Createquity on the Place of Artists in Revitalizing Rural Communities

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The excellent Createquity, which operates as a “hub for next-generation ideas on the role of the arts in a creative society” through its mission of engaging arts and culture across disciplines, recently published “Artists Shaking Up and Strengthening Communities in Rural America.” Rachel Engh, a recent Masters graduate from University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, covers a great deal of ground by examining the economic and generational factors behind artists’ role as contributors for rural “brain gain” and offering examples of how these makers are helping communities address contemporary challenges. Engh also highlights efforts toward building national networks, and we are honored to be mentioned alongside Rural America Contemporary Art in this regard.

The essay begins by considering the dynamics of the “brain gain” and revealing the new rural-urban exchange that has developed in its wake:

Small towns across the county are seeing their cohort of 30-49 year olds grow, a phenomenon [Ben Winchester of University of Minnesota Extension] has called “brain gain,” because these folks are in their early or mid-careers and bring with them education, skills, and connections to professionals outside the community. Attracting and keeping people in this age group can be an effective way to create an increased tax base, a more diversified economy, a more vibrant school system (since these people tend to have families), and new ideas and optimism. Only about 35-45% of the brain gain cohort is returning to a place where they once lived, meaning the majority of people who move to rural places have been attracted to somewhere new.

Artists can play an integral role in brain gain, both as part of an incoming cohort and as a means of attracting others. Concerted efforts by a rural area to attract artists can be an especially high-yield strategy because of the nature of artistic work. Researchers Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa argue that artists tend to be “footloose,” meaning they are not tied to a specific place and may work from home; because they often struggle to find affordable space in metropolitan areas, rural areas may be especially attractive to them. Once a rural area hosts a population of artists, they can help the region attract non-artist residents who value the arts as an amenity, and they can engage all residents in relationship-building through cultural activity.

Rachel Engh’s piece continues at Createquity.