Friday, October 26, 2012

North Country: Clyde Joy and "Echoes From the Hills"

By Alyce Ornella, North Country series Editor

Here's Clyde Joy singing "Echoes from the Hills" as recorded by Al Hawkes at Event Records, Westbrook, Maine, 1957.  Joy, who built the Circle 9 Ranch in New Hampshire, pioneered the New England country sound and continued to perform at the annual Deerfield Fair until three years before his death at age 92.  Our next installment of North Country will pick up the story of Event Records and its impact on a regional musical style.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

On The Map: Folkstreams

By Rachel Beth Rudi, Digital Contributor

In this week’s update from the Rural Arts and Culture Map, we wish to (re)acquaint readers with, one of the most valuable resources a folklorist, artist, or curious person can find. Founded by filmmakers Tom and Mimi Davenport in 1999, the site is a sort of “national park” for arts and culture documentaries which arose during the folk revival of the 1960s. Such films didn’t fit into conventional television schedules or immediately entertain average theatre-goers, and thus Folkstreams was created, giving them a new home and providing commentary on films’ processes, subjects, and cultural relevance. Folkstreams’ mission statement describes the need for an online platform and the development of this tremendous learning tool: has two goals. One is to build a national preserve of hard-to-find documentary films about American folk or roots cultures. The other is to give them renewed life by streaming them on the internet. The films were produced by independent filmmakers in a golden age that began in the 1960s and was made possible by the development first of portable cameras and then capacity for synch sound. Their films focus on the culture, struggles, and arts of unnoticed Americans from many different regions and communities.
The filmmakers were driven more by sheer engagement with the people and their traditions than by commercial hopes. Their films have unusual subjects, odd lengths, and talkers who do not speak "broadcast English." Although they won prizes at film festivals, were used in college classes, and occasionally were shown on PBS, they found few outlets in venues like theaters, video shops or commercial television. But they have permanent value. They come from the same intellectual movement that gave rise to American studies, regional and ethnic studies, the "new history," "performance theory," and investigation of tenacious cultural styles in phenomena like song, dance, storytelling, visual designs, and ceremonies. They also respond to the intense political and social ferment of the period.

The filmmakers and the researchers they collaborated with explored performances situated in a community's customary work, worship, and play. Beneath their colorful surfaces often lie serious issues of physical, psychic, and social survival under duress. For understanding what they saw the filmmakers relied more heavily on observant and knowledgeable community members than on outside "experts." They conveyed understanding through action and symbol as often as by "talking heads." See Selected Films.

Many of the films, however, are linked to significant published research. Folkstreams draws on this material to accompany and illuminate both the subjects and the filmmaking. And the films themselves add powerful dimensions to print scholarship. They offer a direct experience of unfamiliar worlds. Many of these are now receding into the historical past, but we hope the example of these films may stimulate alternative filmmaking with subjects and approaches still ignored by mainstream corporate media.
The Art of the Rural has featured Folkstreams films several times (see “Open Invitation to a Piedmont Blues Party,” “John Dee Holman,” and “La Charreada: Rodeo a la Mexicana” for a few), as they so well marry various fields of study, media, and experiences to promote a diverse community of folklorists. We relate to Folkstreams’ mission and connect it to that of our own Rural Arts and Culture Map, each anchoring story and tradition to place and deepening our understandings of the history around us. We strongly encourage readers to explore Folkstreams on their own, as well as their blog and YouTube page, and we will continue to share their material on our blog and map. We’ll leave you with selections from Tom Davenport’s 1985 film, “A Singing Stream,” featuring the music of the Landis family of Creedmoor, North Carolina.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Britten Traughber: Hawaii Beyond The Postcards

Local Ads, 2010; Britten Traughber

Photographer Britten Traughber was born and raised on the plains of Central Illinois, though her current work has placed her in a locale thousands of miles from that landscape. Traughber, who studied with Rhondal McKinney at the MFA progam at Illinois State University and has created a series of extraordinary projects in this region, has turned her eye to a part of the world that some folks from Lincoln's Land escape to during the winter months: the islands of Hawaii. 

Britten Traughber's mission of uncovering the story of cultural and economic shifts beneath the romanticized vision of the Hawaii has recently received generous coverage in Terrain: A journal of the Built and Natural Environments. The photographs from her Hawaiian Paradise Park series foreground a sense of transition, a quality of standing in a temporal space at once indebted to the past and suggestive of a radically changed future. This shared rural condition is also brought to light in her series of photographs from Moweaqua, Illinois.

