Friday, November 23, 2012

On Black Friday: Chain Store Blues

[Today we're thankful to have the opportunity to offer this repost from Nathan Salsburg's Root Hog or Die, an extraordinary radio show and music blog that we've written about previously. This piece concerns The Allen Brothers' "Chain Store Blues," which also appears on Nathan's recently-released 3 CD/LP compilation Work Hard, Play Hard, Pray Hard. The song is indicative of how these selections -- whether joyous or solemn -- feel utterly contemporary, and of how they reveal elements of our cultural history too often forgotten. AOTR's Notes From The Field editor Jennifer Joy Jameson will be sharing a full feature on Work Hard soon.]

By Nathan Salsburg

An energetic, if short-lived, protest movement of the late 1920s and early ‘30s flexed against the encroachment of chain-stores — evidence that the “buy local” concept is of some vintage. Although several chain-store blues were recorded in the pre-war recording era, however, only the Allen Brothers’ 1930 plea for support of independent “home stores,” entitled “I Got the Chain Store Blues,” was released.

Perhaps the labels assumed that the chains, many of which sold their records, wouldn’t take kindly to such sentiments. By 1930, Chattanooga, Tennessee — then the base of operations for the Sewanee-born Lee and Austin Allen — was home to a Sears Roebuck, a Montgomery Ward, and a McLellan’s five-and-dime. Other stores like Woolworth’s, J.C. Penney, and the A&P (“Where Economy Rules”) had infiltrated many smaller towns, prompting “trade-at-home” campaigns and legislation to limit what the chains sold and where they sold it.

W.K. Henderson, the sensational personality behind Shreveport’s radio-powerhouse WKHK, threw his considerable weight behind the movement: “We have attempted to bring to light the ruinous and devastating effect of sending the profits of business out of our local communities to a common center, Wall Street…. appealed to the fathers and mothers — who entertain the fond hope of their children becoming prosperous business leaders—to awaken to a realization of the dangers of the chain stores‘ closing this door of opportunity…. insisted that the payment of starvation wages such as the chain-store system fosters, must be eradicated.”

[Two perfect post-Thanksgiving companions: Fiddlin' John Carson's "The Farmer Is the Man" (who feeds them all, he sings) and "Chain Store Blues" which begins at 3:07]

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Weekly Feed: El Teatro Campesino, Protecting The Reservation, Realities of Local Food, and more

 El Teatro Campesino Founder Luis Valdez

Each week we present a compendium of links and perspectives offered daily on our Rural Arts and Culture Feed. We encourage folks who have upcoming events (local or national) to contribute to The Daily Yonder Calendar

By Rachel Rudi, Digital Contributor

El Teatro Campesino has created powerful, boundary-crossing work in San Juan Bautista, California for over forty years. Below, composer Daniel Valdez discussing Cancion De San Juan: Oratorio of a Mission Town.

Story One: The Research from El Teatro Campesino on Vimeo.

From the Cancion De San Juan online exhibition:
Through CANCIÓN DE SAN JUAN: ORATORIO OF A MISSION TOWN, El Teatro Campesino and composer Daniel Valdez hoped to honor history’s forgotten voices by telling human stories through music and images – evoking the moments and memories of real people who lived and died staking a claim to this little corner of the world. Together these stories, researched and collected by current residents of San Juan Bautista, were woven into an epic tapestry that unfolded as a paean to the rise, fall and constant rebirth of a small town in all its multicultural glory. CANCIÓN DE SAN JUAN: ORATORIO OF A MISSION TOWN explored the many transformations experienced by the people of this region – and their perseverance, resilience and stubborn refusal to cease existing in the face of overwhelming odds.
"I wish a lot of people could see this. This is something that's going on in the reservation: This don't look too cool." Appalling news from Wyoming: 

Loophole Lets Toxic Flow Over Indian Land, Elizabeth Shogren, NPR

"A hundred years ago, when extension was founded, one-third of our nation's population was involved in agriculture.... We need extension today, more than ever, because our society is growing not only in size, but also in the nature and complexity of its problems:"

Extension Programs, Now A Century Old, Remain Relevant as They Face New Challenges, Speaker Says, Scott Carlson, Chronicle of Higher Education 

Shelby Grebenc, a Colorado poultry farmer in her teens, writes beautifully in The Denver Post: "If you want sustainable, wholesome, pasture-raised organic, hormone- and antibiotic-free food, you have to support it. You cannot get these things by talking about it and not paying for it."

