1. National Rural Arts and Cultural Centre

MIMA - contemporary art museum £40 million flagship of Middlesborough’s urban regeneration programme
MIMA – contemporary art museum £40 million flagship of Middlesborough’s urban regeneration programme

Rural communities would benefit considerably from having their own National Rural Cultural Centre and contemporary rural art gallery – MoCCA (Museum of Contemporary Countryside Art). There is currently no national meeting place for rural social, cultural and community activities and exhibitions accessible to urban and rural communities interested in rural arts, culture and life. The centre would showcase the best of contemporary rural arts, architecture and design, and would provide a much needed cultural focus promoting rural confidence and self-esteem at a time of radical change and uncertainty.

National Rural Cultural Centre – MoCCA Museum of Contemporary Countryside Art 

For many years the annual Royal Agriculture Show, based at the National Agriculture Centre at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, functioned as a major social gathering and rural cultural event for farming and rural communities.  With the ending in 2009 of the Royal Show there is no longer a national meeting place for rural communities or an arts and cultural centre where rural and urban communities can meet to enjoy the best of contemporary rural arts, rural design, and wholesome farm foods, and experience traditional countryside cultural activities, events and skills.   After over ten years of seeing new art galleries and cultural centres go up in urban contexts, funded through the Lottery and by DCMS and the Arts Council as part of culture-led urban regeneration initiatives, rural leaders now feel that given the opportunity,  they could put forward a good case for a dedicated National Rural Cultural Centre and associated gallery of contemporary art and crafts of the countryside.

Such a building would provide rural communities with a powerful symbolic presence and focus at a time of economic uncertainty and radical social, environmental and cultural change in the countryside.  They are hoping for something more than simply a gallery, and resolutely forward-looking, inclusive and experimental in its institutional ethos, aimed at helping farming and rural communities to reinforce their cultural identity, and enhance their creative potential.   The Centre would be a welcoming place where rural and farming cultural and social groups could meet with urban groups and work together to share new experiences and ideas.  It would also present a prestigious statement on rural architecture, and hopefully become an international showcase for the best of contemporary rural arts, architecture and design.

Obviously the proposal will need further work before it can go forward to the feasibility stage, and it will naturally become subject to a public debate involving all relevant stakeholder groups: rural community, farming, and statutory agencies, artists, museum and gallery curators, and other rural and urban interest groups.  The proposal will also act as a catalyst for debate on the future of rural culture, heritage, and the countryside in general.  The RCF recognises that, given the current financial and political climate, this may not be the ideal time to put forward these ideas, and whether the project eventually gets support or not is not the issue here.  But the proposal does have a measure of support in both the urban and rural arts sectors, and as such is a concept worth considering.

Listed below are some ideas for the proposed National Rural Cultural Centre that could be discussed at future stakeholder meetings.  In addition to generating a debate on the role and structure of the Centre, these would also enable rural communities to acquire confidence in discussion of cultural policy and related arts development strategies and priorities.

The International Exhibition centre at the National Agriculture Centre, Stoneleigh is an example of what a purpose built National Rural Cultural center might look like.

Proposed regional workgroups and consultancy seminars

Each of the developmental strands listed could become the focus for regional Rural Cultural task forces or thematic consultancy workshop groups, each comprising rural community stakeholder groups, NGOs, artists, museum curators, arts consultants, media experts, designers and architects, etc. all working collaboratively to arrive at concrete and practical proposals for the Centre.  The interim findings, including extensive visual documentation and information gathered by each of the task force groups, could be presented at regional touring exhibitions and supporting conference/seminars, thereby inviting further public, community and stakeholder participation.

Developmental strands the proposed Centre, for further discussion:

i Exploring the urban/rural cultural interface

Experimental, multi-functional Centre providing a symbolic national focus for rural community arts and cultural events, for use by, and fully accessible to, urban and rural communities.  The Centre would serve as a venue for arts festivals, performing arts events, exhibitions, conferences, training sessions, new media and other rural social activities and functions.   It could also be used as a site from which to promote urban/rural cultural exchanges and creative partnerships, Creative Rural Economy ventures, new rural design and architecture commissions, and rural diversity partnerships with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.

ii A Green Museum – beyond the rural – new creative partnerships for  environmental sustainability

The Centre would also be developed as an experimental architectural site demonstrating the enormous range of technologies and natural/vernacular materials and skills available to communities and professionals involved in sustainable rural design and construction.

iii Telling the Stories – a community-led living museum and oral archive.

Site for development of rural community cultural capacity and related curatorial, budgetary and management skills through the process of researching, establishing and directing a rural community museum and archive programme inside the National Rural Cultural Centre.  The project would also document and present material on some of the wider social, economic, cultural and environmental issues now emerging in rural and farming communities and impacting on the countryside.

iv MoCCA – Museum of Contemporary Countryside Art

National rural art centre and gallery devoted to documentation and display of contemporary arts, art and agriculture projects, new rural media, and new rural craft, design and architecture projects, serving as an international showcase for the best of contemporary rural arts, crafts, design and architecture.

v The New Rural Documentary Centre 

Venue for national rural documentary film, video and photographic exhibitions, archives and new commissions, with a brief to commission major new work by professional photographers, film makers and digital media artists for consumption by both rural and urban audiences.

vi New Rural Voices – rural community cultural communications and new media resource centre

A focus for rural communications, community broadcasting, and media projects.

vii New Rural Cultural Skills, education and training centre.

Site for provision of training  in a wide range of rural arts, media and cultural skills, and programmes promoting new Creative Rural Industries, arts in rural health, arts and rural social inclusion, and rural crafts and design skills.