Here's the introduction to her feature in Terrain. Please find larger, high-resolution images by following the the links above:
On the rainy eastern side of the Big Island of Hawai‘i, the cycles of destruction and regeneration in Hawaiian Paradise Park (what locals refer to as HPP) are impossible to ignore, almost like watching a time-lapse video on fast forward.

Physically, economically, and culturally, the forces of change in such a raw environment always remind you: this land, the sacred ‘aina, will reclaim itself—from the lava below to the invasive Albezia trees above, from the rust and mold to the vigorous growth of plant life—it’s a matter of when, not if.

Said to be the second largest subdivision in the United States, HPP sits on over four square miles with more than 8,800 one-acre lots, though only around half of the land is actually developed. Given that scope, just exploring this neighborhood has been a fascinating study in the unique qualities of island living. This is not the postcard paradise you see in travel brochures. That’s part of what makes it so interesting to live here.

Britten Traughber has also sought to engage on a local level through the creation of RIPE "a collaborative community project of interviews and photographs based on the real stories of real women, living in the REAL Hawaii. Through interviews, talk story sessions, dinners, emails and chance encounters, our experiences are being shared and documented - showing the reality that being female in Paradise is not what it seems." Folks can join the conversation here

Monday, October 22, 2012

Press: Des Moines Register and Createquity

Iowa: Wave The Next Time You Fly Over; t-shirt design by Raygun

We're grateful to start off the week with news of coverage of Art of the Rural in two well-respected publications. Many thanks to these writers for sharing our work!

• For years we've admired the writing of Kyle Munson, a columnist and general Iowa-culture expert for the Des Moines Register. On Sunday, he wrote about a new publication by the design-savvy team at Iowa City's Raygun, a collection entitled The Midwest: God's Gift To Earth.

At the close of Munson's meditations on this region's global presence, he turns to AOTR contributor Kenyon Gradert for the kind of critical perspective found in his Course on Midwest Culture series:
That brings me around to Kenyon Gradert, an English doctoral student at Washington University in St. Louis and a writer for the Art of the Rural — a guy who spends serious time pondering Midwestern identity.

Midwesterners have “that reflection about them,” Gradert said. We’re “hardworking but not too flashy, not too rambunctious or rowdy as some may perceive Southerners to be.”

I like how he characterizes us at as a blank canvas for the rest of the nation: “A Midwesterner is more American than Midwestern, at least in mythic identity.”

Gradert grew up on a northwest Iowa cattle and grain farm outside Ireton. With public input from the blog he’s democratically cultivating a new course on Midwest culture that he hopes to teach within the next few years.
Folks can enjoy Munson's full column here and are encouraged to check out Kyle Munson's Iowa Map.

• We are also honored to have received mention by Ian David Moss in Createquity, "a hub for next-generation ideas on the role of the arts in a creative society" that cultivates an online presence as a "virtual think tank exploring the intersection of the arts with a wide range of topics including politics, economics, philanthropy, leadership, research, and urban planning." Simply put, this is an outstanding resource with a thought-provoking perspective. Folks should add it to their feed and follow along on Facebook and Twitter.

Moss is also the Research Director for Fractured Atlas, an organization that connects artists, arts organizations and cultural practitioners in efforts to create "a more agile and resilient cultural ecosystem." I imagine that many of our readers may already be familiar with the work of Fractured Atlas; if not, I encourage folks to visit their site and learn about the range of programs and opportunities they offer to artists and organizations. Joining the community at Fractured Atlas only takes three minutes

Given the interdisciplinary and cross-sector ethos of Moss's work, we're grateful to be included in the conversation on Createquity. Folks can also follow this site on Facebook and Twitter. We'll include below his thoughts on The Rural Arts and Culture Map:
One of the tragic consequences of our field’s fragmented funding infrastructure is that support for the arts tends to be concentrated in large urban metros. While especially apparent in funding for art projects themselves, it applies equally to research about the arts, which means that creative activities in rural areas fly even further under the radar than they would otherwise. A new project called the “Rural Arts and Culture Map” aims to do something about this by crowdsourcing stories, media, and video testimonials about art in the boonies.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Weekly Feed: Collaboration, Ecology, Digital Media and Food for Thought

