Friday, August 31, 2012

From Last Chance To Venice: A M12 Mixtape

This week the M12 art collective has traveled from their usual base of operations on the Colorado High Plains to the European Lowlands, more specifically the 13th International Venice Architecture Biennale, the most prestigious event in this field. [full disclosure: AOTR Director Matthew Fluharty is on the M12 Board of Directors.]

In a confirmation of the values and aesthetic objectives of the M12, the collective's Campito Project will stand in the US Pavillion as part of the show Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good

We will be featuring an interview with Richard Saxton and Kirsten Stoltz of the M12 when they return stateside but, until then, we offer this From Last Chance to Venice mixtape -- a selection of songs near and dear to these artists. The Last Chance portion of the title refers to the small town (pop. 14) in Colorado that is collaborating with the M12 to create The Experimental Site for Rural Creativity, a permanent home for the M12's work. 

For folks who don't use Spotify, we offer this mixtape via YouTube. As some of these songs could not be found on YouTube, other songs by these artists are presented instead:

A Good Flying Day - The Sadies
Cherry Bomb - The Runaways
Cachaca - Calexico
Cannonball - Waco Brothers
Ether - Gang of Four
Aspirin - Green on Red 
Rebel Girl - Bikini Kill
43 - Richmond Fontaine
Betty's Overture - Lambchop
She's a Wild One - Blue Moutnain
Oh Bondage Up Yours - X-Ray Spex

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Introducing The Rural Arts & Culture Working Group

Working on next steps; all photos by Shawn Poynter

By Matthew Fluharty, Director of Art of the Rural

Over the next few weeks Art of the Rural will begin to share the stories and perspectives from the Rural Arts and Culture Working Group, a diverse group of artists, practitioners, and advocates that recently gathered for inaugural meetings at Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield, Massachusetts. Our time together was made possible by Americans for the Arts, Arts and Democracy, The Bush Foundation, The Center for Rural Strategies, Greenfield Community College, The National Endowment of the Arts, and The New England Foundation for the Arts.

Along with Whitney Kimball Coe of the Center for Rural Strategies and Matthew Glassman of Double Edge Theatre, I had the honor of convening this Group and helping frame and record the initial conversations. Forty folks from across the country came together in response to a call to create and advocate for a new narrative of the rural arts and culture that considers rural-urban connections, cultural and agricultural sustainability, the role of rural youth, racial and ethnic inclusiveness, and the necessity of creating fresh cross-sector collaborations.

We gathered at Double Edge Theatre to start a movement.

Both in its philosophy, and in the site-specific theater work that occurs across its farm, buildings, and fields, we found in Double Edge a profound metaphor for both the urgency and the timelessness of our mission. Led by Artistic Director Stacy Klein, this theatre has embraced its local community and helped transform a town's economy, all the while producing some of the most vital and transcendent productions to be found anywhere in America. It's rare for an artistic project to so consistently achieve such a high, experimental, standard while also maintaining such an commitment to local place.

As a result, our Working Group meetings were inspired, and given structure, by the rhythms of this company. We had a chance to take in a performance of The Odyssey, their annual "summer spectacle," and to witness their farm transformed into a tableux through which an ancient story finds a contemporary voice. On this visionary ground, and with the assistance of a dozen of its actors each day, we found the facilities and creative spirit through which to come together as a peer community and chart the course before us, like Odysseus, that might lead us to port.

David Martinez of the Media Literacy Project, with Kelle Jolly of Carpetbag Theatre, and Rachel Reynolds Luster of AOTR

Cross-cultural, interdisciplinary, and intergenerational, we convened with a shared belief in the power of artmaking to both express and reimagine the cultural life of rural America. As we've all seen art change the lives of individuals and communities, we also feel that it can play a profound role in shaping how rural America is represented in national policy discussions. Artists and cultural practitioners can create powerful narratives and metaphors to a host of policy concerns, from rural broadband to economic development to the need for greater philanthropic investment in rural America.

