Leah Horn

WESTAF Announces the Arts + the Rural West Session Report

Diverse group of arts and culture professionals and practitioners gathered to explore the context of and opportunities for rural arts in the West

DENVER, CO, Monday, September 14, 2020—The Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) announces the publication of the Arts + the Rural West session report. The Arts + the Rural West convening brought together funding and policy organizations with practitioners to consider future directions for rural arts as a policy priority and practice of the field. 

This spring, WESTAF’s new Alliances, Advocacy, and Policy and Social Responsibility and Inclusion divisions collaborated to host a virtual rural arts workshop in an effort to elevate and clarify its future work in this area while building a western rural arts network. Originally planned as an in-person seminar in the Central Valley of California in spring 2020, the format was changed to a three-hour, facilitated video conference held on April 3, 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The meeting brought together 25 rural arts advocates, folk and traditional arts professionals, arts administrators, rural economic development and policy specialists, indigenous culture bearers, and others to share knowledge, practice, and ideas. These individuals participated in eight small group discussions considering four topics related to rural development, rural arts practices, resourcing rural arts activity, and the specific opportunities and challenges for these activities and practices in the West.

The Arts + the Rural West session report features discussion summaries and transcripts of participant report-outs from the virtual convening. WESTAF believes that the ideas and insights that were shared have the potential to inform the advancement of arts and culture in rural communities in the West and beyond. David Holland, director of public policy, highlighted the importance of this work and some of its emerging themes, saying, “In only a few hours, this incredibly principled and thoughtful group shook up established paradigms; challenged and shifted narratives; and surfaced four major issues that will determine the future of arts and culture in the rural West: (i) rural isolation and the need to increase connectivity; (ii) limited funding to rural communities and the need to expand public and private support; (iii) offering opportunities like business training for artists, cultural and creative districts and other programs and services in rural communities; and (iv) engaging Native communities in rural areas in a way that honors culture bearers, cultural traditions, and living cultures.”

WESTAF’s strategic plan empowers the organization to develop programs to engage leaders from rural communities in state or regional issues related to advocacy, funding, and arts-related issues, and this virtual workshop began the process of engaging in this meaningful, ongoing work with a regional and national network. Chrissy Deal, director of social responsibility and inclusion, expressed the centering of equity within this focus on rural communities, stating, “Given WESTAF’s longstanding commitment to reflect the values, insights, spirit, and knowledge of Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities in the West, we look forward to collaborating with community and cultural leaders from rural areas to discover how, together, we can reinforce the role of arts and culture in creating vibrant rural environments.”

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The Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) is a nonprofit arts service organization dedicated to strengthening the financial, organizational, and policy infrastructure of the arts in the West. WESTAF assists state arts agencies, arts organizations, and artists in their quest to serve diverse audiences, enrich the lives of local communities, and provide access to the arts and arts education for all. Through innovative programming, advocacy, research, technology, and grantmaking, WESTAF encourages the creative advancement and preservation of the arts regionally and through a national network of customers and alliances.