Photograph of the Fennimore Art Museum

By Rachel Beth Rudi, Digital Contributor

• "Rural art museums face distinct challenges when it comes to building audiences for exhibitions and programs," writes Paul D’Ambrosio, president of the New York State Historical Association. “Unlike our counterparts located in urban areas or population centers, rural art museums must compel their audience to travel a good distance to partake of their offerings, and they must tailor their exhibitions and programs to the particular patterns favored by those travelers. At the same time, they must do so while building a donor and sponsorship base that is likewise not local or at least only seasonal.” The Fenimore Art Museum of rural Cooperstown, NY, found a solution through regional collaboration and interdisciplinary thinking. 

Photograph from the Aldo Leopold Foundation Archives

• “Rising before daylight and perched on a bench at his Sauk County shack in Depression-era Wisconsin, [Aldo] Leopold routinely took notes on the dawn chorus of birds. Beginning with the first pre-dawn calls of the indigo bunting or robin, Leopold would jot down in tidy script the bird songs he heard, when he heard them, and details such as the light level when they first sang. He also mapped the territories of the birds near his shack, so he knew where the songs originated.” 

Using these astounding records, two University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have managed to recreate the sounds that surrounded Leopold seventy years ago, compiling the various calls and sounds described and compressing them into one five-minute audio track. Listen here.

Folks may also be interested in perusing this 2011 program anchored at Arizona State University: Rethinking the Land Ethic: Sustainability and the Humanities

The Migrating Mural by Jane Kim from Jane Kim on Vimeo.

Artist and science illustrator Jane Kim is on a mission to educate travelers and everyday commuters about the wildlife around them. Following the routes of America’s endangered migratory animals, Kim pulls off the highway to transform the sides of old barns and houses into murals of the animals who seasonally pass by. View Kim’s Kickstarter video here.

New York Times; Kiersten Essenpreis

"We’re Here, We’re Queer, Y’all" is a must-read New York Times editorial addressing regional stereotypes. Professor Karen Cox also edits the Pop South site and tweets at @SassyProf.

• Standing Bear’s Footsteps crafts workshops and classes for the youth of the Ponca Tribe in Nebraska and Oklahoma. Available on the project’s website is a collection of brief interviews conducted and filmed by Southern Ponca students in a digital media course. In this clip, "Mikhael Laravie, a 7th grade participant in Standing Bear's Footsteps Youth Media Camp, interviews his grandmother Lola Laravie asking about her childhood growing up on a farm in Nebraska."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Where We've Been: Babies, Maps, Projects

photograph by Kirsten Gerdes Stoltz

Folks may have noticed that, over the last ten days, activity has been slow on this site and on our social media feeds. We will be back in normal form by the end of the week, but here's an update on what's been happening around AOTR Headquarters:

• Last Thursday AOTR Director Matthew Fluharty and his wife Kelly welcomed their second son, Henry Joseph Lee, into the world. Our friends at the M12 art collective, who were busy that weekend with the BIG FEED, their annual "regional social," found the above sign on site.

• Digital Contributor Rachel Beth Rudi is continuing work with The Rural Arts and Culture Map, with an update forthcoming. In the next few weeks we will begin to introduce many of the map-related projects we are working on with organizations and sites. 

• One of our future Map collaborators, The Boiled Down Juice, has published a wonderful introduction to the Map project here. Many thanks to editor Meredith Martin-Moats!

• Many of the AOTR staff are preparing to share our mission at the annual American Folklore Society meetings in New Orleans next week. If you are headed there as well, look out for Jennifer Joy Jameson, Rachel Beth Rudi, and Rachel Reynolds Luster at the Art of the Rural table at the Public Programs Ideas Fair.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

On The Map: Server Farms In Rural America

Terry Razey on his farm; Stuart Isett, New York Times

By Rachel Beth Rudi, Digital Contributor

Today we share this story featured on The Rural Arts and Culture Map. Folks can learn more about how to join in this project here.

