Reflections from the Rural Arts & Culture Summit

I had the great pleasure to attend the Rural Arts and Culture Summit this past week at my alma mater, the University of MN, Morris (Go Cougars!). The Summit, hosted by Springboard for the Arts, the Center for Small Towns, and the Forum of Regional Arts Councils, provides a place for rural folk–artists, administrators, economic and community developers, educators, farmers, and everyone with an interest–to come together to discuss the successes and challenges of our particular work in our particular places. The theme for the conference this year was “From the Ground Up.” I think this theme was particularly apropos for me and the Guild at this incredibly transitional time in our history. “From the Ground Up” points to positive growth and direction. It’s from the ground that you can see how tall you might become. It’s from the ground that you can recognize that we all start from the same place. It’s from the ground that you dig in roots (or, in my personal case, unearthing and learning about the deep roots one might already have).

So from the conference and the people I met and learned from, here are a few reflections that I’d like to share:

  1. I went to a fabulous session on stewardship of volunteers led by Danette Olson. Or rather, a session on making a distinction between “volunteer” (the one-time only person or a person who performs low level tasks that anyone can do) and “steward” (the keepers of the castle who are invested in the mission and who essentially function and operate as unpaid staff with job descriptions and reviews). Now I think that both roles are vital to the health of the organization, and in reflecting upon the NAG, I realize that we do have both–and how lucky we are! When I think about so many of our Gallery and Theater committee members who put in so much time and expertise–that’s stewarding our programs, and it’s awesome! And of course, our Board of Directors are prime examples of stewards. But can we think even bigger about this idea of steward? Yes–I think we can.
  2. Have you ever heard John Davis, Executive Director of Lanesboro Arts, speak? If you get the chance, he’s a dynamic must see and provides such an optimistic, progressive attitude towards arts and community development. Take away their reasons to say no. Just do it anyway. It’s an opportunity. I’m jiving with these phrases for sure, but what I was personally challenged with from his talk was the need to listen and learn before you leap. That it’s important to understand context and history and perspectives of those you’re trying to connect to. I’m such a go-getter that I sometimes don’t take as much time as I probably should to listen and learn. So–that’s my mid-year resolution :-)
  3. Where is Northfield on the rural-urban continuum? This idea of exchange between rural and urban places came up frequently, but Northfield is unique in that it seems to embody both worlds simultaneously, perhaps best exemplified in city’s motto “cows, colleges, and contentment.” Which probably is the reason why we’re bursting at the seams with arts and culture here in Northfield. But for all we have, it has disappointed me the number of Northfielders who feel like the arts aren’t for them, that we’re not for them, or have never even heard of the NAG. How can it be that in a town of so much arts and culture we still have so many disenfranchised from this abundance of what our community has to offer? There’s a tension that seems to exist, and I’m really interested in listening and learning more (see #2) about this place to understand why this is. It seems Division Street might have more meaning to it than I originally thought.
  4. And expanding upon #3, what’s the Guild’s role in public art in Northfield? How can we help facilitate public art and arts access for everyone to partake and enjoy? And how could public art projects here in Northfield help bring the whole community together instead of keeping the divisions in place? What flavor would those projects take to best reflect and engage the community? There could be a whole separate blog post on that, but I’ll just leave those questions dangling out there for the time being.

So many ideas! What are your thoughts on my thoughts? I’d love to hear them!