 Javiera Benavente and Caron Atlas of Arts and Democracy

Though we travelled to Double Edge Theatre from all across the country, and though our own definitions of those central terms -- rural, arts, culture -- varied within our fields and our regions of experience, we discovered a common ground and a shared imperative. We found ways to best understand the cultural moment that surrounds such work in rural (and urban) America, a quality of consciousness best described by Carlos Uriona of Double Edge Theatre as that of Crisis, Danger, and Opportunity.

Art of the Rural is committed to sharing the stories and perspectives that make up such a consciousness, and in coming weeks will begin to feature the voices from this Working Group as well as the voices of those who did not spend those four intense days with us at Double Edge Theatre. Though forty folks gathered for this initial meeting, my colleagues and I recognize that a fully-articulated effort will take far more minds, and far more collaboration. In September we will begin to share more information about the ways that everyone can help to contribute to this work and these conversations.

Nikiko Masumoto, agrarian artist; Rachel Beth Rudi, AOTR contributor

In thinking about what we can craft together, I'll offer this basic assertion of the Group's purpose and its statements of belief:

We gather to develop an organized effort that promotes our shared belief in the transformative power of the arts in rural America.  We hope [as this work begins] to create the basic framework for a movement that spans the country,  that resonates across cultures, disciplines, and experiences and informs policy.

•We believe that rural America is changing. Artists and cultural workers are on the front lines of these new definitions of rural place and identity.
•We believe the arts and culture inform policies across all sectors.
•We believe the arts are a primary vehicle for the advancement of cultural values and rights.
•We believe that storytelling and creativity are essential to the health of a community.
•We believe that arts and culture are central to all forms of sustainability.
•We believe that the efforts of artists and cultural workers can empower youth and expand cross-cultural dialogues.
•We believe artists create powerful narratives that transcend rural-urban and international boundaries.
•We believe real change is cultural.

Jennifer Armstrong, Illinois Council of the Arts; Bonita Rickers, Institute of American Indian Arts; Patrice Walker Powell, National Endowment of the Arts

While the language above formed a foundation for the first scenes of this movement, there are additions, clarifications, and expansions to this mission that emerged during our conversations at Double Edge Theatre. Forthcoming  documents and communication will offer far greater detail of this content.

Thus, I'd like to offer a few additional thoughts -- and to say that the reflections to follow are solely my own. We hope to share many further perspectives on the philosophy and next-steps of a rural arts and culture movement on Art of the Rural in the coming weeks.

• We need to build a broad coalition of folks from the local to national level. We are building this movement not only for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren. We are establishing a support system -- from academics to artists to cultural practitioners to arts advocates -- that can offer, for the first time, a collaborative narrative of rural artmaking and its inseparable cultural life. Let's build this now, so that our children don't have to come back in 20 years and try to create this again.

• Let's steward these collaborations toward art, publications, events, etc, that create a body of expression and a store of resources that can provide an organized aesthetic and cultural perspective that has, up to this point, been a challenge to locate and assemble into a coherent narrative.

• With this, let's at last refuse the rural-urban binary. The fate of rural America is the fate of urban America.

• This a moment to also reconsider what "rural" identity means. Can we make space in this definition for the millions of folks within the rural diaspora who live in our cities and suburbs? Might art and culture work serve as the bridge to opening up notions of rural membership to urban audiences?

Carlos Uriona, Double Edge Theatre; Savannah Barrett, arts administrator & AOTR contributor

• For us to understand where we've going as rural people and artists, we must understand where have come from.  We need to grasp our social history -- and to project this history across imposed cultural and ideological boundaries. If we are going to argue for a new place for the rural arts, we must understand, historically, how the rural arts have been situated in this national and international conversation.

• To those ends, universities must be engaged partners in this work. And these institutions need to think more broadly about their responsibility to their regions.

Kirsten Stoltz, M12; Rachel Luster; Scott Walters, Center for Rural Arts Development & Leadership

• We also should scan the folks who normally participate in such rural-themed convenings and collaborations. What occupations and points-of-view are often left out?

