Creatively Making Rural America’s Places

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-7-57-41-pmI’ve just returned from the first national Rural Creative Placemaking Summit ‘Next Generation’ organized by the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI), Art of the Rural, with other partners and held in Iowa City on October 12-14th, 2016.  It was completely energizing to be in the company of national and state level policy makers, farmers, designers, artists, educators, lawyers, activists and advocates, all changemakers working to shape a creative, positive future for rural America.

What is rural creative placemaking? The National Endowment for the Arts framed the process of ‘creative placemaking,’ and authors Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa Nicodemus defined the work in their white paper. An interview that defines Creative Placemaking is available here.

This concept is being developed by the Next Generation Network for a rural context: ‘….for the range of collaborators within the Next Generation network, we are deeply interested in what creative placemaking can become, and how it can be enlivened and transformed through sustained dialogue and partnerships within an ever-expanding rural network.’

The network asks the following key questions:

1 — How can we ensure that rural creative placemaking engages a range of interdisciplinary and cross-sector practices to build shared knowledge, collective impact, and regional, national, and rural-urban networks of exchange?

2 — How can we address the social barriers that divide communities and facilitate greater inclusivity within this practice so that citizens from a range of backgrounds can equitably match their community’s needs with corresponding outcomes?

3 — How can we elevate the interdependent economic, historical, and cultural contexts across rural America as the crucial foundation upon which responsible creative placemaking must begin?

4 — How can we examine the special relational power of region and steward exchange between communities and cross-sector leaders to invigorate collaboration within this shared economic and cultural landscape?

5 — How can we connect emerging leaders and established exemplars from across these fields and spark a culture of collaboration that will result in more resilient and inclusive creative placemaking models?

6 — How can we build a lasting network for rural practitioners (from folklorists to entrepreneurs, elected officials to farmers, and beyond) who often engage this conversation primarily in their own sector?

7 — How can we work together to build a policy framework through which we can elevate the economic and cultural vitality of creative placemaking in rural America?

Why is rural creative placemaking important today? At a time when many communities, particularly rural communities, are struggling to create their best future with economic and other constraints, this is a critical approach to designing the future.

The Future of Place Like a person, every place has personality. It has assets and areas to work on. To help a place to reach its full potential, its full creative potential, it needs to be worked on by the people that form its community – which necessarily means people from all walks of life with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Thinking from a sustainability perspective, using the framework of the three Ps – People, Planet, Profit (sometimes also called the three Es of Equity, Economics, Environment) and connecting it to a place we can look at the context of a place past and present and ask the questions:  What is the story of People in this place?  What is the story of Planet in this place?  What is the story of Profit in this place?

Each place has its own unique story, along with challenges in all three aspects. The story that the community seeks to write about the future is best served by reviewing the past and present. When creativity is included in the framework, it catalyzes things in whole new ways. We remember that human ingenuity is unlimited and has likely shaped the place in specific ways in its unique history and present. What would it mean to leverage the creativity of the place and its people more fully to shape its best future? That is what rural creative placemaking starts to explore and develop.

Design for Community Resilience The relevance to my work that offers design assistance to communities in urban and greater Minnesota, through the Center for Sustainable Building Research, in the College of Design of these ideas is tremendous. Can’t wait to take our work to the next level in partnership with the Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and inspired by national colleagues!

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