Cross-Currents Conference: Empowering Rural Economies Through the Arts

2015 Cross-Currents Conference in Rocky Mount, NC

2015 Cross-Currents Conference in Rocky Mount, NC

 

Last Wednesday I headed east of the Triangle to the Imperial Center in Rocky Mount, NC for the three-day Cross-Currents conference hosted by Art-Force and The National Rural Assembly.  The charge of the conference was to “empower rural economies through the arts.” I thought it would be a great chance to learn about strategies Artspace could implement to strengthen our outreach programs to rural NC. What I got was so much more!

We spent a day in Kinston exploring how the arts are at the core of the town’s revitalization. A key player is Stephen Hill, co-founder of Mother Earth Brewing Company, who purchased 47 homes that he will sell, lease and rent to artists to create an arts district in the heart of town.

Houses purchased by Stephen Hill to become an artist district in downtown Kinston, NC.

Houses purchased by Stephen Hill to become an artist district in downtown Kinston, NC.

 

The thriving arts council is located in a historic building which facilitates a diverse range of creative expressions from visual exhibitions to music and an incredible model train collection. A park is being built to celebrate Kinston musicians who are part of the African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina project sponsored by the NC Arts Council. It doesn’t hurt that The Chef and the Farmer is in the center of it all serving up amazing food!

Model Train Display at the Kinston Arts Center

Model Train Display at the Kinston Arts Center

 

In addition to exploring Kinston, I met an incredible group of people from arts organizations across the country, and was blown away by the amazing things they are achieving through creative business models with art and creativity at the core of their missions.

Brad Kik, director of the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art & Natural Design has merged a thriving residency program with a working farm in rural Michigan. Terrance Clark,  Co-Founder of Thrive in Helena, Arkansas has found a way to help businesses in impoverished rural America grow by facilitating creative partnerships and offering high quality design services at reduced rates.

Sculpture by David Wilson and Brandon Yow, a part of the African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina project in Kinston.

Sculpture by David Wilson and Brandon Yow, a part of the African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina project in Kinston, NC.

 

Our closing Keynote talk was given by Joshua Wolf Shenk, whose new book Powers of Two disrupts the myth of the lone genius by shedding light on the importance of partnerships to the success of some of the most famous individuals and institutions in history. These are just a few of the dozens of amazing attendees I had the pleasure of meeting.

The arts are a vital tool in fostering positive change in our communities. As I continue to grow into my role at Artspace I hope to employ some of the principles I learned at Cross-Currents to foster positive change in the Triangle and enrich the ways in which our organization serves its community.

About Annah Lee

Annah Lee is the Director of Artistic Programs at Artspace.

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