Can The Arts Help Save Rural America? By Teresa Wiltz

Can The Arts Help Save Rural America?

“You need arts in rural America so that the next generation wants to come there and live,” said Charles Fluharty, president and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute, a public policy institute located at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. 

“If you do not build vibrant, inclusive, diverse places for young people, they’re not going to raise their families there. They’re simply not. And those communities will wither away,” Fluharty said.

Around the nation, arts are helping a handful of rural communities make a go of it. Marfa, a remote desert town in Texas with a population of 1,765, has become an international arts mecca among fashionistas. Every summer for the last 45 years, 12,000 people swarm Winfield, Kansas, pitching their tents at the town’s annual bluegrass music festival and temporarily doubling the city’s population. 

Business leaders and city administrators say it’s almost impossible to pin a dollar figure on the amount of revenue arts and entertainment can bring to a rural community. In 2013, arts and cultural production contributed $704 billion to the U.S. economy and supported 4.7 million jobs.

Community leaders say the arts can foster community pride and create jobs, even on a modest scale. To be successful, they say, a rural community must figure out what makes it unique — a gorgeous natural landscape that can serve as the backdrop for a writers’ retreat, an old opera house, or a tradition of local storytelling — and capitalize on that. 

“People say, ‘I’m going to Winfield.’ They don’t say, ‘I’m going to the Walnut Valley Festival.’ The festival is giving us this name recognition. You could never pay for that type of recognition,” said Warren Porter, Winfield’s city manager. 

Tourists flock to Lanesboro, Minnesota, population 754, a historic town known for its Victorian architecture and scenic river bikeway, to take in theater, art galleries, museums, film festivals and live music. Smithsonian magazine named it one of its “20 Best Small Towns to Visit.” (Minnesota has an arts and heritage fund paid for with revenue from state sales taxes.)

 

There, the entire town was declared an arts campus two years ago. And with $1.3 million in local, state and federal funding, the town has been renovating facilities, helping artists relocate there and developing an artist residency center, said John Davis, executive director of Lanesboro Arts, a coordinating organization. In the meantime, 10 businesses have opened in town. 

Owensboro, a small city in western Kentucky located on the Ohio River, has invested $260 million of public and private money to revamp its downtown riverfront and convention center and build a new building for its International Bluegrass Music Museum.

The city was known for its museum, which opened in 1991 and “set the tone for creating a brand for arts and culture,” said Joe Berry, vice president of entrepreneurship for the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation. The town also has a symphony and a pre-professional ballet company. 

“We’ve watched our state government send money to everywhere but Owensboro,” Berry said. “We decided we’re not going to wait for our state government to help us. We’re going to roll up our sleeves and figure out how to do it ourselves.”

Remaking Small Town America

At the “Next Generation” summit in Iowa City, artists and policy wonks from 35 states crammed in conference rooms to talk strategy, breaking every now and then to take in a performance from a storyteller or folk singer. 

They toss around the term “creative placemaking,” an earnest shorthand for building economically viable arts hubs.

The bit of jargon belies the urgency that many rural communities face, said Bob Reeder, program director of Rural LISC (the rural component of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that works with rural communities to stimulate economic development. 

In nearly half of the country’s rural counties, more people have moved out than have moved in during every decade since the 1950s. Many rural communities are blighted, with vacant buildings and crumbling infrastructure. Rural unemployment has eased up since the recession, but creating jobs remains a challenge.

“There are many rural communities that are threatened with becoming a ghost town,” Reeder said. “Can the arts save rural America? I would never call it a panacea, but it’s another strategy that we have in our toolkit.” 

Metropolitan areas receive community development block grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which give them the flexibility to do long-term strategic planning. 

In contrast, rural communities have to compete for funding. They can apply for a federal HUD grant. And they receive competitive grants from their governor’s office, which are typically meted out every few years. By the time that funding comes around, it usually goes to obtaining, say, a new fire truck, rather than creating an arts scene.

