Artists and creative works are forgotten assets by rural communities in South Dakota. Rural X is a networking conference that advocates to change that.
Laura Zabel, executive director of Springboard for the Arts, was one of the featured speakers during the Rural X conference held on Wednesday and Thursday at Mitchell Wesleyan Church. She lectured in attempt to deliver artists to rural areas for efforts to create economic growth and development through the use of art.
Her organization is based out of Minneapolis and Fergus Falls, Minnesota.
The company does its best to provide, “a living and life for local artists, and to help local communities tap into the power that artists can provide,” said Zabel.
Zabel said that, “the very foundational ideal that our organization stands on is that we make community by doing things and creating a sense of belonging through creative works, not by talking.”
She said through shared experience is the only way a healthy community is formed.
“We believe we may have found the last a-political idea in the world, and it is that everyone wants to live in a healthy community. You would be very hard-pressed to find someone that does not want this,” Zabel said.
Zabel believes there are really only a few key building blocks that create a healthy community.
She said the ideal community provides safety, good access to education and job opportunities, open areas of green space, and the place looks nice and has things to do.
“These factors combine to provide a sense of connection and belonging, said Zabel.
Zabel claims The “rural/urban divide” is creating narratives that are pushing us in the wrong direction.
“It’s pretty clear that our traditional approaches to what got us here are not working, so we need to come up with something that changes this,” said Zabel.
Zabel believes the biggest divide between the rural and urban communities is the sense of a united culture and creative works. She explained what bringing in simple pieces of creative works or events has developed growth in fellow communities her organization has worked in.
“Sometimes it is not even developing new art or culture, but just unveiling what is already around us,” said Zabel.
“Creative people power is a renewable energy source, and all our communities have it. We just need a place to truly plug it in,” Zabel said.
Fergus Falls, where Springboard’s headquarters is based, along with Minneapolis, has seen economic growth from the development of its artistic culture. Zabel said some of the revitalizing of the external community has been able to re-attract younger members of the community that have gone to college or other cities.
“I have seen our younger community come back to Fergus Falls with new eyes and start families and careers because of it,” said Zabel.
Zabel says her organization's goal is to provide a sense of celebration for these young people coming back, and not a sense of failure, by providing these young people a place to plug into the culture.
Zabel challenges the rural communities in the area to take action as soon as possible and to block out the naysayers that may not see the progressive cultural shifting within their local community in a positive light.
“Sometimes we sit around and talk about the planning forever before ever getting to the doing; this needs to change and artists are great at getting things going,” Zabel said.