Next Generation Rural

The 2016 Rural Creative Placemaking Summit in Iowa City brought 300 people from 38 states together to consider our greatest opportunities. Photo Credit Pioneer Collective.

Next Generation collaborates with national networks to involve artists, organizations, and communities in meaningful dialogue and learning exchange to self-define contemporary rural culture and advance policy and decision making. 

The Work of Next Generation

Since 2015, Next Generation has addressed these goals through platforms the field has urgently desired for years: a Digital Learning Commons to express rural value through storytelling and research; multi-state regional networks for collective impact and field building; a Digital Exchange webinar series to align diverse sectors in conversation; and an inclusive, intergenerational national summit that convened 300 leaders and public policy decision makers from 38 states. By alternating between face-to-face exchange and digital engagement, we’ve contributed to a national rural creative placemaking network that consistently elevates local and regional innovation, expands intercultural leadership, and forwards a deeper conversation about the cultural wealth of rural America.

As a result, Next Generation has created significant national policy impact. The initiative partnered with the Delta Regional Authority and 130 Delta communities through a Creative Placemaking Investment program, worked with the South Carolina and Kentucky Promise Zones to organize a young artist’s exchange, and coordinated with a regional hospital and community development corporation to develop a Kentucky convening on the intersections of food, art, education, health, and social cohesion.

These impacts are matched by the work of the RUPRI Rural Cultural Wealth Lab, one of four inaugural National Endowment for the Arts Research Labs. This national effort unites cultural policy experts, social science researchers, and economists to explore the role of cultural wealth in rural innovation and sustainability. Pairing this groundbreaking research team with internationally-recognized culture bearers ensures that rural values are embedded in this unique evidence-based research, building innovative metrics that substantiate rural creative placemaking impacts and strengthen public policy outcomes.

The Future of Next Generation

In its next phase, Next Generation will further integrate rural research, policy, and practice towards focused investigation of the ever-changing cultural/economic dynamics of rural communities. By so doing, Next Generation will expand the impact of its knowledge building, exchange, and regional collaboration, while also creating products that broadly communicate the impact of rural creative placemaking to philanthropy and the public sector – and articulate an imperative for rural equity, as less than two percent of arts foundation funding currently supports rural cultural groups.

To that end, Next Generation convenings and digital engagements will be designed as immersive experiences that embody the value, diversity, and nuance of contemporary rural culture while inspiring lasting connections to rural people and places. This mission is guided by four interconnected programs: Next Generation Digital Exchanges and Podcasts, Fieldship journeys, and the national Next Generation Rural Summit.

Next Generation leverages the Rural Policy Research Institute policy acumen, which has generated unbiased analysis, public dialogue, and significant rural policy impacts since their founding by Congress 25 years ago. By collaborating across the RUPRI portfolio with national associations and federal agencies, Next Generation shapes state and federal policies that enable the most essential capacities for rural sustainability: regional intermediaries to enhance peer learning and collective impact; regional, state, and national convenings to connect practitioners and resource providers; and public policy presence to assert the importance of this sector in broader community and economic sustainability.

National Gatherings and Fieldbuilding

The second national Next Generation Rural Summit will build on the momentum of the Next Generation program of work to align rural research, practice, and policy towards the cohesion and innovation of the rural creative field. By connecting the distinctive constituencies of Art of the Rural, RUPRI and its Rural Cultural Wealth Lab, this gathering will add deeper investigation into successful cross-sector partnerships and the connective power of local, inclusive, community culture. While the 2016 Summit served a crucial role in building the rural creative placemaking network, the 2019 convening – through its collaboration with regional hosts and national partners in the Mississippi Delta – will re-convene the field to consider our greatest opportunities: to leverage our social, cultural and natural resources to address sustainability, regional cohesion, and rural quality of life. The Next Generation Rural Summit is supported in partnership with ArtPlace America, the National Endowment for the Arts, and many national network partners and sponsors.

The 2016 Rural Creative Placemaking Summit was designed to enhance cross-sector collaboration, elevate intercultural perspectives within the field, and build policy presence for deeper consideration of rural creative placemaking. Held October 12-14, 2016 at the University of Iowa, this gathering shared reflections from Regional Network members, connected lessons across geographies, and built deeper cross-sector collaborations. Together, we presented a sustained argument for the centrality of rural creative placemaking – as a field, and as a strategy for development and community sustainability.

Translating Value: to further express the centrality of rural Americans in our nation’s community and economic development future, Next Generation staff and Art of the Rural artists will continue field building efforts at a range of regional and national convenings, and collaborate across the RUPRI portfolio to strengthen knowledge building in the rural creative placemaking field.

Digital Learning and Exchange

The Digital Exchange series draws on the power of connection to bridge further conversation across the regions, sectors, and place-based philosophies that make the work of creative placemaking so essential to the future of our rural places. These one-hour Digital Exchanges feature 2-4 voices from across the country, sharing specific themes, challenges, and opportunities we collectively encounter in this work. The understanding gleaned from these digital explorations directly contribute to our national fieldbuilding efforts, simultaneously informing the design of Next Generation’s national programs while inviting new collaborators to generate knowledge and connection across the rural creative placemaking field.

Regional Networks

From 2015-2017, Next Generation piloted Regional Networks in three states to self-define their objectives, enhance linkages across the community and economic development, arts, and policy communities, and create cross-sector projects that address the needs and opportunities of their shared regions. The 2015-2016 cohort of Regional Networks were organized in Iowa, Kentucky, and Minnesota. In each, Next Generation facilitated three integrated strategies for rural advancement:

1 – A Regional Network Working Group that advanced institutional, public and private support for Regional Networks while informing policy and practice across the region

2 – Collaborative Projects designed with Next Generation leadership to enhance cross-sector networks and articulate a common mission for their shared region
3 – Regional Convenings
that facilitated the convergence of these cross-sector networks. The first round of these gatherings occured in summer of 2016.

2018 Kentucky Food+Art+Health convening in Owensboro evolved from the Next Generation Regional Network in Kentucky.

Knowledge Building and Learning Commons

To assert the essential role of arts and cultural organizations in economic and community development, the metrics built by Next Generation inform and validate program and policy exemplars as an essential component of knowledge building in this field. Through the production and release of case studies, policy briefs, publications, videos and podcasts, this digital Learning Commons offers an inclusive platform for features, commentary, and best practices from across the rural arts and culture field. The Learning Commons is developed by Arts and Ideas, whose design combines social giving, civic engagement, and into a single platform. To visit the Learning Commons, visit:

Homepage from the rural learning commons– a component of the Next Generation Rural Creative Placemaking collaboration with RUPRI.

AOTR_1_line_2_color_PMSRupri-Logo_finalThe Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI): Established with bipartisan support from members of the United States Senate in 1990, RUPRI is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It is the only national policy institute solely dedicated to the assessment of the rural impacts of public policies and programs.

To learn more about Next Generation, visit