November 30, 2016

Building Connections and Communities: The Rural Creative Placemaking Summit

Angela Moreno-Long

This past October, Art of the Rural and the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) hosted the Next Generation: Rural Creative Placemaking Summit at the University of Iowa. The summit was designed to enhance cross-sector collaboration, elevate intercultural perspectives within the field, and foster greater investment for rural creative placemaking. The Next Generation initiative emerged from conversations between Art of the Rural and the Rural Policy Research Institute. Both organizationquickly realized that their mission, collaborative partnerships, and the credibility with which each enjoyed in their respective areas of expertise, were critical to each other. The alignment of the nation’s only congressionally-funded rural policy institute in collaboration with an arts and culture organization underscores the imperative for the Next Generation Initiative— that the future of rural communities requires a sustainable relationship between not only the arts and business, or the arts and health, but the arts and all rural sectors that have a stake in the success and sustainability of their rural region.

Summit attendees gather along the banks of the Iowa River to enjoy a performance of Loup Garou by Nick Slie of Mondo Bizzaro. Photo credit Pioneer Collective.

Rural creative placemaking uses arts and creativity as a tool to make public spaces and communities better, stronger places. This summit provided lessons learned from different contexts and geographies and emphasized the importance of rural creative placemaking as a strategy for community development. A key theme at the conference was that collaboration is key for successful development.

Communities rich in arts and culture enjoy a high quality of life, unique character, and opportunities for social participation and economic investment. Under these conditions, new businesses can more easily develop and existing ones can expand. In addition, communities become attractive to outside talent and can attract additional jobs, businesses, and entrepreneurs. Strong community collaboration is an important part of a continuous link between arts and economic development. When you connect people, you connect resources necessary for starting and expanding business.  

Rural Creative Placemaking Closing Keynote Panel: Arts and Culture Inclusion in National Placemaking Partnerships- Lessons Learned and Future Guideposts." Panelists (from left to right): Chris Masingill, Federal Co-Chair, Delta Regional Authority, Linda Langston, ‎Director of Strategic Relations, National Association of Counties, Doug O’Brien, Senior Policy Advisor for Rural Affairs, White House Domestic Policy Council, Earl Gohl, Federal Co-Chair, Appalachian Regional Commission, Jamie Bennett, Executive Director, ArtPlace America, Jason Schupbach, Director of Design Programs, National Endowment for the Arts. Photo credit Pioneer Collective.

SaveYour.Town co-founders Deb Brown and Becky McCray have produced a checklist to help rural towns identify possible partners in their own communities. The “Rural Creative Placemaking to Build Connections”checklist identifies who to look for, how to use the checklist, and ways to engage partners. The Next Generation Summit is just the first step in convening representatives from across all sectors to celebrate the power of creative placemaking in building economically viable, vibrant communities through arts and creativity. Visit the Next Generation websitefor more examples of what collaborative rural creative placemaking looks like, and watch the video archive of conference proceedings. Working together, local residents can build stronger communities, improve their public spaces, and improve their shared quality of life.

David Jones of Pioneer Collective shares his work during a plenary panel on "Next Generation Place-based Innovations:
Rural Visions, Values, and Hope for the Future." Photo credit Pioneer Collective.