Vibrant small towns embrace art and self-expression


By John Crabtree

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Pablo Picasso said the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls. And if you look in small towns and rural places you will find art and cultural expression in the most unlikely of places. Small towns develop art and cultural experiences to encourage tourism and create local economic opportunities, certainly. But they also recognize that successful efforts to revitalize their communities and mainstreets depend on something deeper than simple economics.

No matter their size, thriving communities have an inner vibrancy, an ability to lift their eyes to the horizon, to hope, to dream, and to act upon those dreams. For instance, the Wormfarm Institute created a 50 mile art detour across the hills of Sauk County, WI, attracting thousands of visitors to view temporary art. In Green River, UT, painting window murals on vacant buildings helped get the ball rolling on mainstreet revitalization.

In Nebraska, four communities are collaborating to create community-based art and cultural experiences that will not only display their vibrancy, but nurture it as well. Facilitated by the Center for Rural Affairs, the Byway of Art project demonstrates the power of art and self-expression in the future of their communities, and the courage to step outside the lines and consider how their communities can find unique ways to create a better, richer, more rewarding future.

Keep an eye on the Byway of Art communities, they will have something beautiful, and powerful, to show us all in the coming year.


Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.

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