by Brooke Jackson, PortalWisconsin.org
For Wisconsin's culture connoisseurs, finding innovative, quality art doesn't necessarily mean hitting a downtown gallery. Instead they might visit a farm, where they may encounter one of the many little-known heroes in the Wisconsin chapter of what some are coining a "rural Renaissance."
That is what Faye Jones, executive director of the Midwest and Organic Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) and Jody Padgham, an editor of the 2007 book Renewing the CountrysideWisconsin, are helping Wisconsinites discover. In the arenas of art, invention, travel and sustainability, the book uncovers cultural gems hiding in the small towns of the Dairy State. Jerry Hembd and Jan Joannides also served as the book's editors, and Governor Jim Doyle supplied a foreword.
"Living in a rural location," Padgham said, "five miles from a small town, it is clear to me that each community offers its own element to the cultural landscape."
The Renewing the Countryside project is a series of coffee table-worthy books that delve state by state into rural business and culture. The project was inspired by a Dutch publication that explored the Netherlands' own rural renewal. The idea for the Wisconsin version was born four years ago, when Jones was impressed by the Minnesota book.
After whittling down a mass of potential organizations and individuals in Wisconsin (some of which may appear in a future edition), thirty-nine narratives were completed on individuals active the areas of arts and culture, farming, community, innovation, traveling, food, sustainability and action. According to Faye Jones, "This book highlights innovators and gives hope to people in rural areas in all sorts of ways."
In terms of the rural Renaissance, there is a "rainbow of things happening," Jones muses. "From producing things locally, to how we interact with our environment, it's about the things that connect useverything from food to culture to music."
Jody Padgham also describes an evolution in rural culture. "Festivals, events and farmers' markets are all thriving. These are not the same activities of the past, but they are playing the same role in bringing community members and others together. Up here, it is polka dances, town festivals and church suppers. And I see some activities that have traditionally only been offered in citieslike classical music, fine art tours, arts classes, farmers' markets with local foodbeing offered more frequently in rural areas."
The concept of rural renewal is part of a growing movement toward personal, local and global health, of which the rise of organic foods and farmers' markets is just one part. These ideas often fall under the umbrella of sustainable living, as addressed in books like Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, and locally in John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist's Rural Renaissance, and also through the lens of a revival in suburban/rural culture in John Villani's Best 100 Art Towns in America.
"I see more cultural tourism," Padgham explains, "where people come into the countryside specifically to experience some form of arts or culture. The Fall Art Tour in the book [in and around Baraboo, Spring Green, Dodgeville and Mineral Point] is a great example: the tour grows every year and draws hundreds of people out into the countryside. Rather than just camping with the kids, people are coming to the area to appreciate and support fine art, and enjoy the beautiful Wisconsin countryside while they are here."
Renewing the CountrysideWisconsin can be purchased through the University of Wisconsin Press or through a variety of booksellers. For more information about the book, contact the UW Press at 608-263-0734.