“That’s a massive disadvantage to community development,” Fluharty said. 

Escaping the Big City

Zachary Mannheimer, a former New Yorker who moved to Iowa nine years ago, travels his adopted state consulting with small towns on how to convert their abandoned hospitals and hotels into multiuse facilities that incorporate rental housing for young professionals, restaurants and community arts centers. 

The idea is to make a town attractive to young people, said Mannheimer of the Iowa Business Growth Company, a for-profit economic development group that uses federal and state loans and tax credits to fund small business startups in towns across the state. 

Increasingly, Mannheimer said, young creative types are being forced out of big cities and are looking for less expensive places to live. And many people eventually tire of metropolis living and seek a less hectic existence.

A recent study by the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship found that half of the young people from rural communities said that they would love to stay in their hometowns if there were real career opportunities available for them. That means small town America needs to prepare to welcome them back.

“Towns have to be prepared for 30 years from now. It’s all about figuring out what does your town have that no other town on the planet has,” Mannheimer said.

Rural communities should think small in starting to revitalize themselves, said Reeder of Rural LISC.

Trying to woo back manufacturing in today’s service-driven economy is not realistic, he said. All too often, big corporations swoop into a rural community but don’t end up hiring many locals. And they rarely stick around, he said, leaving carcasses of abandoned industrial parks. 

“Don’t be trying to get a Wal-Mart,” Reeder said. For every dollar spent in these stores, 90 cents goes outside the community, he said. “For every dollar spent in a local food mart, just the opposite happens.”

‘Capital of Quirkiness’

Sometimes becoming a tourist mecca has its downside, especially if a town doesn’t have the infrastructure to support the boom. In Marfa, for example, there’s no room to grow, said James Mustard, the city administrator. The town is landlocked, bordered by ranches that have been owned by a handful of families for years. 

In the 1970s, the artist Donald Judd left New York for Marfa. He bought a chunk of land, and with foundation money, populated Marfa with all kinds of art installations. CBS’s “60 Minutes” dubbed the town “the capital of quirkiness.”

Over the years, hipsters from New York and Los Angeles gobbled up the housing stock to use as second homes. As a result, appraised housing values skyrocketed, and some locals complained about a jump in their property taxes. Part-timers rented out their homes on Airbnb. Affordable housing shrank. 

“We have few vacant lots,” Mustard said. “You can’t build a subdivision. You can’t build 20 new houses.”

But as Calhoun of the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs sees it, with careful planning, a community can take advantage of tourism dollars. 

The proceeds from the annual music fest go to a foundation that funds leadership programs for women, and provides grants to improve rural communities and support family farms and ranches. 

Her county is no longer the poorest in the nation. White Sulphur Springs has a new Main Street, sporting goods store, brewery and bakery — and new sidewalks and streetlights. It soon will have a new school and library. 

But Calhoun is not interested in seeing White Sulphur Springs become a boom town. There’s a reason why she moved to the middle of nowhere.

“Getting bigger isn’t the solution. Getting better is. If you design it for the tourists, you’re making a mistake,” said Calhoun, who represented Montana last year at the White House’s Small Business Leadership Summit. “Design it for your community. Then the others will come.” 

 

This is Your Brain on Architecture

In her new book, Sarah Williams Goldhagen presents scientific evidence for why some buildings delight us and others—too many of them—disappoint.

“This paradigm,” she writes in her magisterial new book, Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives, “holds that much of what and how people think is a function of our living in the kinds of bodies we do.” Not just conscious thoughts, but non-conscious impressions, feedback from our senses, physical movement, and even split-second mental simulations of that movement shape how we respond to a place, Goldhagen argues. And in turn, the place nudges us to think or behave in certain ways.