• This initial meeting, necessarily so, was focused on the community applications of the arts. How do we integrate the experience of individual artists not working an explicitly "social" vein? How do we integrate art that is abstract and non-representational?

• In a changed moment for arts funding, what is the role of entrepreneurship? 

• If we are building a rural arts and culture movement, this must be a gathering force that is open, inclusive, and dedicated to honest dialogue. Let's create a space where we can speak freely, and where we expect to hear a difference of opinion.

• Many of us have been to meetings and conferences that led to impassioned and creative conversations -- and then, after everyone left, produced nothing concrete or sustainable. This Working Group is founded upon the belief that conversation is not enough. To make change we must make change. 

• And, most importantly, this must be a movement built upon real human relationships. As Kelle Jolly of Carpetbag Theatre said during our gathering, let's go to each others' homes and let's sit at each others' tables.

Please find below more excellent photography by Shawn Poynter, with a full archive of photos from the Working Group gathering here. To read more on further perspectives on this work, please see Mary Annette Pember's piece in The Daily Yonder and Chris Beck's reflections on the USDA Blog. We will be sharing more news and updates on this work soon, with opportunities for conversation and collaboration.

Catharine Jordan of the Bush Foundation, Jay Salinas and Donna Neuwirth of the Wormfarm Institute, and Matthew Glasman of Double Edge Theatre

Mary Annette Pember speaking during a conversation on rural media

Philip Arnoult of The Center for International Theatre Development facilitating a discussion

Friday, August 24, 2012

Arts Funding 2.0: Caleb Elliott

By Rachel Reynolds Luster, Contributing Editor

This week’s featured crowd funding campaign is Caleb Elliott’s Kickstarter project, “Caleb Elliott’s Debut Album.”

“Son of a preacher man. Child of melody. Brother of Harmony,” begins the bio link from Caleb Elliott’s Kickstarter project, which seems an apt introduction to the music he’s creating along with a host of well-honed musicians including Grammy award winner Mitch Reed of Beau Soleil and Sam Broussard.

Caleb’s south Louisiana roots are evident in the tracks available, but there is also a richness that reaches above and beyond the expected, in part because of the mix of beats and grooves laid down by Doug Belote, as well as Caleb’s background as a classical cellist.  He's been a singer/songwriter since age thirteen.

The songs have been recorded for his debut. This campaign focuses on the final touches in the studio, production, and release. Caleb’s offering some sweet incentives for supporting the project including copies of the record in digital and vinyl formats and even an associate producer credit. The campaign is gaining ground, and we wish Caleb the best in successfully funding his project. We’d like to offer a special thanks to Art of The Rural reader, Jen Mouton, of Bonne Terre Cottage for sharing this campaign with us. Jen’s got a great retreat down just outside of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana that you might want to look into as well.

Folks can find out more about Caleb at his Caleb Elliott Music Facebook page.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Course on Midwest Culture: A Bibliography

Airborne, 2010; Alex Roulette as seen in fly over art

By Kenyon Gradert, Course on Midwest Culture Series Editor

A quality course begins with quality secondary sources. Such quotidian details may seem annoying for those chomping at the bit to get on to the primary stuffs of Garland, Anderson, et al, but, quite simply, it needs to be done.

Humanities-folks aren’t always much for the quantitative, but some data can help. A quick Googling of “Southern literature” reveals a Norton Anthology and 293,000 hits. The same for “Midwest literature” offers up no Norton and 72,400 hits. A region with roughly twice the population of the Midwest (according to the most recent census, including Texas) has four times as much online material. If Google accurately mirrors the grander world, then, per capita, the south gets twice as much literary attention as the Midwest. 

But we’re not starting from scratch. Fine scholars have established a modest but quality base of secondary material on Midwest literature (with far more on our region’s fine history, specifically--not included here) and, while I’m still spoiled by my university’s excellent library system, I intend to get most such books atop my desk and write all too brief reviews for your reading pleasure.