A must-read: During World War II, the Rowher and Jerome camps in Arkansas housed over 16,000 Japanese Americans. An intern at the University of Arkansas's Institute on Race and Ethnicity considers the legacy of these camps and their relation to contemporary American life:

Reflections on Rowher, Jessica Yamane, The Boiled Down Juice

"Even as cities from Philadelphia to Chicago to Detroit mobilize to hydrate the food deserts, it's becoming clear that even if you make fresh produce affordable, people may not buy it."  

"Kultivator is an experimental cooperation of organic farming and visual art practice, situated in rural village Dyestad, on the Island of Oland on the southeast coast of Sweden. By installing certain functions in abandoned farm facilities, near to the active agriculture community, Kultivator provides a meeting and workign space that points out the parallels between provision production and art practice, between concrete and abstract processes for survival Kultivator initiates and executes  meetings between idealism and realism, hoping that fruitful cooperations should should take form." 

"The joy is not just for me, it's for others too. The colors do that. Mural art is transforming small-town Martin, Tennessee." 

Colorful Murals a Welcome Addition to the Landscape of Martin, Sandy Koch, NWTN Today 

Welcome to Shelbyville "takes an intimate look at a southern town as its residents – whites and African =Americans, Latinos and Somalis – grapple with their beliefs, their histories and their evolving ways of life:"

Mark Your Calendars: The 2012 Rural Arts & Culture Summit will happen this June 5–6, in Morris, Minnesota, hosted by the Center for Small Towns at University of Minnesota-Morris. We will be sharing much more on this event in the coming months -- please plan to join us there!

This week in 1975, Waylon's "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" was the number one country single in the land. Via the essential Southern Folklife Collection:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

On the Map: The Lexicon of Sustainability

Family at a Lexicon of Sustainability pop-up art show; Douglas Gayeton, KQED blog

By Rachel Rudi, Digital Contributor

In this week's update from our Rural Arts and Culture Map, The Art of the Rural is pleased to share two videos posted by Alejo Kraus-Polk, a researcher with The Lexicon of Sustainability: "This is the Story of An Egg" discusses with California farmers the uncomfortable truth behind marketing catchphrases like "cage-free" and "free-range," and the promise of "pasture-raised" eggs; "Foraging" chronicles society's straying from eating with the seasons and leaning heavily on conventional agriculture, then follows present-day foragers into North American forests and waters. Both videos focus on the original definitions and gradual manipulations of agricultural and culinary words and terms, the subtle power of language and the empowerment that comes from dissecting it.

We have written about The Lexicon of Sustainability before, as we're continually struck by how their work promotes the above ideas with an elegant balance of sharp photography, handwritten words and flowcharts, and enhancing audio. Tejal Rao of Grist magazine detailed the creation process:
[LS Founder Douglas] Gayeton got the idea for the Lexicon project about two years ago, in the middle of a dinner party, when a guest butchered the definition of "food miles." If Gayeton could define and build out the language of sustainability, he thought, he could give people the tools they needed to bounce around real ideas. To make a change. Gayeton identified 100 key terms and began visiting the farmers, fishermen, foragers, and chefs across the country who could help him define them. "I simply spend time with them. I don't know what I'm doing in advance and I don't storyboard anything. I just listen." 

The artist shoots an average of 1,000 photographs with each of his subjects. He then prints the photos out, cutting and pasting up to 100 of them together to create a massive collage (the smaller pieces are four by five feet; the larger ones cover a wall). From here Gayeton takes the stories of his subjects – their thoughts, recipes,ramblings – and writes them down on a sheet of glass, which is layered on the collage and shot again, the text floating dreamily above the image. This painstaking process, even with the assistance of a small team, takes Gayeton about three weeks.
Each still shines, and the films shimmer. Crisp presentation grounds the stories, philosophies, etymologies, and we watch ideas and reclamations build on screen. Ultimately, the Lexicon of Sustainability brings us all to square one and irons out the words we use, or have heard, or haven't heard, or have mispronounced, before handing us our language back, newly accessible, meaningfully enhanced, and wrinkle-free.