Surrounded by desert, Quincy, Washington is a fertile town that has sustained a rich farming community for generations. In 2006, Microsoft purchased 75 acres of Quincy bean fields on which to construct a new “server farm,” a massive data hardware facility containing the Internet’s inner organs. Sitting not far from the Columbia River, which is dotted with several hydroelectric dams from source to mouth, Quincy attracted the technology conglomerate with access to a continuous and powerful energy source as well as unusually low electricity costs. Writes James Glanz of The New York Times

Over the last few years, Quincy has become an unlikely technology outpost, with five data centers and a sixth under construction. Far from the software meccas of Northern California or Seattle, Quincy has barely 6,900 residents, two hardware stores, two supermarkets, no movie theater and a main drag, State Route 28, whose largest buildings are mostly food packers and processors. Its tallest building is a grain elevator...We thought that Microsoft would bring a certain air of class to our town,” said Danna Dal Porto, a retired teacher. 

But the town and the company almost immediately began having disagreements over Microsoft’s excessive energy use, and the title of Glanz’s article, “Data Barns in a Farm Town, Gobbling Power and Flexing Muscle,” well summarizes its five pages of content as well as the oft-told story of small-town-versus-big-time businesses in rural America.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Osawatomie And Midwestern Millenialism: The Broadsword of John Brown, Teddy, and Obama

Tragic Prelude; John Steuart Curry

By Kenyon Gradert, Course on Midwest Culture series Editor

The Midwest—half of its name ringing with the romantic potential of the frontier—has long been the home to millennial hopes. Contrary to today’s popular opinion, many have believed that this flyover region would be where everything came together in the end. From Bleeding Kansas to Farm Crisis, things fell apart.

Many Jews look to Jerusalem for the final millennial establishment of their end-times temple, but Mormon eschatology has traditionally declared that in the end times, their heavenly temple will be in Independence, Missouri.  Before Brigham Young led his Israelites into the desert, Mormons called Nauvoo, Illinois their home in exile. Not far away and not long before, New Harmony, Indiana was one of the most successful utopian communities in the United States.  In between New Harmony and Nauvoo, a group of quixotic philosophers called the “St. Louis Hegelians” believed that, because of the city’s strategic location in geography and history, it would be the site of the full unfolding of Absolute Spirit—everything marvelous in human development would reach its apex here. If world history ended with the 1904 World’s Fair, perhaps.

The most pervasive Midwestern Millennialism came with the Civil War, for it was here that geopolitical tensions first threatened to tear apart the nation. As the status of slavery was in the air for the territories west of the Mississippi, Yankee abolitionists came to the region with hopes of guaranteeing universal liberty. (And it was here Elijah Lovejoy became one of the first abolitionist martyrs just across the river.) Pro-slavery advocates flocked to the region in equal force and blood was spilt. “Bleeding Kansas” saw the most violent of these conflicts years before Fort Sumter.

One small Kansas town in particular continues to ring with millennial hope into the present. Osawatomie is where prophetic abolitionist John Brown’s sons hacked pro-slavery Kansans to death with broadswords. (The old man confined himself to shooting the injured in the head.) Fifty-six years later, Teddy Roosevelt paid the town a stop on his 1912 campaign trail and baptized the site with his famous “New Nationalism” speech in which he outlined his progressive platform.

The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows. That is what you fought for in the Civil War, and that is what we strive for now.

President Obama greeting the audience in Osawatomie; Associated Press

Last December, Barack Obama also stopped in Osawatomie, to revive Teddy’s New Nationalism, but also to claim its foundation of Heartland values:

I have roots here…I like to say that I got my name from my father, but I got my accent--and my values--from my mother. She was born in Wichita. Her mother grew up in Augusta. Her father was from El Dorado, so my Kansas roots run deep. And my grandparents served during WWII…together they shared the optimism of a nation that triumphed over the Great Depression and Fascism. They believed in an America where hard work paid off and responsibility was rewarded and anyone could make it if they tried…And these values gave rise to the largest middle class and the strongest economy that the world has ever known.

Obama claims regional roots for himself effectively, sprouting from these roots the values that flower into the same millennial hopes nurtured by Roosevelt a century prior. Contrary to the thoughts of the St. Louis Hegelians, though, such fruits are not necessary and inevitable, nor are they without the nourishment of blood. The Midwest cannot be forgotten as a fertile field for the best of our millennial hopes, nor can it be forgotten as the home of John Brown’s broadsword, sent straight from the God that gives us such end-time visions of dread and hope.