Sisson, Zacher, Cayton, ed. The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia (Indiana UP, 2007). The most valuable member of the pack is an eight pound beast with equally heavy endorsements from Kurt Vonnegut and Toni Morrison. Its impressive advisory board and editorial staff divide the book between “Landscapes and People” (including charming individual “portraits” of the twelve states), “Society and Culture,” “Community and Social Life,” “Economy and Technology,” and “Public Life.” Most of our time will be spent in the section on culture, of course, with a strong bent towards the encyclopedia’s invaluable section on literature. The book is both meaty and handsome, a scholar and a gentleman, and would make a fine addition to any sturdy bookshelf (and available for around $35 from the consistently impressive What the Oxford English Dictionary is for English nerds, The American Midwest is for Midwestern nerds: you page through it intending a brief sojourn and raise your eyes to discover an hour has gone by.

Barillas, William. The Midwestern Pastoral: Place and Landscape in Literature of the American Heartland. (Ohio UP, 2006). William Barillas’ book examines five midwestern authors from a wide spread of time and genres: Willa Cather, Aldo Leopold, Theodore Roethke, James Wright, and Jim Harrison. Barillas’ introduction and first chapter may be a good place to start for the fledgling Midwestern scholar simply because it is one of the newest pieces of scholarly work. Therein, Barillas poses important questions that build upon previous scholarship: the Midwest’s relationship to America at large as a sort-of synecdochal representative; the problems with regionalisms; and, of course, the centrality of the pastoral myth in the Midwest. Barillas also writes wonderfully. He introduces us to both utilitarian individualist types like “the tinkerer” and “the booster” as well as the romantic individualists who were born and bred on the East Coast but largely shaped by the Westward movement into what would become the Heartland: Emerson, Whitman, Bryant, et al.

Holden, Greg. The Booklovers Guide to the Midwest: A Literary Tour. (Clerisy Press, 2010). If we’re undertaking the regionalist project of studies-attached-to-place, what better guidebook than one that literally takes you up and down major Midwestern highways for a literary road trip? Just plain fun.

Weber, Ronald. The Midwestern Ascendancy in American Writing. (Indiana UP, 1992). An eminently readable work of scholarship by Professor Emeritus of American Studies at Notre Dame, Ronald Weber, and part of the (mainly historical) Midwestern History and Culture series (Madison & Schlereth, ed.). Weber’s work is that excellent type of scholarship in which readers trust the scholar’s detachment yet feel his zeal for the subject matter. Weber’s scholarly work has a broader focus than Barillas’ six-author format, which both expands its value yet restricts sustained close textual analyses. Like Barillas, his introduction is especially helpful for students wishing to get a feel for regionalist scholarship. 

Greasley, Philip A., ed. Dictionary of Midwestern Literature: Volume One: The Authors. (Indiana UP, 2001) Self-explanatory. A second volume is to be released, according to a contributing colleague of mine, precisely at “some time.” “These things take time,” she added.

Longworth, Richard C. Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism. (Bloomsbury, 2008). So this work only tangentially focuses on literature and culture. The book is instead sociological and economic, its central thesis being that the Midwest has adapted poorly to globalization. I enjoy the book, though, because it is written by a fellow Iowan and because it is a call-to-arms, explicitly challenging readers to creatively adapt their regional home. Something is at stake. In addition, the book’s sociological and economic focus are nice “empirical glosses” on our study of nebulous words like “culture” and “regionalism.” Finally, the book starkly contrasts today’s midwest from the Midwest of the 1890s-1930s, a time period that many other scholars deem the area’s Golden Age for both literature and industry. Longworth also maintains The Midwesterner: Blogging the Global Midwest, a blog in conjunction with The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Frederick, John T. Out of the Midwest: A Collection of Present-Day Writings. The late John Frederick was a fellow Iowan and founder of Midland, a regionalist literary journal at the height of Midwestern literary prominence, compiled an anthology of contemporary midwestern writings.  The anthology is available online free and in its entirety, including an enlightening introduction.