Be sure to explore the Lexicon of Sustainability's website, and to follow Mr. Kraus-Polk on the Rural Arts and Culture Map for more posts. Below, "This is the Story of An Egg" and "Foraging." Enjoy!

Lexicon of Sustainability: This is the Story of An Egg from lexicon of sustainability on Vimeo.

Lexicon of Sustainability: Foraging from lexicon of sustainability on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Supporting The Daily Yonder: Keep It Kickin'

Today I'd like to share news of The Daily Yonder fundraising campaign to Keep The Yonder Kickin'.

I imagine that most readers of this site are familiar with The Daily Yonder -- and for good reason: its writers consistently provide the most comprehensive coverage of rural culture, local and national policy, and everything rural in between.  

It's impossible to overstate its importance, how our national dialogue on rural issues is informed and given a consistent foundation through the work of editors Julie Ardery and Bill Bishop.  On a personal level, the Yonder's example helped to give me the inspiration, and to realize our collective right, to begin a project like Art of the Rural. 

I am sure I am not alone in that regard; if we think back to those digital dark ages -- the internet circa 2007 -- then we can appreciate the scope of The Daily Yonder's sustained contribution to our national dialogue about rural America. 

Folks can help Keep the Yonder Kickin' in a number of ways, and there are some fun Yonder-specific perks for your contribution: seeds, walking tours, banjo lessons, and lots of Yonder gear. If circumstances allow, please consider supporting their work. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Rebuilding The Front Porch: An Interview With Patrick Overton

Savannah Barrett with Carlos Urlona at the Working Group meetings; Shawn Poynter

[Editor's Note: today we both welcome a new writer to the Art of the Rural staff and begin a new series of articles. We are excited to feature the work of Savannah Barrett, a writer and community arts advocate who has taken lessons learned in urban and international locales and applied them to rural contexts. She's currently completing work on a Masters in Community Arts Management at the University of Oregon. We are proud to count Savannah as our Community Arts Editor.

Her first piece is also the inaugural entry in a series we are calling "The State of the Rural Arts" -- reflections, interviews, features, and online installations that will seek to articulate the historical context surrounding this question while also expanding our common understanding of who, and what, constitutes "the rural arts" in contemporary America. As Savannah mentions below, this investigation springs from the imperatives that emerged from The Rural Arts and Culture Working Group.

By Savannah Barrett, Community Arts Editor

As a native of rural Kentucky, I have been witness to both the blessing of belonging to a country community alongside the entirety of my extended family; and to troubling and significant changes in this community and our distinct cultural traditions. These changes have taken place amidst a mass exodus of industrious young people who have left in search of quality education, employment, and social resources; and in response to a lack of investment in those fundamental needs in their home community. These experiences have led me to pursue a career in the rural community arts field. As a graduate student, I have struggled to piece together the history and dimensions of this domain, and found that history difficult to unravel and my field difficult to locate. There are few signposts in this work, yet I have been fortunate to find “my tribe” and my discourse among members of the Rural Arts and Culture Working Group. It was while there, while we collectively struggled to name our movement and identify our narrative, that I was connected with Patrick Overton.

I had discovered Patrick’s book Rebuilding the Front Porch of America while searching library databases for information related to Robert Gard and to the history of rural arts programs in the Cooperative Extension Service. I knew his work to be concerned with both the dynamic history of rural community arts development and with contemporary rural cultural policy. Patrick Overton is the Director of the Front Porch Institute in Astoria, Oregon, and has pursued community cultural development as practitioner and scholar for 35 years throughout the United States. In 1990, he defended the rural arts when called to Washington D.C. to testify in front of the House Appropriations Sub-Committee on the Interior on behalf of continued Federal support for the National Endowment for the Arts. There he conveyed that Rural Genius was one of the most important natural resources in our country, that it is one of our greatest sources of innovation, and that this resource was at risk. Twenty-three years later, I set out to ask Patrick about the current state of the rural arts, about rural genius, and about how those of us who are advocates and practitioners for rural arts and culture should move forward. 

