Rachel Reynolds Luster featured in Field Notes Blog

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Photograph Rachel Reynolds Luster courtesy of the Oregon County Food Producers and Artisans Co-Op

By Matthew Fluharty

This week Field Notes, an Arts Journal site edited by National Arts Strategies, features a conversation between Art of the Rural Founding Member Rachel Reynolds Luster and Laurelin Kruse, an artist and musician who has directed the Musuem of Nowhere and who has just begun a new project: The Mobile Museum of American Artifacts. Both are part of National Arts Strategies’s Creative Community Fellows program this year.

In this vibrant conversation, Rachel shares her thoughts on a range of subjects (from creative placemaking to Wendell Berry) as understood through her work with the Oregon County Food Producers and Artisans Co-Op, the Mrytle Library, and within in the field of folklore — the animating spirit behind her work with the life and legacy of Mary Celestia Parler, our inaugural Middle Landscape project.

Below, I’ll share an excerpt from the conversation between Rachel and Laurelin. Please find the full text from Field Notes here, along with a series of conversations between other Creative Community Fellows and a video conversation between the Directors of National Arts Strategies on the subject of Creative Placemaking and Cultural Entrepreneurship.

Rachel: I work mainly in Oregon County Missouri, a sparsely populated county in the southern Missouri Ozarks. I have worked to organize food producers and artisans into a cooperative for the last few years. I’m from the Ozarks and my background is in folklore, mainly working with traditional artists. I moved to Oregon County eight years ago and immediately fell in love with this corner of the Ozark hills. My husband is also a folklorist and, for both personal and professional reasons, we have been interested in foodways or the way that food is produced, prepared, and exchanged and the oral traditions associated with these practices. Pretty early on in our Oregon County journey, we realized that food production was a big deal here, although all small-scale and decentralized. There are some pretty depressing socio-economic statistics in our county. Historically and today folks have produced food and exchanged it with neighbors for other goods and services as a way of being able to stay. I began to think of what could happen if we centralized this exchange in one location and how it could be used to bring people together both for community fellowship and as a means to address community needs.

Laurelin: It’s compelling to me that you have a background as a folklorist and are now working as a librarian.

Rachel: Well, I’m sort of an accidental librarian, enthusiastic, but accidental. I still work as a folklorist too. In many ways, I consider OCFPAC a folklore project.

Laurelin: I worked in two rare books libraries in college and after graduating my first job was in archives at an artist foundation in New York City. It got me thinking about how we value things, what we choose to preserve, and how our decision to archive or showcase something in a museum impacts its meaning. I thought it was crazy that several people were working full-time to document every detail of the work of one dead artist (for the purpose of scholarship, but also for the purpose of increasing the monetary value of these works). So, I thought I’d do something equally as crazy and create a museum and archive dedicated to everyday people, their objects and their stories. So there’s my project, the Mobile Museum of American Artifacts (MMoAA).

It’s been hard though. I’ve been in the planning stages for about a year and just launched MMoAA two days ago in collaboration with the non-profit Artspace in New Haven, CT. I’m reinvigorated by that, but for awhile, I was getting so bogged down in logistics the project felt nearly impossible.