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Commentary: The arts are important in rural as well as metropolitan areas

Being involved in the arts, I'm always involved with trying to see that all our communities have good art education and that art in all its forms can be available to all in our city and its metropolitan area. Many wonderful people in St. Louis realize the power of the arts and do their best to support this idea.

Many folks don't really think much about the situation of the arts in small towns and rural areas in our country. The Arts and Education Council right here in St. Louis has some wonderful programs which support rural arts organizations. The Arts and Education Council in St. Louis in its 2017 magazine said, "Arts foster community and connection in rural counties. One of the special aspects of our region's vibrant arts community is that it extends beyond the city into the surrounding rural counties. For more than a decade the Arts and Education Council in partnership with the Monsanto Fund, has grown the arts in those rural communities through the Monsanto Rural Arts Education Program."

Another article in the 2019 Arts and Education magazine talks about rural arts organizations receiving 25,000 dollars. Examples of the agencies receiving funding are Arts Rolla (Rolla, MO) which brings art and communities together by supporting and growing visual, literary and performing arts, Sainte Genevieve Art Guild (Ste. Genevieve, MO) which is opening a new art center and museum to create more art opportunities for residents and visitors and the Steelville Arts Council (Steeleville, MO) which offers artists a place of natural beauty for both visual and performing artists and promotes the arts in their community creating a connection between artists and audiences to enrich the quality of life for all.

I talked to Todd Stein, the President and CEO of the Mid-America Arts Alliance, an agency which represents six states in the Midwest in promoting the arts with multiple programs. Here are some of the statistics in the promotion of art in rural areas he quoted:

  • “ExhibitsUSA exhibitions travel to 100 different communities per year across the nation, on average
  • 63.8% of our exhibitions bookings are in communities with populations less than 50,000 which is considered rural by the NEA
  • 19.5% of our exhibition bookings are in communities with populations less than 10,000
  • 82.8% of the venues served by ExhibitsUSA are considered underserved. They are designated underserved due to being in a county designated as rural, are in a community of less than 50,000 through their census designation or by means of their racial demographic.” 

I was surprised to find that as stated in a publication of the National Governor's Association, "Rural America has a robust cultural history that has enriched the nation and its people. America is beset with social and economic challenges, population migration and persistent poverty in rural areas. All this contributes to a widening urban and rural divide in many states. By using the creative sector, governors have a viable approach for strengthening economic opportunities and vibrancy into rural communities."

Governor Gary Herbert of Utah won the prestigious award from the Americans for the Arts for his state arts leadership. In a speech Governor Herbert talked about the arts as an economic driver and the power the arts have to nourish the spirit. He said that the arts generate more money than the construction, transportation and mining industries. He states that the arts don't all occur in Hollywood and Broadway.

On the PBS News Hour, Jeffrey Brown said, "Americans have been drawn to rural areas in recent years. This is partly due to the appeal of a higher quality of life. These regions have not traditionally been known as art hubs, but some residents say that trend is changing." Brown reported from northern Minnesota, "Artists and community leaders are fighting the national narrative of rural America in decline.”

A great example of the arts as an economic driver in rural areas is the "Red Ants Pants Music Festival" held every year in White Sulphur Springs, Montana. This festival attracts as many as 18,000 people. Its proceeds are over 3 million dollars which support, through this one project, rural communities and family farms and ranches.

Recently, I had a meeting with the development director of the St. Louis Symphony and she assured me that the orchestra’s education department has programs throughout the entire state of Missouri.

On the other hand, Benjamin Butler, a nationally and internationally known artist who has several pieces on display at Laumeier Sculpture Park talked about growing up in Wamego, Kansas and he certainly was able to receive a fine fine arts degree.

Creativity is creativity and can get a spark from within anywhere.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than forty years on numerous arts related boards.