For those interested in building a movement of folks committed to sustaining, honoring, and growing rural arts and culture, we must be cognizant of the significant historical efforts by the rural arts pioneers that have laid our groundwork, or as Patrick refers to it, the Old/New work: the Lyceum and Chautauqua movements; Alfred Arvold, Baker Brownell, Robert Gard and others who pioneered the rural arts programs of the Agriculture and Cooperative Extension; the community cultural development movement; local arts councils; and the practitioners, both in small and large communities, who have advocated for recognition in cultural policy. One of the first things Patrick told me related to the history of the rural community arts movement, and the distinctive differences between this movement and the more popularly understood community arts council movement:
The minute you add rural/small communities to the history of community arts development, you have to push the history of the movement back from the 1950’s to 1826 with the beginning of the Lyceum movement. Now when you look at the community arts movement, you can stop in the 50s, because they really can be understood as two very different movements. A lot of what we call community arts today began as the symphony movement in the middle of the last century and evolved into what we know today as the arts council/local arts agency movement.  But the community it served was usually a large metropolitan areas. When you start talking about rural arts, rural/small community arts development, I go back to the Chautauqua and go all the way back to the Lyceum. I think it is essential because that is a distinction that we have failed to make. They really are distinctly different movements.”
What sets the community arts development movement apart from the Arts Council Movement is the emphasis on self-improvement and self-education.  “The community arts development movement has such a rich tradition and it’s a tradition that is very much about understanding art as a noun (a thing you have or own) and citizens as patrons, but rather understanding art as a verb and citizens as participants. And it’s that element of participating in the arts that really is distinctive difference between the two. Not that you don’t participate in the arts in the fine arts in large metropolitan areas, but there’s a level at which participation in a small community setting has a very different take and feel to it.”
Understanding the history unique to the field of rural arts helps to illuminate the challenges of our contemporary work. Rural Community Arts work, historically and presently, is slow to ripen. While we certainly need more capital and resources in this field, our work also requires human investment. Similar to the argument for slow foods, rural art and culture necessitates patience and planning. Wormfarm Institute farmer and artist Jay Salinas describes this through the use of his word Cultureshed, which he defines as 1. A geographic region irrigated by streams of local talent and fed by deep pools of human and natural history. 2. An area nourished by what is cultivated locally. 3. The efforts of writers, performers, visual artists, scholars, farmers and chefs who contribute to a vital and diverse local culture.”

If we want our work to sustain, we must listen to our places and to the people that live there and we must be patient with the process as it reveals itself, rather than implementing our individual visions. We must commit to our people and to our places long enough for our project’s ownership to belong to the soil (place) and fertilizer (people) that grew it. We must cultivate. 

Donna Neuwirth and Jay Salinas of The Wormfarm Institute

The result is authentic, is “of a place” and not “imposed on a place”, and is worth waiting for. Overton addressed the importance of investment in place in our conversation:
If you don’t do the relationship building, in particular in the most rural and small communities, if you don’t show them that you care for them as people, then it doesn’t matter what you do for them or what you offer them. Or what you get them to do, it will not be valued if it’s not part of a relationship.”
“I believe community arts development and the arts in general begin with the individual. I believe that language and communication are the way individuals really do come into existence, it’s the way we say “I am.” Sometimes very special things happen and when say I am by expressing our voice, we end up inviting a relationship with somebody else who is a “you are”, and the “I am” and the “you are” become a “we”. To me that is really is the nexus of community. That’s the invitation.” 
“My work in rural and small communities was never about the arts, it was about the invitation. People will do what they are capable of doing if they are invited and know that they have access to it. Community arts development is about access and access to education.

