Art of the Rural advances rural culture and quality of life through relationships that connect communities, cultivate dialogue, and forward rural-urban exchange.

Story circle at the UK Art Museum convening during the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange Lexington Community Intensive, June 25 2017, photo by Tim Morton.

This work began in 2009 as a blog, with a mission to help build the field of the rural arts, create new narratives on rural culture and community, and contribute to the emerging rural arts and culture movement. By 2018, the Next Generation Rural Creative Placemaking initiative, Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange, OutPost Winona, and a range of affiliated projects, Art of Rural’s work invites a broad range of rural people to contribute projects and media efforts that embody the value, diversity, and nuance of contemporary rural culture and inspire lasting connections to rural people and places.

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

In our digital work, Art of the Rural acts as a platform for rural people and organizations to share their perspectives, projects, and opportunities. With a social media presence of nearly 10,000 people, a suite of established websites, and a popular digital exchange series, we work to articulate the rural cultural context with clarity, comparative understanding, and inclusive rigor. In our public presentations, we work to further express the centrality of rural Americans in our nation’s community and economic development future by representing rural interests at a range of regional and national convenings, and collaborating across the RUPRI portfolio to strengthen knowledge building in the rural creative placemaking field.

Carl Atiya Swanson from Springboard for the Arts facilitates a conversation during the Public Transformation exhibition opening at Outpost Winona.

Art of the Rural’s strategic advantage lies in our three connected but disparate strategies of scale. While our most notable national project partners with RUPRI on the Next Generation initiative, we also operate both a regional program in Kentucky (the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange) and a local program in Winona, MN (Outpost Winona). We do this for two reasons– 1) the work in Kentucky and Winona specifically responds to a community need and is built in partnership with a trusted network of partners, and 2) we strongly believe that our national work is improved by what we learn from our engagement in our home communities, and that our regional and local work benefits from the best practices, networks, resources, and relationships we develop in our national programs. In other words, each scale of work informs the other, so that AOTR acts as a learning laboratory not only for the benefit of our organization and programs, but the national rural arts and culture field.

Summit attendees get to know one another through square dance at the 2016 Next Generation Rural Creative Placemaking Summit in Iowa City, which brought together 300 people from 38 states.

As Art of the Rural moves toward the end of its first decade, we find that the same central challenge remains: distance. The rural field is still defined by a geographic, cultural, social, and economic distance that short-circuits progress. This quality is unique to rural America. Its challenge is amplified by both the deeply inequitable gaps in federal and philanthropic support to rural places, and by a parallel gap in outlets for communication and cultural conversation in an urban-centric field. We feel more urgently that ever that the future of the people and places we all love relies on how we reach across these distances –  and how we welcome others to join us.