Rural Generation

Culture - Equity - Impact

Ron Ragin singing at Rural Generation 2019; photo: Nik Nerburn

Launched in 2014 as a partnership between Art of the Rural, The Rural Policy Research Institute, and a host of national networks, Next Generation: The Future of Arts and Culture Placemaking in Rural America worked for five years to involve artists, organizations, and communities in meaningful dialogue and learning exchange to build collective impact and advance public and private sector decision making.

Next Generation developed platforms the field had 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, in October of 2016, 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 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.

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.

In 2019, these efforts changed in name to Rural Generation and featured a second national Summit in Mississippi organized in partnership with Alternate Roots, First Peoples Fund, Sipp Culture, and a national Working Group.

This Summit was designed as a unique blend of immersive local engagement with our Mississippi host partners, regional development impact for the host communities, and a gathering of thought leadership to express the rural dimensions of equity and social justice in the arts and culture landscape.

The Summit was designed with partners in response to the needs articulated through our national survey and extensive engagement with the Rural Generation Working Group. Thus, while professional development, expanded networks, and state-of-the-field plenaries remained a focus of our conference, much of our time together offered a meeting ground for exchange—where artists and community organizers might get to know economic developers, funders, elected officials, and researchers who share their passion for rural places. Based on the expressed desire for a strong sense-of-place component, the Summit  offered a direct and authentic reckoning with the cultural and historical legacies of the Mississippi Delta, a collective experience led by individuals who work each day to advance this region. Through “roving plenaries” on buses between these visits, and smaller facilitated “home rooms” that built relationships and expand networks, attendees had the opportunity to reflect upon this experience while engaging in comparative learning that will brought transformative value back to their own organizations, networks, and regions.

Planning is currently underway for the next phase of Rural Generation work, set to launch in 2023.