At this point in the conversation, we turned our attention to broad based issues that are inhibiting the rural community arts’ growth as a movement and our development as a field. I and many of my rural peers are concerned with the lack of resource investment in rural communities. As Art of the Rural director Matthew Fluharty recently explained, “While Rural America stands as roughly 20% of the population, and 80% of its land mass, these artists are often isolated both from each other and from the possibility of creating a larger narrative.  As the moral failure of American philanthropy’s 1% investment in rural America suggests, too often a seat at the table for “the rural” has been withheld” (Fluharty, 2012).  Overton echoes this explanation:
Public policy has utterly failed to recognize the essential contribution rural and small communities make…I think a lot of people who talk about rural don’t know what they’re talking about because they’ve never been there, they’ve never done it. They talk about rural as though it is a particular place, and though we know it is geographically central in our life; it’s really not about geography for us, it’s about everything that’s connected to it.”
While those of us who identify as rural are certainly dismayed at the underinvestment in rural America, we are also alarmed by the ever growing trend of our natural resource (our best and brightest young minds) leaving their home communities. They are the Rural Diaspora, born into rural areas yet relocated to more populated areas in search of educational and professional opportunity. In universities and professions across the world, we represent the rural genius’ disbursement to the cities. Yet, many of us remain tethered to our homeplaces and our rural birthright, despite our current address. Many of us do not feel it possible to live in the rural full-time and know that going home for good is complicated. Nevertheless, we are deeply committed to rural communities, particularly in regards to celebrating our cultural distinctions. Acknowledging this duality, how can we mobilize the Rural Diaspora to support a rural arts and culture movement, and to entice some of our Rural Genius back into rural communities?
I’ve seen communities lose their identity because they’ve lost their major business, and I’ve seen populations leave. And I’ve seen the out-migration of people like you in rural communities who take it with them but live with a longing that people like you have because of the significance of that homeplace to you, I’ve watched that out-migration and the impact it has on those communities.”
“Rural small communities are the cultural underpinnings of what we are as a nation, those cultural underpinnings are crumbling. Our nation is at risk because of it.”
“The biggest need that we have is the ability to get together. I believe that ironically those communities that were founded by pioneering efforts that started this country are going to be the ones that keep it together.”
Jetsonorama participating in The Painted Desert Project; National Geographic, Aaron Lavinsky

Despite the challenges facing rural America, I feel a genuine excitement for the people, the work, and the coalitions I’ve engaged with in the past year. Constructive and critical conversations are taking place. While they are not yet ubiquitous, there are myriad opportunities for engagement in rural community arts programs across America. Organizations and individuals are leading the way in challenging the narrative of rural culture and its intrinsic value to our national cultural fabric: The field is being written about, researched, and published on more frequently; academic programs are training students to address the needs of rural communities; and some policy and funding organizations are stepping up to the plate to acknowledge rural arts and cultural work not only for the ways in which it provides access to the arts, but for the ways in which it enhances community pride and vibrancy and improves the standard of living for rural residents.

I asked Patrick to specifically comment on his perception of the state of the Rural Arts today:
I am seeing something that I find very exciting. First, rural arts are a topic of conversation again... Now, I am hearing about and talking to younger people, like you, who are driven by the passion of the work and the important contribution it makes. The concern that I have is much of what I have been reading seems to ignore the vast, rich history of the work and the writing that has been done so many years before all of us started this contemporary expression of the rural/community arts development work. There is so much to learn from the pioneers who have gone before us – I worry about a cycle that seems to occur every twenty years with exciting, gifted, impassioned young people discovering rural/small community arts development and proceeded as if it is a new field.

It is possible we may be entering the most important phase of our history doing this work. Why? Because people are beginning to understand that if something doesn’t change, we are in deep, deep trouble in this country. And I believe rural/small communities are the most critical cultural underpinnings that keep this culture from imploding on itself. There is a need, a desire, an interest in finding alternative – constructive/creative alternatives to the social disintegration that has diseased our entire country. The arts are (and always have been) the way to authentic community expression.

This may be our time. And people like you may well be the messengers who are going to be able to tell this story and this potential and do so in a way that recognizes that the story is a long story and the contribution this story identifies is great.”
I asked Patrick to respond to thirteen additional questions regarding the “State of the Rural Arts Today.” His responses encouraged my own professional development, enlivened the tired rhetoric about rural place, and fully expressed the need to engage with and celebrate rural arts and culture as it is happening on front porches and back roads across this country. To read more about my conversation with Patrick Overton, download the PDF of our interview.