Wuthnow, Robert. Remaking the Heartland: Middle America Since the 1950s. (Princeton: UP, 2012). Like Longworth’s Caught in the Middle, I include Robert Wuthnow’s piece as an enlightening bit of sociological analysis. Its central thesis: the Midwest is not the withering, atrophied wasteland but “has undergone a strong, positive transformation since the 1950s.”  In his introduction, Wuthnow admits he was originally “working on the assumption that the heartland was a place of withering decline...I thought that was the story that needed to be told. It made sense of small towns with empty storefronts. Large fields with no farmsteads. Reports of joblessness. But it did not square with other evidence. New technology. A surprisingly robust economy. Strong schools. An upbeat feeling among residents about the future. Clearly I needed to think harder about what was happening. By the time I finished with the research, I had a much different story in mind than when I started.”

Cayton, Andrew R.L. & Gray, Susan E., ed. The American Midwest: Essays on Regional History. (Indiana UP, 2001). This anthology is perhaps second in scholarly worth only to the encyclopedia as all other subsequent works of scholarship on Midwest culture cite Cayton and Gray’s work. This collection of essays is the result of an experimental 1998 conference held at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) in which historians pondered whether or not the Midwest had a regional identity--the same question that undergirds a course on Midwest Culture. The essays give a diverse but focused variety of topics: historian John Larson writes on his experience being hired by an open-air frontier museum in Indiana to dispel the folkish caricatures that had heretofore reigned among museum staff. These new historians and their more objective analysis, Larson reminisces, “were about as welcome as the Grinch who stole Christmas.” Nicole Etcheson discusses the Pioneer as the Midwest’s heroic yet unromantic archetype and ordinariness as a historic burden that can mask real issues of class and race. Quite simply, an impressive and enjoyable collection of essays.

In addition to these fine books of scholarship--the majority put out by Indiana UP to whom we owe a big “thank you”--there are more popular takes on the region, like Ian Frazier’s The Great Plains (only one half of the Midwest, we know) or My Kind of Midwest by John A. Jakle. Finally, there is the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, a scholarly society that seems to focus on contemporary works and is anticipating a conference on Midwestern “country noir.” 

Such a spectrum provides a description of the majority of the work I’ve discovered on Midwest literature and culture. If I’ve passed over any great books or organizations, let us all know on our facebook page.

PS + Preview:

PS: My focus was on scholarly works. Have I narrow-mindedly missed great secondary sources (print or otherwise) for Midwestern culture by focusing on books published by university presses? More broadly, what ought to be a proper relationship between university work on regionalism and the actual region it studies?

Preview: Can those largely unmapped nineteenth-century territories of sprawling prairies known as “The West” be subsumed under the banner of the twentieth-century entity known as “The Midwest”? Or are they separate historical and cultural identities occupying the same geographic space? What exactly is the relationship of the West to the Midwest?

Related Articles:
Course on Midwest Culture archives

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Earliest Footage of Native American Drumming

A Sioux frame drum, 1904; Museum of Modern Art

The Afrodrumming organization recently produced this video detailing two early recorded examples of Native American drumming. Many thanks to Kelle Jolly of Carpetbag Theatre for leading us to this video

Please find the video, alongside their introductory text, below. While the images are stirring in themselves, we would be very interested in learning, and sharing, more of the provenance and context of these clips. 

Though the original footage is silent, music here is provided by The Hopi tribe of Arizona, Kerri Lake, Ephemeral Rift and Kevin MacLeod. 

The following clip is the earliest known footage of ethnic drumming.

At 17 seconds long, it features Native Americans Sioux Hair Coat, Last Horse, Parts His Hair and two unidentified drummers.

It is dated 1884.