Health and climate related ecosystem services provided by street trees in the urban environment

 

Jennifer A. Salmond1*, Marc Tadaki2, Sotiris Vardoulakis3,4,5, Katherine Arbuthnott3,5, Andrew Coutts6,7, Matthias Demuzere6,7,8, Kim N. Dirks9, Clare Heaviside3,5, Shanon Lim1, Helen Macintyre3, Rachel N. McInnes4,10 and Benedict W. Wheeler4 

Urban tree planting initiatives are being actively promoted as a planning tool to enable urban areas to adapt to and mitigate against climate change, enhance urban sustainability and improve human health and well-being. However, opportunities for creating new areas of green space within cities are often limited and tree planting initiatives may be constrained to kerbside locations. At this scale, the net impact of trees on human health and the local environment is less clear, and generalised approaches for evaluating their impact are not well developed.

In this review, we use an urban ecosystems services framework to evaluate the direct, and locally-generated, ecosystems services and disservices provided by street trees. We focus our review on the services of major importance to human health and well-being which include ‘climate regulation’, ‘air quality regulation’ and ‘aesthetics and cultural services’. These are themes that are commonly used to justify new street tree or street tree retention initiatives. We argue that current scientific understanding of the impact of street trees on human health and the urban environment has been limited by predominantly regional-scale reductionist approaches which consider vegetation generally and/or single out individual services or impacts without considering the wider synergistic impacts of street trees on urban ecosystems. This can lead planners and policymakers towards decision making based on single parameter optimisation strategies which may be problematic when a single intervention offers different outcomes and has multiple effects and potential trade-offs in different places.

We suggest that a holistic approach is required to evaluate the services and disservices provided by street trees at different scales. We provide information to guide decision makers and planners in their attempts to evaluate the value of vegetation in their local setting. We show that by ensuring that the specific aim of the intervention, the scale of the desired biophysical effect and an awareness of a range of impacts guide the choice of i) tree species, ii) location and iii) density of tree placement, street trees can be an important tool for urban planners and designers in developing resilient and resourceful cities in an era of climatic change. 

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Social Structure

John L Martin and Monica Lee 

Social structure refers to patternings in social relations that have some sort of obduracy. Within this general definition, there are two primary families of more specific approaches. In the first, ‘structure’ may be used to refer on the macro level to the abstract organization of reciprocally defined social categories that are seen to comprise some social whole. In the second, the term can be used to refer to smaller scale ‘social structures,’ configurations of concrete relationships among individuals without reference to a notion of a larger societal totality. We organize our exposition accordingly. (We note that Porpora (1989) in addition gave as conceptions of social structure first, that of Anthony Giddens, which we treat here as an extreme form of the first understanding of structure, and second, relations between variables, but we have not seen any examples of people claiming this as a definition of structure, and we discuss this under the related heading of social systems below.)

Structure as Abstract Relations between Social Positions

Although all the approaches in this category link structure to some sort of organization of positions or types that anchor action, they differ as to the logic of the organization of the positions that may variously be taken to be social functions, roles, or classes.

Structure and Function

The idea of ‘social structure’ was first introduced by Herbert Spencer (e.g., 1896[1873]: pp. 56–60). At the time, the word ‘structure’ in biology referred to what we would now call ‘organs,’ sets of contiguous tissue that performed a specifiable function for the organism as a whole. Spencer argued that society had ‘social structures’ that carried out social functions.