In 2008, Obama’s campaign focused on hope; detractors deemed it na├»ve. In returning to bloody Osawatomie and reclaiming his Kansas roots, it seems Obama himself has taken the criticism to heart, neither abandoning the Ideal nor ignoring the violent realpolitik through which it must trudge. 

• The painting above, Tragic Prelude, one of the most famous paintings of regionalist Kansan John Steuart Curry. This depiction of John Brown holding the fragile nation together was painted in 1939—the same year that the US attempted neutrality in the Second World War, The Wizard of Oz premiered, FDR approved the Manhattan Project, and Lou Gherig ended his consecutive games streak due to disease. The center could not hold. The mural is now located in the Kansas Statehouse.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Introducing The Rural Arts And Culture Map

By Matthew Fluharty and Rachel Rudi

Today we are excited to launch The Rural Arts and Culture Map.

As readers may be familiar, we shared news of the Map this summer as -- with all of your help -- the project won the crowd-source vote for a Rural Digital Advocacy Grant, an opportunity provided by the Rural Policy Action Partnership with funding from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. We are deeply grateful for your support.

Building A Map, Expressing A Movement

Your efforts on behalf of this project speaks to what excites us so much about The Rural Arts and Culture Map: it's a space for collaboration, conversation, a platform where individuals from across the country (and the world) can share their artistic and cultural life. Unlike many other digital mapping projects, there are no gatekeepers here. This Map is generously hosted by PlaceStories, a platform designed by Feral Arts; these artists are led by a mission to create a space for inclusive and boundary-crossing storytelling. Our mission, and its outreach and interdisciplinary collaboration, is further coordinated and advised by Appalshop and the M12 art collective.

This is the first digital map of such a scope and with such a vision of wide public participation. Together, we can break new ground. 

Together we can not only tell our stories, but witness how they connect across disciplines, cultures, and geographies. While artists have a particular (and in some cases, necessary) relationship with isolation, rural artists and communities are intimately connected with this condition. Rural America is often given a marginal place in many national conversations, and this sense of separation can often be compounded by the accumulation of mile markers that represent the gap in these perspectives.

The Rural Arts and Culture Map can bridge those distances and put folks in contact with each other. This Map is both a resource and a metaphor for what we believe is happening across the country -- a new rural arts movement.

How Can We Use PlaceStories?

As collaborators in this mission we have some help: PlaceStories is fun and easy to use. Folks can click on "The Rural Arts and Culture Map" in the embedded box at the top of the page, which will lead you to the project page, where you can click to "Join Us." All the various options for telling your story (video, audio, postcard, documents, etc) are very intuitive, though if you have any questions, the designers offer this page with more information. Folks can also direct questions to ruralartsmap@gmail. We're glad to help in any way we can.

Here's a few ideas on ways to begin contributing:

• We can create picture postcards of landscapes, local objects, and people that help define our experience of place and the arts. On the opposite side of these digital postcards we can provide explanation and links to other sites.

• We can share videos and Soundcloud audio pieces. Have some favorite YouTube and Vimeo clips? Heard a podcast, an interview, a radio piece, or a great new musician on Soundcloud? 

• We can create our own videos and our own audio stories using the Webcam feature.

• Want to share recipes, reflections, quotes, and writing without accompanying video or images? The Notebook storytelling feature is perfect.

• Have a document that adds information and perspective? We can upload pdfs as well to the Map.

All it takes to begin contributing is an account. As PlaceStories members for over a year, we can assure you that your Inbox will be safe from unwanted and unsolicted emails.

Our Weekly Feed posts will highlight contributions to the Map, with additional links and information.

Collaborating With Organizations and Communities:

We are committed to helping communities and organizations tell their story through individual PlaceStories projects within The Rural Arts and Culture Map. This platform offers a fantastic opportunity for organizations to share their work and reach new audiences, while also adding their perspective to the wider dialogue across disciplines and regions. To boot, your website can also present a gorgeous embedded widget (as can your readers) that helps to tell a new facet of your work, and engages your audience in an innovative way. Whether you are working in an established organization, or seeking to gather folks around a common point of interest, PlaceStories can serve as a catalyst.

Please email us at ruralartsmap@gmail; our Digital Contributor Rachel Beth Rudi can provide assistance in setting up a PlaceStories project within the Map community settings.

Stay Tuned, And Thanks Again:

We are excited to begin this project, and we are grateful for your support of the crowd-source campaign that led to this opportunity. Much more soon!