The original clip is silent.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

John Baird's Tennessee Gospel

By Jennifer Joy Jameson, Notes From The Field series Editor

In the latest post from Notes From The Field, I wrote about the dynamic metal sculptures of Kittrell, Tennessee artist and gospel singer John Baird. I would be remiss, though, if I did not point the way to I’m Believin’: Gospel Music in Middle Tennessee, a recent album featuring field recordings of a few of John’s original a capella gospel tunes— tunes he is regularly asked to perform at churches throughout Rutherford County. The album is produced by Grammy-winning Spring Fed Records, the in-house record label of The ArtsCenter of Cannon County, in neighboring Woodbury, Tennessee. 

Informally recorded in the performers’ living rooms, the I’m Believin’ album (named after one of Mr. Baird’s compositions) features a snapshot of the wide range of contemporary gospel music performed across urban and rural Middle Tennessee—from the African-American sacred music tradition in Nashville, to the gospel of a Hispanic Pentecostal church in Franklin, to John Baird’s twang-tinged sermons in rural Rutherford County. The producers of the album observe that “Homemade religious musical expression is a tradition [in Middle Tennessee].” Mr. Baird’s unique songwriting process is detailed in the album’s liner notes: 

His songs come to him—often in the middle of the night—as poems that he sets to tunes of his own devising. His rich, country voice and free sense of phrasing make him an appealing a cappella singer, an American Bard.

John Baird has written over 100 gospel tunes, and, as part of an NEA-funded project, folklorist Evan Hatch and the folks at Spring Fed Records are preparing to record and archive every one of his original songs. Spring Fed is also collaborating with students at Middle Tennessee State University to create a series of webisodes featuring the art and music of John Baird, as well as other Tennessee and Southern artists—we can look for those videos this fall on their website.

For now, I’ll leave you with a verse of Mr. Baird’s country-gospel poetry:

I wanna sing a little rock and roll
About the Rock that saved my soul
This Rock will roll me over the tide
And’ll be waitin’ for me on the other side

John Baird - Jesus Is My Rock by Art of the Rural

Related Articles:
The Redeemer: John Baird's Everyday Art
Notes From The Field archives

Monday, August 20, 2012

Romney Vows to Eliminate National Arts Funding

Photograph by Matthew Cavanaugh/McClatchy Tribune

In another entry in the politicalization, and polarization, of Art in the United States, Fortune magazine leaked this excerpt from a forthcoming interview with Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney: 

First there are programs I would eliminate. Obamacare being one of them but also various subsidy programs — the Amtrak subsidy, the PBS subsidy, the subsidy for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities. Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to stand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf.

As we've written before, in the case of the Kansas Arts Veto, this represents a sad confluence of forces, of Culture Wars bullet points that impose a political rhetoric on artmaking itself (liberal, Blue State) and ignore, on the most basic level, the role nationally-funded arts have played in American Democracy, and even in "family values." Further, this ignores the overwhelming data suggesting how -- beyond the intangible benefits of artmaking -- such creative collaborations can transform local economies. The notion of "creative placemaking," which the NEA has brought to life in its Our Town grants for the last two years, is the most significant example of this thinking and its presence in the daily lives of folks across the country. 

As Ezra Klein wrote last week in the Washington Post, the cuts proposed above would not drastically alter the budget outlook. Reading between the lines here, it's clear that the Arts have yet again (along with Amtrak) found themselves caught in the crosshairs of reductive political rhetoric:

Here’s how it breaks down: In fiscal year 2012, the federal government spent $1.42 billion on Amtrak, $444 million on PBS, and $146 million on the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities. Getting rid of all these subsidies would have saved the government about $2 billion this year — chump change relative to the scale of cuts that Romney wants.

Undoubtedly, we are in a national moment where properly-applied fiscal responsibility is necessary. Regardless of our political persuasion, and of our level of engagement with the arts, we must also recognize the necessity of fiscal creativity. 

Related Articles:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

We Did It! The Rural Arts and Culture Map Receives A Rural Digital Advocacy Grant

This morning we are writing to share some wonderful news: The Rural Arts and Culture Map has received a Rural Digital Advocacy grant and, thanks to all of your votes, has won the crowdsourcing competition!