[Author’s Note: All direct quotes attributed to Patrick Overton are taken from a transcribed interview conversation between Patrick Overton and Savannah Barrett that took place on October 16, 2012. For questions, please contact the author. ©Savannah Barrett, 2012.]

Monday, November 12, 2012

Weekly Feed: American Indian Heritage Month, Cross-Cultural Film, Preservation & Sustainability

Bruno Nanguka in Radio Tanzania's archives; Jonathan Kalan, NPR

By Rachel Beth Rudi, Digital Contributor

• November is the 22nd annual American Indian Heritage Month! Follow Smithsonian Education to keep apprised of events and articles. Begin your celebration with "Deer Dance Song (medley)" from the 1965 Smithsonian Folkways album "Music of the Pawnee."

• Last week, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson declared the city "America's Farm-to-Work Capital," kicking off a campaign celebrating Sacramento's vibrant restaurant culture and the bounty of the surrounding farms and agriculturalists. "The mayor and others said their general goal is to brand Sacramento as a food capital the way Austin, Texas is known for its live music scene and annual Austin City Limits Music Festival," writes Ryan Lillis in The Sacramento Bee. 

The Life of a Language, a documentary short directed by Paul Donatelli, is one of many new films screening at the American Indian Film Institute 2012 Film Festival:

• "Wendell Berry, the farmer/writer from Kentucky, is perhaps our nation's best-known advocate for small and mid-sized farms. In a recent lecture, Berry talked about how our rural landscapes have often been replaced 'with a heartless and sickening ugliness.' He offered what is needed to counter that ugliness: Affection." Here's the full op-ed written by Practical Farmers of Iowa Executive Director Teresa Opheim.

PBS recently aired Rafea: Solar Mama, "a documentary funded by Sundance's Documentary Film Program and The Skoll Foundation's Stories of Change. This film is one of the first honored by the Hilton Worldwide LightStay Sustainability Award, an award created to acknowledge documentaries that showcase the connections between sustainability, economic growth and community development."

Brooke Shelby Biggs of the Independent Lens Blog discussed the making of Solar Mamas with producer Mette Heide; find the interview here.

• As the election loomed, Ray Ring of High Country News looked at the impact of the Latino/a electorate in the West: "When Sen. Jon.Kyl, R-Ariz., announced his retirement in 2011, pundits predicted the GOP would easily hold the seat this November. After all, Arizonans last chose a Democrat for Senate in 1988, when as The Wall Street Journal reminisced, 'gasoline cost less than 90 cents a gallon ... and stirrup pants were in.' Yet Democrat Richard Carmona – a former Surgeon General and Spanish-speaker of Peurto Rican descent – is running neck-and-neck with Tea Party Republican Jeff Flake, even though it's Carmona's first high-profile race and Flake is a six-term congressman."

• "Radio Tanzania was the country's only station from its birth in 1951 until the mid-1990s, when competing stations came on the air and state-controlled radio became irrelevant. The station's archives include poetry, drama, speeches and loads of the music now known as zillipendwa. The word translates literally to 'the ones that were loved'; a looser translation would be 'golden oldies.'" Listen to NPR's recent story about the Tanzania Heritage Project and its co-founder, Rebecca Corey of Dar es Salaam University, and the efforts to preserve some of Tanzania's most memorable sounds.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Four Years Later In One Rural Town

[As folks go to the polls today, I offer this piece -- originally titled "Two Years Later," published during the last midterm elections. Now, more than ever, I am moved by this video and, as the polarization of American politics has intensified even further, motivated by the imperative we face as artists and arts advocates to expand the conversation beyond easy and often simplistic talking points. -- Matthew Fluharty

