Wormfarm in Sauk County, WI, was a grantee of ArtPlace this year, a project that piggy backed local foods with local artists' work in mobile caravans. Artists also worked with people of Reedsburg to build and parade giant puppets made of recycled materials.

Could the arts take the lead and drive development in rural America? Could shifting the focus for the moment from jobs to imagination, expression and design make your town a more magnetic, lively and healthy place?

ArtPlace and the National Endowment for the Arts say so and are putting earnest money behind the conviction. Both are offering funding for projects that would center a community development plan around arts and culture, and both are looking for rural applicants.

First, the ArtPlace initiative as its first deadline is coming up fast: November 1. ArtPlace wants inquiries from communities with project-ideas for its Placemaking grants and loans: “We are looking for initiatives involving arts organizations, artists and designers working in partnership with local and national partners in such fields as economic development, transportation, neighborhood development, entrepreneurship, sustainability, health,” and more.

ArtPlace has already made a number of such grants to Chatooga County, Georgia; Eastport, Maine;  Minot, North Dakota, and other rural communities. 

The organization especially encourages projects that put artists and arts groups at the center of planning, that show commitment to diversity and evidence of leadership, and that present a case that their work will build an enduring sense of local identity. For the actual grant application form and more guidelines, look here.

[imgcontainer] [img:VollisSimpson530.jpg] [source]Impulse and Vision[/source] Tall wind-driven sculptures made by Vollis Simpson are now driving economic development in Wilson, North Carolina, with a boost of funding from ArtPlace. [/imgcontainer]

One lofty example of the type of projects ArtPlace has supported is Vollis Simpson’s Whirligig Park in Wilson, North Carolina. Simpson built and maintained an immense collection of kinetic sculptures outside his rural workshop in Wilson County.  Recognizing the pieces’ power as a tourist attraction, the city of Wilson worked with Simpson to bring many of his whirling sculptures downtown. Though Wilson had once been a major center in the state’s tobacco trade, activity in its downtown core has dwindled. Since the Whirligig Park project began, though, downtown manager Kimberly van Dyk says developers have taken new interest in Wilson, and new enterprise is starting to whirr. See this short ArtPlace video about Simpson’s works and their integration into the downtown’s development goals.

Again, deadline is November 1 for Letters of Inquiry. Here are guidelines. For more information, you can contact Bridget Marquis via email: bridget@artplaceamerica.org

If the November 1 deadline is too tight, consider the NEA’s Our Town project, which we’ll feature at a later date. It, too, funds “placemaking” through artistic endeavors and makes grants to both urban and rural communities.

“Organizations may apply for creative placemaking projects that contribute to the livability of communities and place the arts at their core. An organization may request a grant amount from $25,000 to $200,000. Deadline: January 14, 2013.”

Lots more information about Our Town here. Send questions to OT@arts.gov. 

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