Rural Cultural Strategy

Introduction

Having discussed some of the background and policy contexts (rural development, environmental sustainability, creative economy, great art for all, etc.) relating to a possible future cultural strategy for rural communities, this section will now outline in more detail what such a strategy might contain, including some of its key project development strands, and also briefly touch on how it might be implemented and coordinated. In this sense the proposed project development strands under are the practical, curatorial and/or arts development mechanisms for a rural cultural strategy. 

Altogether, the Rural Cultural Strategy project development strands ( 1 – 7 under) constitute the heart of the RCF’s ‘Cultural Efficacy’, or projects delivery strategy. Although by no means the only project development strand under consideration, they do represent in the main the core of the RCF’s practical arts development work over the next 3 -5 years, or longer. These particular project strands were arrived at during the course of extensive research and consultancy, and refined during a series of public conferences, including the Rural Cultural Summit at Tate Britain in May 2006, and the Creative Rural Economy conference held at Lancaster University in September 2006. They also formed the subject of a range of discussion papers produced by the RCF committee between 2005 and 2009 for distribution to stakeholders and partners in the professional arts, rural community and farming sectors, and DCMS, DEFRA, CRC, and the Arts Council (see ‘A Cultural Strategy for Rural England’, 2008).

Projects

  1. National Rural Arts and Cultural Centre
  2. International Rural Biennale
  3. Creative Rural Economy Investment Programme
  4. New Rural Design, Craft and Architecture initiative
  5. Grains of Truth – national rural documentary programme
  6. Rural Diversities – new urban rural cultural partnerships profiling
  7. Farming & Fashion: Contemporary Rural Crafts

The projects listed are not intended to be prescriptive, nor does the RCF committee imagine that, even if funding were to become available, all of them would be introduced at the same time, but they are intended to provide a basis for a five-year rural cultural investment programme, and some of them are designed to be interconnected.

The development strands are designed to address four key areas:

1. Cultural Efficacy – building rural cultural capacity, 2011 – 1016 

Initiatives resourced, developed and implemented over a minimum five year trajectory, designed to give rural communities the experience necessary to enable them to take forward independent self-sustaining rural cultural regeneration initiatives and programmes post 2016.

2. ‘Beyond the Rural’ – anticipating environmental, social and economic change

Responding to issues and challenges that are, in a sense, ‘beyond the rural’, and taking up the challenge set by DEFRA Secretary of State, Hilary Benn in the recent paper “The combined effect of a changing climate and a global population that will grow to 9 billion in the next forty years defines why food production and environmental sustainability are interdependent and indivisible” ( Oxford Farming Conference, Jan 2010), the aim is to provide an experimental platform on which to develop new cultural narratives, practices and strategies.

3. After Curry: developing new urban/rural cultural partnerships

In the ground-breaking Policy Commission On the Future of Farming and Food (2002) Sir Donald Curry underlined the importance of promoting urban/rural reconnection, and giving the urban consumer and tax-payer a say in the future of the countryside. The proposed programme is intended to provide the basis for a new cultural strategy for urban/rural reconnection, developing new artistic and cultural interfaces and partnerships, and involving urban cultural diversity communities and artists through artistic programmes and commissions that could contribute environmental, social and economic benefits to urban communities.

4. Promoting new rural contexts for contemporary art, and public access to great art in the countryside

Involving the professional arts, media and cultural sector in the creative rural economy, rural cultural tourism/heritage. and cultural strategy programmes, by promoting new intellectual, aesthetic and artistic challenges in rural contexts, creating new employment opportunities in rural areas for professional artists, designers, new media, craftworkers, architects, generating new rural audiences for the arts. and widening urban access to great art in the countryside.

Some precedents for a rural cultural strategy

Learning from urban communities and the urban cultural programmes

In the campaign for a rural cultural strategy the RCF has been inspired and encouraged by the achievements of those urban communities which, in partnership with the professional urban arts, media and cultural sector, were successful in drawing down significant arts and cultural funding in support of social, economic and environmental regeneration. The success of these strategic urban programmes has been documented and evaluated in reports such as ‘Culture at the Heart of Regeneration’ (DCMS, 2004); ‘Arts and Regeneration: Creating Vibrant Communities’ (ACE 2007), and the ‘Creative Britain’ Report (DCMS 2008).

These and related reports also help to provide an overview of the range of successful urban arts regeneration strategies and methodologies which, with some modifications obviously, could perhaps serve as models, or at least as a starting point, for consideration of an equivalent arts-led rural investment programme. In which case they (the rural cultural programme) might also think about comprising:

i ‘Iconic’ architectural projects, and prestige contemporary art museums and cultural centres

ii International Cultural Festivals and contemporary Art Biennales

iii Initiatives promoting the Cultural Industries, digital media, and the creative economy.

iv Prestige Public Art and design-led environmental improvements

v Building community self-esteem, arts-led social inclusion and cultural diversity programmes

vi Future Cities – re-imaging urban society; and urban research labs and think tanks

It is now accepted that, although not a panacea for all urban problems, strategic arts and cultural initiatives can help to turn around even the most deprived post-industrial urban economy. Citing the successful examples of arts-led regeneration associated with the Coalfields, Market Towns (MTI) and Sea-Side Towns programme (Sea Change), there is also evidence to suggest that such programmes can be tailored to fit the needs of smaller, regionally dispersed, or industry-specific communities.

Over the past three years the RCF has made a detailed study of these and other urban/regional arts and cultural regeneration projects. The Sea Change initiative is of particular interest, because it targeted relatively remote and geographically dispersed communities, and was ambitious in the scale and ambition of its artistic vision, strategic duration (5 – 10 years), and the sustainable legacy it aims to achieve. These are close to the aims of an equivalent rural cultural investment strategy.

The very successful LEADER+ model for rural arts and cultural development

The most successful cultural strategic investment programmes to date have been achieved through the EU EAGGF LEADER + initiative, administered and co-funded in this country by DEFRA. Although this programme ended in 2006, to be replaced by the RDPE programme (2007 – 2013), the legacy lives on through the extraordinary and continuing range of innovative arts, new media, design, cultural tourism, heritage, architectural and creative economy projects that it helped to initiate in England, and elsewhere throughout the UK. Significantly, the strategic success and sustainability of the LEADER+ rural arts and regeneration projects is mainly due to the bottom-up decision-making approach and insistence on grassroots community leadership and management of all aspects of the project development, at parish/local, regional, national and trans-national levels.

Extrapolating some of the key elements for a sustainable rural cultural strategy.

From the examples and precedents given it is possible to determine the factors which might contribute to a sustainable rural cultural investment strategy.

a. Differentiation.

There is a need to refocus some of the successful urban arts and regeneration methodologies to meet the needs of smaller, regionally dispersed, and marginal rural communities, while at the same time responding to the cultural challenge of achieving healthy rural communities, rural environmental sustainability, a healthy and creative rural economy, and meeting the cultural expectations of farming communities.

b. Ambition and quality.

If adopted, the rural cultural strategy programme should be unashamedly ambitious and visionary in its scope, and to strive overall for the highest quality in terms of artistic programmes and cultural outputs. This would mean having involvement from the outset from leading national and international artists, new media experts, architects, designers, curators, and art consultants in the planning, production and delivery of the programmes.

c. Sustainability.

The ultimate sustainability of the strategy will depend on provision of an adequate level of funding for project development over a minimum of five years initially. Also critical is the employment of a bottom-up LEADER+ style decision-making approach from the outset, and ensuring grassroots rural community involvement in all aspects of the development and implementation of the rural culture programmes throughout the life of the project.