April 23, 2014

Wormfarm, Charro Days and Cowboy Poetry: An Artistic Approach to Rural

CIRD Staff

We are very excited to have recently discovered The Art of the Rural, an organization entirely devoted to “elevating the rural arts” through their digital platform and on-the-ground projects that preserve and revive rural arts across the country.  

We closely examined a few of their many initiatives to explore: How does integrating art improve and impact rural communities?

Here is what we found:

Art Exposes A Community's Assets, Connecting Rural to Urban & Boosting Its Economy

A recent State of the Rural Arts article featured The Wormfarm Institute, which produces “a wide-range of cultural programming uniquely designed to engage both rural and urban participants while addressing art and agriculture simultaneously.” One of their events, the annual Fermentation Fest, uniquely celebrates both art and farming—“culture in all its forms,” as Donna Neuwirth, the Executive Director of the Wormfarm Institute said, “from dance to yogurt, from poetry to sauerkraut," and features roadside culture stands and installations created by artists. The festival “brings together farmers, chefs, artists, poets, and cheese makers to offer tastings, demonstrations, classes, events, seminars and farm tours," drawing in visitors from rural and urban areas across the country. While in town, the visitors stay in the local hotels, eat in the restaurants, and shop at the privately owned businesses. “We saw immediately the benefits of the urban-rural connection by having city people visit the farm, who were mostly if not artists at least creative types who were very inspired by rural Wisconsin” (Donna Neuwirth and Jay Salinas, The Wormfarm Institute).

The Wormfarm Institute also offers an artist-in-residency program that is combined with a community supported agriculture (CSA) program—inviting artists with urban experiences to “engage in the life of a working farm.”  This has helped regenerate the communities’ dwindling population of young people—an issue many rural communities face--as many of the artists stayed.

Art Celebrates A Community’s Culture & Preserves Its Past, Connecting It to Others

We know that rural communities have unique traditions central to their town’s identity—whether they involve art or not.  The Charro Days Fiesta is a celebration of “the shared culture of Southwest Texas and Northeast Mexico and its international dialogue on place-based cultural heritage,” which began 77 years ago to lift community spirits during the Great Depression.  Residents and visitors dress in the traditional costumes of Mexico and do the traditional dances to honor the Charros, the Mexican cowboys “who were heroes of the borderlands.” International bridges have opened during the festival, allowing family and friends to share the festivities, and in the “Hands Across the Bridge” ceremony,  the mayors of Brownsville and Matamoros meet to officially begin the festival, as a symbol of international friendship.

Art Helps Imagine the Future of Rural Communities

The Western Folklife Center just hosted the 30th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering—“one of the nation’s premier celebrations of the people and culture of the American West.” It is an event that celebrates and remembers the traditions of cowboy poetry, but also other traditions and art of the West such as: rawhide braiding, cinch-making, hat-making, silverwork, Dutch-oven cooking and more.  The poems and songs bring back memories of the communities’ past that have only been retold orally, and are recounted at the event through poetry.  

This year’s gathering was focused on “encouraging the next generation of cowboy artists, and working together to ensure the sustainability of the occupational and artistic traditions of the rural West.”  Residents were asked: “If there were no limitations, what is your vision of the West you want to build?” After the responses were collected, they were synthesized to create the Expressing the Rural West Into the Future Exhibition.

We invite you to explore both the projects featured on the Art of the Rural, as well as the CIRD resources, to see how art can celebrate, honor, preserve, and improve your community. If you have an art or culture project or success story to share, send it our way.