Thus the root of the idea of social structure comes from the organismic metaphor applied to society. This metaphor is certainly an old one; in the Western tradition we often begin with Plato, who (we now say) suggested that the city might be understood as a ‘man writ large,’ and thus a convenient place for an anthropology. (In the Republic (II:368d) Plato argues that, given that those of us with imperfect vision have an easier time reading larger letters, we should find a place to study the nature of justice similarly writ large, and that is the city. From here, he uses our interdependence to derive the need for specific occupations, for specialization, and for trade (369–371).) Now indeed, Plato did suggest a mapping between characteristics of persons and those of the city. Most important, Plato made a distinction between (what might appear to us as) cognition, emotions, and instincts. Thus in the fourth book of the Republic (espec. x436), Plato had Socrates demonstrate that there are three parts of the soul that have different functions – that we “learn with one part of ourselves, feel anger with another, and with yet a third desire the pleasures of nutrition and generation.” (The physical organs to which these were taken to correspond were for many centuries taken to be the head, the heart, and the liver, organized in a vertical hierarchy.) So too, he argued, the city has three classes, each of whom must do its part. Some make things (or ‘make money,’ corresponding to the appetitive), some make rules (corre- sponding to the nous, the intellect), and some make war. These correspond to three qualities of the good city, which should be wise (the wisdom of the city is the wisdom of its counselors), brave (the bravery of the city is the bravery of its fighters), and sober (Republic, x428–434). Now despite his famous emphasis on our interdependence and even on the division of labor, Plato did not propose an organismic model of the state, and it seems that no such developed analogies arose in Europe until the mass of differentiable urban occupations were no longer associated with servile status.

With the rise of materialist views of human beings and of society, organismic metaphors were extended into more developed allegories: thus Hobbes (1943[1651]: pp. 8, 171, 183–188, 193f., 246–257) proposed correspondences in the body politic to nerves, blood and joints, and could liken its states of illness to pleurisy, Siamese triplets, and constipation. But despite his categorical rejection of metaphor, Hobbes’s use of the organismic language stemmed as much from his love of pursuing a simile as from his explanatory goals. (Thus not only is the distribution of goods analogous to nutrition, but these good ultimately come from either the land or the sea, ‘(the two breasts of our common Mother),’ adds Hobbes (1943[1651]: p. 189).) Certainly, Hobbes treated the organismic predicate as one of metaphor and not as one of identity (e.g., systems “may be compared . to the similar parts of man’s body” (emphasis added)), and alternated between it and others (the common- wealth as building, as Leviathan, or as ‘Mortall God’). 

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The Theme of Displacement in Contemporary Art

John POTTS

This essay discusses images and ideas of displacement in recent works of art. The theme of displacement is considered in the context of the globalist aspect of contemporary art, itself a reflection of globalisation. The intensified movement of goods, information, capital, images – and people – around the world provides the setting for contemporary artists’ treatment of displacement in a wide range of contexts.

Theorising Global Art

2Contemporary art has increasingly been conceived as global art. Art theorists and art historians searching for a successor term to modernism and postmodernism have proposed, among other terms, network culture and globalism, as cultural conditions reflected by contemporary art. The critic and theorist Rex Butler has suggested that the “new style or movement of art that comes after postmodernism” should be called globalism (Butler 58), incorporating both the impact of globalisation on the concerns and content of contemporary art, and the international circuit of major art events at which the most recent artworks are showcased. 

3The art theorist and curator Nicolas Bourriaud proposes as the successor to postmodernism an “altermodernity” comprising a “translation-oriented modernity” (Bourriaud 2007: 43). For Bourriaud such a conception of contemporary culture corresponds to the globalised world order, a modernity “born of global and decentralized negotiations, of multiple discussions among participants from different cultures” (43). Such a culture must be “polyglot”, because “the immigrant, the exile, the tourist, and the urban wanderer are the dominant figures of contemporary culture.” (51) Altermodernity for Bourriaud embraces the styles and techniques of modernity as “one phenomenon among others”, to be explored in a “globalised culture busy with new syntheses.” (186) The global network becomes a space of exchange, of diverse representations of the world, in which translation of ideas and representations places a crucial role in “discussions that will give rise to a new common intelligibility.” (188)

4Bourriaud cites as exemplary artists in this regard Gabriel Orozco, Thomas Hirschhorn, Jason Rhoades and Francis Alÿs, all of whom express the wandering aspect of modern urban life first defined in Baudelaire’s figure of the flâneur. This artist-figure becomes “one flesh” with “the multitude, among the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite”; such an artist is “a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness” (Baudelaire 6-12, cited in Bourriaud 2007: 92). The nomadic function celebrated by Baudelaire is intensified in the global age, as artists wander not just through cities but across continents.

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