds of miles from the Ohio Valley. I felt disconnected from the culture I valued, and I found it hard to balance those motivations with the urban environment in which I found myself.

A week later, sitting at my kitchen table, I humbly began a blog that set out to tell stories, share art, and connect individuals and organizations across the rural arts and humanities.  Now an organization itself, Art of the Rural’s mission remains much the same – to expand the rural arts and humanities network and to assist in sharing a deeper multidisciplinary and cross-sector narrative about where we’ve been, and where we might go.

Though I started AOTR without any expectations, the friendships and collaborations that followed over the years absolutely changed my life. That sense of gratitude engenders an equal sense of responsibility. I direct Art of the Rural because I believe in the transformational force of art within individuals and communities, and, in concert with that, I believe that rural America has been not been allowed equal access to such experiences and that their own art and culture, and indeed their perspectives on contemporary American life, are largely excluded from our national narrative. Whether we are artists, scholars, or practitioners – and whether we are living in the country or the city — those are the stakes.

This year Art of the Rural and its friends and partners are collaborating on the Year of the Rural Arts to help share this conversation across the country, and much of the joy of our mission comes from meeting folks and working together, whether it’s online or on the ground. Those conversations, many of them with leaders who have been agents of change in their places far longer than myself, provide a blueprint for how we can progress as a conscious, self-aware culture. This spirit of exchange keeps me going.