The Rural Arts And Culture Summit

Tears of joy, and also frustration, from the stage. Tough words to hear about the work left to be done. Beautiful clothes designed by Amber Buckanaga and catwalked by the Social Club.  Jazz from Briand Morrison and Sam Miltich. Murals by Leah Yellowbird. Art in every corner and on nearly every wall of downtown Grand Rapids. Ideas. Experiences putting the ideas to work. Artists and advocates showing up with intention. The creative energy was palpable.

Children running everywhere. The power of agriculture. From the sage and blessing from Gary Charwood to start the event to the 100 people at the end who kept talking long after the conference was over.

It was the Rural Arts and Culture Summit in Grand Rapids, put on by Springboard for the Arts every two years. It just took place on Oct. 3-5, 2019. Creative People Power. 



The Summit itself is not quite a conference or a meeting. It’s an exploration of ideas using art, conversation, exploration, and discussion. This year, the sold-out conference of 350 people from 25 states gathered in our region, in Grand Rapids.


Some of the sessions:

  • Art and Agriculture: Curating in the Hedgerows
  • Angry Black Women & Well-Intentioned White Girls
  • Spectacular Failures
  • Building a Creative Community: Letting Artists Lead
  • Bikes, Plants, and Overlooked History
  • Laomagination: Building An Inclusive Rural Refugee Arts Voice


In between were dance and Hip Hop performances. Food trucks. And huge crowds trying to get into the VFW to listen to Jazz.

ARAC is proud to have been a sponsor and part of the planning of this summit. We loved seeing our artists and friends at the conference, and so much of the work on display was from artists we have supported. 

We’ll post more from the conference over the coming weeks as materials become available that we can share. Some of them are already available at the Springboard for the Arts Creative Exchange page:

And if you haven’t already, take a look at Springboard’s main page, which has many programs and ideas to support art and artists:

The opening words from Springboard’s Executive Director Laura Zabel and their Rural Program Director Michele Anderson are worth repeating:

“We are living in a moment when many people are writing a narrative of rural America. The majority of these authors are not from or rooted in rural places. We are invested in reclaiming a more complicated narrative about the opportunities, assets and challenges of rural life. The Summit aims to amplify voices that are often intentionally left out of the narrative of rural communities. We hope the stories you hear over the next three days are stories you can carry with you to counter narratives that seek to harm, divide or write off the culture, value, and complicated history and future of rural places and people.”

“Growing from our own experiences as an organization with two contexts and two homes, we are invested in creating solidarity across geographic contexts. In particular, we believe there is great value and power in building solidarity and connection between rural places and underinvested urban neighborhoods. Recognizing that every community is different and faces its own specific challenges, we believe we can work together to counter and repair the systemic extraction and disinvestment that rural and urban communities face and create opportunities for shared work, shared purpose and recognition that our future is interdependent and intertwined We hope that the Summit helps forge connections across urban and rural communities, creates pathways to share ideas across urban and rural contexts and builds new friendship, partnership and collaboration. For us, this work has been hard, it has been important, but most of all has been joyful work to find similarities in our own two communities, share ideas across our differences and to celebrate our shared future.”