A little over two years ago, Senator Barack Obama campaigned through the Ohio Valley on the eve of the presidential election.  En route from one rally to another, his tour bus passed through my hometown of Smithfield, Ohio. In an unplanned move, the candidate stopped for a brief moment to greet folks who had gathered to cheer along the motorcade. I'm grateful that someone with a digital camera captured this moment for posterity; as the candidate emerges from the long-awaited bus, he seems almost to be returning from a moment of goodwill that we have since misplaced:

When Obama pulled out of Smithfield, Ohio, what he left was a town still resilient in the face of many of the same issues that haunt all of rural America. The main street our future President stood upon was shadow of its former glory--abandoned businesses, dilapidated houses, the high school long gone--but also a metaphor for a state-of-the-nation we sought to amend. As the motorcade snaked its way along the ridge leading out of town, it passed farms owned and preserved with great difficulty by generations of families; among the cattle and crops, as with my family's farm, sat the giant strip pits--old enough to be unreclaimed--standing for another metaphor we invested in a candidate's care.

I wonder how the folks in the video would react if the President's bus stopped again, unannounced, in Smithfield. What would they discuss, what tone would this discussion take?  I ponder this as the video plays again, as the images begin to move like ghosts across the computer screen--a moment lost, a memory consigned to the past.

Aside from our own party preferences, there's no denying that a sense of decorum has vacated our political discourse; while this is no doubt a reflection of our national recession--already mature in November 2008--it is also a comment on our willingness to think, with generosity and civility, beyond ourselves and beyond our own perspectives. Now, more than ever, we need artists to challenge our neighbors' (and our own) frustrated myopia.

The Rural Blog and The Daily Yonder will be excellent sources for the news and analysis of the rural dimension to this election cycle.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Double Weekly Feed: Wild Girls, Our Town, Native Ground, Westbrook Artists, and more

 International Sonoran Desert Alliance, recipient of a NEA Our Town grant

By Rachel Beth Rudi, Digital Contributor

• Congratulations to our colleague Mary Stewart Atwell, whose debut novel Wild Girls was recently published by Scribner. "Fire-lit from start to finish, Wild Girls is a story of Appalachian magic, conflagration, and supernatural violence," writes Swamplandia! author Karen Russell. Around Art of the Rural, we call it The Appalachian Anti-Twilight. Check out the book trailer below, directed by Charlie Cline:

Wild Girls by Mary Stewart Atwell Book Trailer from Charlie Cline on Vimeo.

GALA Hispanic Theatre is bringing a reality of rural Southwestern culture to audiences in Washington, D.C. via the Mexican dance company Teatro Linea de Sombra and their newest multimedia program. Celia Wren offers this introduction in The Washington Post: "a theatrical meditation on the harsh realities that face undocumented migrants and their families, “Amarillo” also features projections, throat singing, a surveillance camera, 100 water bottles, a 15-foot-high wall that actors climb and bounce off – and a poem by Harold Pinter." 

This event was made possible, as Wren writes, thanks to "Southern Exposure: Performing Arts of Latin America, a program of the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, supports U.S. arts presenters that band together to bring Latin American performers to this country."

• National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grants fund creative placemaking projects that enliven communities through vibrant and sustainable art. Information is available online, and two webinars are scheduled to aid in the application process. 

November 6: 

November 13:

Rural projects have been prominently featured in this program in the past, so folks should consider applying. We will be featuring much more information on the Our Town program in the weesks to come.

• The folks at Dust-to-Digital are directing a new non-profit, Music Memory, which will feature an expansive digital database that "will serve as a musical Rosetta Stone for future generations by showing the links and cross-influences of the many musical styles captured on phonograph records in the first half of the 20th century."

"I'm not nothin' new 'cause I'm black. Bill Pickett was black. He was one of the greatest rodeo acts of all time. A black man, DeFord Bailey, was the first country-music superstar ever. I'm just doing what the greats have already done before me."

Wild Bill Young infuses his country singing, and his strutting, with elements of hip-hop and rap, a mixture of the musics and lifestyles of his Missouri childhood, and has found he is able to defy racist stereotypes and expand cultural understanding among the audiences he performs for across the country. Calvin Cox offers a profile in The Riverfront Times.

