Ian Hunter on a new role for the arts in promoting rural regeneration, environmental sustainability and the creative rural economy

The Creative Rural Communities report was published by the Rural Cultural Forum (RCF) in 2010, to stimulate debate about a cultural strategy for rural England. The report advocates a new role for the arts in promoting rural regeneration, environmental sustainability and the creative rural economy. Creative rural communities are now contributing around £500m a year to the national creative economy and they have the potential to do more if they can gain access to strategic national arts investment programmes. The report also flagged up the emergence of challenges and creative employment opportunities in the context of current EU Common Agriculture Programme reform.

These proposals are now being studied by a DCMS, Arts Council England (ACE), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and RCF rural cultural strategy working group, established in late 2010. Although no formal commitment has been made, ACE, DCMS and DEFRA are supportive, in principle, of a proposal to establish a Rural Biennale model as means of taking these ideas forward. Although biennales are credited as drivers for creative economic regeneration in urban contexts, they do have their limitations. Such an initiative would need to demonstrate some radical new insights and, given the economic downturn, would also need to be more pragmatic and modest in scope. However, it could provide a timely platform from which to develop a future rural cultural strategy; i.e. building up cultural capital, developing economic capacity, and also encouraging artists and arts professionals to do more to support rural regeneration initiatives.

The RCF and its partners now want to open these ideas up for debate with the arts community. There are four main ideas being proposed for further discussion:

1. Beyond the rural – expanding the rural contribution to the national creative economy; exploring urban-rural cultural interfaces and partnerships; engaging cultural communities with key rural social and economic regeneration agendas.

2. New cultural narratives – generating new artistic and cultural metaphors capable of promoting environmental sustainability, i.e. inventing new curatorial models and artistic projects as part of a future international art biennale that would have a greater focus on promoting environmental sustainability and biodiversity.

3. Inventing new artistic and aesthetic practices – engagement with rural and agriculture agendas and issues can also generate important challenges (and employment opportunities) for artists and arts professionals; promoting rural arts, and art and agriculture, as new critical art practice genres, and helping rural communities achieve full cultural entitlement.

4. Making the cultural arguments for agriculture – reconnecting agriculture and (urban) cultural policy discourses; new policy interfaces aimed at reconnecting art and cultural policy with key agriculture reform and rural development policy agendas. The rural and agriculture as important and compelling new arenas for arts policy makers and researchers.

<p class='author-info-athor-info-main">Ian Hunter runs Littoral Arts Trust.


E littoral@btopenworld.com
T 01706 827961
W www.littoral.org.uk; www.biennialfoundation.org