Announcing the Launch of the Next Generation Digital Learning Commons

next gen front page

The Next Generation home page, featuring an image courtesy of The Coleman Center for the Arts

Today, Art of the Rural (AOTR) and the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) announce the launch of a new Digital Learning Commons ( A platform for storytelling, research, and best practices, the Commons fosters an inclusive space for deeper collaboration and learning exchange, to assert the essential role of arts and cultural organizations in rural economic and community development. In doing so, the Learning Commons addresses two of the major challenges facing rural arts practitioners – geographic distance and access to information and networks – and establishes a digital intermediary through which these partnerships can develop.

Next Generation: The Future of Arts & Culture Placemaking in Rural America engages artists, organizations, and communities across the public, philanthropic and private sector to advance collaboration, share innovative strategies and research, and elevate emerging leaders in the field. This initiative is designed and facilitated in concert with a wide range of regional and national partners and supported by The University of Iowa and The National Endowment for the Arts.

“Next Generation emerged from conversations between The Rural Policy Research Institute and Art of the Rural,” stated Matthew Fluharty, Executive Director of Art of the Rural, “as we recognized that the missions, collaborative partnerships, and credibility with which each operated in their respective spaces were critical to those of the other, if both were to fully achieve their mission. This initiative is designed to catalyze transformational change in public, private, and philanthropic commitments to rural America.”

“From a rural context, we have much to learn from the evolving creative placemaking conversation,” Chuck Fluharty, President of the Rural Policy Research Institute, indicated. “However, the critical interchange between arts and culture, and rural development and public policy beyond the arts has yet to be fully articulated. Furthermore, the cross-sectoral synapses this enterprise is connecting in urban locales must become expressed beyond our cities. The future of our rural places, and the next generation of its citizens, depend on the kinds of innovation and collective impact fostered through such collaborations.”


Next Generation operates through three interlinked 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 Next Generation Convenings, including a national Rural Creative Placemaking Summit, to be held at the University of Iowa, October 12-14, 2016, that will merge the activities of the Networks and Commons and expand the rural placemaking network.

To learn more, visit

The Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange is featured in The Daily Yonder

Last week, the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange program was featured in The Daily Yonder, a multi-media source of news, commentary, research, and features published by the Center for Rural Strategies, a non-profit media organization based in Whitesburg, Kentucky, and Knoxville, Tennessee.

The Yonder’s Shawn Poynter reached out to Rural-Urban Exchange organizers Savannah Barrett (Art of the Rural) and Josh May (Appalshop) to learn more about how the partnership between two Kentucky-based arts organizers has brought together folks from across the state to break down regional borders.

To read the article, visit:


About the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange:

Launched by partner organizations Art of the Rural & Appalshop, the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange is inspiring statewide collaboration between arts, agriculture, and small business as driving forces in economic development. The Exchange is a new approach to creative placemaking that builds a statewide constellation network and integrates key sectors in partnership strategies that address our shared social and economic future.

In the past two years, the Rural-Urban Exchange network has assembled seventy five next generation leaders from every corner of the Commonwealth to connect network, build collective impact models, and develop systems for resource sharing within local communities and across regions of Kentucky. With new partners in 2015 including the Kentucky Arts Council and Maiden Alley Cinema, the Exchange connected leaders from the coalfields of Appalachia to the cities of Louisville, Lexington, and Covington, to the river towns of southwestern Kentucky.

We have activated network members in 16 counties in Kentucky, brought together over 20 locally-owned businesses to discuss KY’s shared economic future, facilitated over a dozen statewide collaborations in sectors ranging from small business, to community development, visual arts & agriculture. These networks are committed to advancing projects that not only provide significant economic impact, but cultivate place-based development that improves quality of life for Kentuckians.

RUX at Americana in Louisville. Art making Mapping RuralUrban Connections. Photo by Aron Conaway
Rural-Urban Exchange members map their experiences in the state of Kentucky at the Americana Community Center in Louisville, 2015.
Photo Credit: Aron Conaway

In 2016, the Rural-Urban Exchange will gather in Lexington, Paducah, and Harlan County. Applications for the program will become available in March, 2016. Together, we are creating opportunities for Kentuckians to cultivate relationships across divides in order to build a more unified and equitable Commonwealth for all. To learn more about the project, visit or follow us on Facebook:

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.