On Native Ground "captures a demographic of youth through elders, and reaches past all cultural and ethnic barriers, by highlighting positive role models and current and historical events that are uniquely Native American." 

Here's the premiere episode, first broadcast on First Nations Experience on October 24:

On Native Ground vol 1 from jack kohler on Vimeo.
Don't Forget This Song, the Carter Family comic book, is out now – complete with a CD of eleven rare radio recordings. Says American Songwriter Magazine: "Affectionate and admiring, The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song captures the family’s rise to success through numerous struggles as well as the enduring power of music and love." 

 selection from Don't Forget This Song

Check out this great write-up on Brian Frink and Rural America Contemporary Art in The Free Press of Mankato, Minnesota. We encourage folks to check out the amazing range of work presented on the gorgeous new RACA site -- and stay tuned, RACA is about to debut its online magazine!

Located in Madison County, Iowa, The Westbrook Artists' Site operates as "a project for exploration of the post-industrial rural condition." We are excited about their mission statement: 

The Westbrook Artists’ Site (WAS) explores the continuity between rural and urban contexts. If the rural is typically viewed as what was left behind in the process of urbanization, WAS insists, to the contrary, that rural life and landscape need to be seen as vital parts of a system that is urban and rural. WAS cultivates art and design as purposeful interventions within such an interconnected system. The WAS project mission challenges participants to find and explore the connective tissue binding rural and urban worlds and to create modes of address that speak from a rural landscape to both rural and urban audiences. 

"Big Tex – his mouth moved as he uttered ‘Howdy, folks!’ – was celebrating its, or his, 60th birthday. But on Friday, Big Tex caught fire and was all but destroyed in the flames and thick smoke. His fiberglass head, hat and boots were consumed, as were most of his fabric clothes, leaving only his outstretched arms, belt buckle and metal skeleton intact." Folks can read Manny Fernandez's piece New York Times story here.

Left, LM Otero, Associated Press; right, John McKibben, Associated Press

Friday, November 2, 2012

On The Map: Preserving Appalachia

Photograph by Giles Ashford

By Rachel Beth Rudi, Digital Contributor

In this week’s update from the Rural Arts and Culture Map, we wish to turn your attention toward Preserving Appalachia, a branch of Appalachian Mountain Advocates. Through public law and policy, AMA supports Appalachian communities’ health and well-being, and fights the coal industry that has jeopardized same.

As most of AMA’s work occurs in the policy realm, Preserving Appalachia was developed by Dan Radmacher to celebrate and promote the rich heritage, past and present, of the mountains and reveal the beauty of an oft-misunderstood region. Writes Mr. Radmacher:
Preserving Appalachia probably had its origins in the first donor appeal letter I wrote my second week on the job. In that, I said this:

I’m writing to you today to talk about a new focus for the [AMA]. We will continue our successful legal battles that help stop the worst abuses, but we recognize that the fight for Appalachia cannot be won in the courtroom alone. This is a battle for the hearts and minds of the people of this region, and those outside it who enjoy the benefits of cheap electricity without considering the unseen costs. We need to engage in the court of public opinion as well as courts of law.

As I said in my final column in The Roanoke Times before coming to work for the Center, ‘The debate is about coal, climate change, state and federal regulations, the fragile economies of states like Kentucky and West Virginia, and the mountains, rivers and forests of Appalachia. It involves complex, emotionally powerful issues involving people's jobs, their health, their homes and their children.’

Writing that, I realized that one of my main goals needed to be helping those outside of Appalachia understand what is so special about Appalachia – to see both why it's worth saving and why moving away from it is simply not an option for so many residents. 

The notion [of Preserving Appalachia] is to supplement our work opposing mountaintop removal mining with educational and entertaining videos highlighting Appalachian art and artists as part of an effort to show why Appalachia is so worth preserving.

Mr. Radmacher has added to our videos to the map that feature the old-time music of the Black Twig Pickers and the fiery poetry of Crystal Good. As the project is still in its beginning stages, he also is eager to receive names of others whose work aligns with that of Preserving Appalachia and AMA. Much more is to come, and the artistry Preserving Appalachia is curating is fortifying a strong, and far more understood, Appalachian voice.