This grant, provided by the Rural Policy Action Partnership with funding from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, will allow Art of the Rural, in collaboration with Appalshop, Feral Arts, and the M12 art collective, to create this rich and engaging multimedia map and to engage a diverse range of communities. Here's more information on this partnership from our previous articles:
With these collaborators’ expertise in media-making, design, and community-engagement, Art of the Rural will utilize this dynamic open source Map to present new perspectives from rural America, with a focus on rural youth, rural-urban exchange, and a sustaining interest in the changing face of rural America: the next generation, and their membership in diverse ethnic and cultural communities.

Most importantly, this project is driven not by any single organization, but by the people themselves. With opportunities to share video, audio, photography, and text, PlaceStories will give full agency to an audience ready to become active participants in a mission to create new rural narratives. Thus, the Map becomes a manifestation of direct, local, experience; a digital tool that transcends itself; a meeting point for conversation and shared ground; and a foundation through which to unite and motivate rural citizens across the country and contribute to the work of the National Rural Assembly.

This project acknowledges that powerful campaigns for equity and social change emerge from cultural imperatives. Artists and arts practitioners are often grassroots innovators and adept partners in media campaigns. With The Rural Arts and Culture Map, this community promises give a compelling voice, and a new avenue of communication, to a wide range of rural issues.
Folks can follow the link above to get a glimpse of this map-in-process; we will formally debut the Map in September, at which time we will share much more information about our immediate and long-term goals. 

Our deepest thanks to the many individuals, artists, musicians, organizations, and websites that helped to spread the word of The Rural Arts and Culture Map and its place in this competition. We are deeply humbled by your enthusiasm and support.

And, in conclusion, many thanks to Rachel Beth Rudi for stewarding this project from our former home on Google Maps to the gorgeous space at PlaceStories! Rachel has spent a summer at the keyboard creating the foundation for the many collaborations and engagements that will occur through this Map.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Arts Funding 2.0: Dust and Grooves

Frank Gossner, of the Voodoo Funk blog, in Ghana; Eilon Paz, Dust and Grooves

By Rachel Reynolds Luster, Contributing Editor

Today we introduce a new weekly series, Arts Funding 2.0, that will highlight an arts-focused “crowd funding” campaign each week.

Perhaps fittingly, those new to the term can turn to Wikipedia to learn that crowd funding is "the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their resources, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations." Kickstarter, Indiegogo, ArtistShare, and PledgeMusic are only a few of the crowd-funding sites online.

Without a doubt, crowd funding has become a major force in supporting individual artists and arts-oriented collaborations and community efforts. In an announcement that generated a great deal of conversation and debate, Kickstarter recently estimated that it will raise more funds for arts organizations and artists this year than the NEA, setting an estimated $150 million to be distributed compared to the NEA’s $146 million. While this assertion has been challenged by a number of writers and arts commentators, and may not accurately represent the intricacies of the arts funding ecosystem, sites like Kickstarter have become a presence in these national conversations on the arts and their audiences.

We find two aspects of crowd funding particularly interesting. Donors, supporters, or pledgers are able to vote with their wallets, in small to large amounts, for projects they want to support. This not only democratizes the process of arts funding but also allows more fluidity and individual expression in the projects that receive funding. In addition, unlike granting systems, these projects are not required to be affiliated or structured as non profits and are not subject to reporting requirements that are mandated by other, more formal, arts-funding structures.

We hope that you’ll send us your suggestions for campaigns that we should feature in the series, and we hope you’ll support these projects! You can send suggestions to

Our first Arts Funding 2.0 project is Dust and Grooves:

Dust and Grooves is a photography and interview project documenting vinyl collectors in their most natural and intimate environment: the record room. Dust & Grooves maintains the integrity and history of vinyl, as well as the musical heritage that goes along with every record in these collections.
Photographer and documentarian Eilon Paz has traveled around the world and across the country collecting the stories of vinyl collectors. According to the description on their Kickstarter campaign page, “Together, words and images tell the story of the love affair between collector and collection, and preserve a record of music that otherwise might be lost."

