The Rural Cultural Forum came into being partly in response to the rural recovery initiatives following the devastating Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001, and in consideration of the Curry Report (2002) and the Rural Strategy report (DEFRA 2004). This was coupled with the growing impact of CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) reform, which was also pointing to a need for a radical rethink on the future of agriculture and rural community development in Britain. In recognition of the changing rural scene, and seeking to widen the remit of the arts in the context of rural regeneration, Arts Council England commissioned the LITTORAL Trust to undertake a scoping study of the arts in rural areas.
The prime aim of the study was to map a possible new role for the arts in the context of the policy initiatives proposed by Government for economic regeneration, social inclusion and environmental sustainability in rural areas. Secondly the report pointed to the possibility of introducing a range of new artistic practices and critical strategies in response to the opportunities emerging in the land-based agricultural sector and rural economy: farm diversification, production of non-food fibre crops, new uses for redundant farmland, and new approaches to rural tourism.
The outcome of this work, the ‘Investing in Creative Rural Communities: the New Rural Arts‘ report, was published in 2004, and presented a comprehensive development strategy through which the Arts Council and the professional arts sector could begin to address the new creative and intellectual challenges identified in the study. These were:
1 Rural Cultural Strategy.
Development of a nationally coordinated arts, media and cultural sector strategic response in support of the Government’s core agendas for rural recovery, farm diversification, sustainable food production, and environmental initiatives in the countryside, as defined in the Rural Strategy, (DEFRA, 2004), and (for the national Creative Economy) ‘Culture at the Heart of Regeneration‘, DCMS, 2004).
2 Arts and Rural Regeneration.
Provision of a new national rural arts development and training programme to encourage professional artists, designers, craftworkers and architects to address the economic, social, and environmental issues affecting rural areas, and to take advantage of the new challenges and opportunities opening up for them in the rural sector.
3 Rural Cultural Forum.
Establishment of a Rural Cultural Forum to function as a cultural advocacy and arts development agency for rural communities and artists, and as a grassroots campaign organisation lobbying for a greater degree of cultural equity and arts funding for rural communities, and an input into decisions relating to arts and cultural policy and funding for rural areas.
Development of the RCF
A number of rural community, arts and farming leaders responded to the recommendations of the report, and the objectives for the Rural Cultural Forum were developed and refined through a series of regional open meetings and consultancy seminars held throughout the country during 2004 – 2005. The aims of the RCF were ratified and a constitution adopted at the first Rural Cultural Summit, which took place at Tate Britain in May 2006, with presentations by leading rural and farming membership organisations including the Soil Association, ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England), NFU, CPRE (Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England), the Hill Farming Initiative, Small and Family Farmers Association, and the CLA (Country Landowners and Business Association). In 2006 the RCF received a Grants for the Arts award of £48,000 for organisational support and project development from Arts Council England West Midlands.
What we do
Advocacy and conferences:
Over the past three years the RCF has been engaged in a range of rural cultural advocacy work with the statutory agencies, DCMS, DEFRA, Arts Council England and the Commission for Rural Communities. This includes the proposal for a Rural Cultural Strategy making the case for new arts and cultural funding and resources for rural communities and rural regeneration. The RCF has been active in organising conferences and exhibitions and developing cultural diversity and cross-sector (urban/rural) strategic partnerships. The RCF organised the New Rural Design and Architecture conference at the DEFRA/CSL centre in York in June 2005, and staged the first international Creative Rural Economy conference at Lancaster University in September 2006. The Forum mounted a series of exhibitions show-casing rural community creativity and new rural arts at the Royal Agricultural Shows in 2007 and 2008 and various regional events, in collaboration with ACE West Midlands.
New rural arts – arts development and research
The RCF is interested in working with urban and rural artists in all aspects of its work. It is also taking the lead in promoting the New Rural Arts as an emerging critical art practice genre with, both, urban and rural implications and applications. It further encourages contemporary art practitioners (including crafts, designers, architects, writers, new media and performing arts, etc.) in addressing a range of innovative creative and practical projects in support of rural community development, creative rural economy, rural tourism, environmental sustainability, farm diversification, and social inclusion initiatives in the countryside. In this context is also developing a professional data-base of new rural arts, design and crafts projects which are now developing nationally and internationally, for use by artists, art schools, art councils and rural communities. It is also working with professional artists and designers to develop a critical pedagogy/CPD, research network and a theoretical discourse for the emergent new rural arts and design work.
Creative rural communities – networking and support
The RCF also strives to provide an information network, resources and support service for rural communities interested in working with artists and the arts. This includes sharing examples of best practice from various successful rural community-led creative rural economy, arts and rural tourism, craft marketing, and festival projects. The RCF also helps rural community groups to design art and cultural projects that address a range of rural, farming and countryside regeneration objectives and issues. It also seeks to encourage and enable rural communities and farmers to develop their own distinctly rural arts projects and cultural events and, where possible, also help them write successful arts funding grant applications in support of these. As well as advising them on how to access arts, cultural and rural funding sources. It also aims to document, celebrate, and promote traditional countryside arts and crafts, and other farming-related arts and cultural traditions in all their rich local vernacular and regional contexts.
European and International creative rural communities:
With the Creative Rural Economy conference at Lancaster the RCF initiated a European Rural Cultural Conference Network, the follow-up to which was hosted by the Dutch Agriculture Ministry at the Kasteel Groeneveld Conference Centre in November 2008. In November 2009 the RCF also helped to initiate and participated in ACRE – the first Australian Creative Rural Economy conference held in Swan Hill, Northern Victoria. The RCF is also establishing a partnership link with the Creative Rural Economy Initiative in Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada. The Rural Cultural Strategy APG event at Parliament in February 2010 is thus the outcome of over three years of extensive advocacy with and on behalf of rural communities and the arts.
The RCF currently has three main campaign aims, two of which are now fully active: (i) Cultural Entitlement – which sets out some of the main arguments for cultural entitlement and equity for rural communities, and (ii) the proposed Rural Cultural Strategy, which is basically the main instrument by which rural communities could set about achieving cultural entitlement and so also make a greater contribution to the nation’s creative economy and rich cultural diversity. The third campaign strand, ‘Sustainable Cultures – towards a new urban/rural cultural partnership for environmental and cultural sustainability’ is currently under development, and will have its own project pages and discussion document listed on this site shortly. More information about the respective campaigns is listed under the drop-down boxes above.