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Redeemer: John Baird's Everyday Art

all photographs by Jennifer Joy Jameson

By Jennifer Joy Jameson, Notes From The Field editor

I have a few friends who were recently married—the kind of friends who first told me about the art environments of Grandma Tressa Prisbrey, of Kenny Hill, and the kind I found myself convening with after visiting Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens for the first time. In celebration of their union, I hoped to find a gift for them that was not just handmade, or unique, but something that has a particular redemptive quality to it. These are friends who recognize the beauty and immense potential in everyday objects, places, sounds, and stories that have otherwise been thrown away or seen as worthless. So, in keeping with this orientation to the world, I was glad to use their wedding gift as an excuse to get in touch with Middle Tennessee sculpture artist and gospel singer John Baird.

I came to know about the multi-form creative works of John Baird last summer in Nashville. I was assisting folklorist Evan Hatch, who was coordinating the Tennessee Folklife program at the 73rd National Folk Festival – an annual, traveling festival produced by the National Council for the Traditional Arts. Evan, who has documented John’s art and music for years, invited him to exhibit and sell his metal sculptures at the festival. Over the course of the 3-day festival, I found myself regularly breaking from duty by chatting with John and his wife Ruby, a talented fiber artist. I even convinced John to sing a few of his original gospel tunes for me—songs that he performs from time to time at churches near their home.

The Bairds reside in Kittrell, Tennessee, in the countryside of Rutherford County—just down the old 70 Highway from Murfreesboro, the college town of Middle Tennessee State University. John grew up in rural Rutherford County, first learning to weld as a young man in the Future Farmers of America. He did not regularly create works of visual art until the 1980s, around his retirement from a long career working as a farmer, a salesman, and a truck driver. For years now, he’s collected scrap metals of all kinds and crafted them into animals (or animal-type-creatures), people, or whatever potential John sees in the mismatched shapes of his mounting collection of thrown-away metal parts. His sculptures range in size and subject from miniature motorcycles or water pumps, to oversized spiders measuring about 4 feet, to a free-standing take on the Eiffel Tower (titled the “Awful Tower”), to a cowboy made of old horseshoes. After last year’s festival was over, I got up the nerve to ask John how much it would be to purchase the bird made out of antique sewing machine parts. I bought it, and proudly perched the bird on my mantle, where it reminds of the ability to form new and lovely out of old and odd.

On the afternoon that Evan and I rode out to the Baird home in Kittrell, John and Ruby kindly poured us tea and toured us around some of the finished works. In examining John’s sculptures, I moved back and forth from a sort of drop-jaw awe in response to the skilled craftsmanship of the pieces, to keeling over at the clever and lighthearted spirit of the artwork. John was pleased to find me laughing.

When I asked John if he draws influence from the landscape or his community, he wasn’t too sure what to say. However, it strikes me as a rather intuitive application of both landscape and community in making such use of his surroundings—these being the scraps that he finds at yard sales or junkyards, and the metal bits friends and neighbors regularly give him with the intention of use in his art.

The front and back yards of the Baird home are covered in painted roses as tall as Ruby, and lined by a wall made from rocks John has hunted with a neighbor of his. In the backyard, John and Ruby have, together, built a rock garden out of flowers and wagon wheels, featuring rocks shaped like animals that I could have sworn John carved himself. Instead, he looks for rocks in their natural form, which happen to be in the shape of rabbits or deer—a skill John uses in coming up with ideas for his metal sculptures. He told me, “If I come across a scrap of metal, I see if it’s like something…maybe a head for [an animal], or a grill for a car [sculpture]. I just start from one piece and go from there.” To me, this speaks to his ability to see great possibility for human communication through the careful bricolage of the discarded and the ordinary. This is the redemptive understanding, the aesthetic worldview that I knew the Bairds shared with my soon-to-be-wed friends.