Building Assets for the Rural Future

Connect Local Talent and Culture to the Community

Connect Local Talent and Culture to the Community

Rural, less populous communities cannot afford to let any talent go to waste. Recognizing this, some communities have initiated efforts to identify organic sources of leadership, expertise, and cultural talent in order to strengthen their ties and contributions to the community.

Communities successfully undertaking such efforts are typically attempting to build three interrelated community assets. The first consists of the community’s social networks and connectedness—the bonds that tie talented residents to each other and to the community.[1] The second is its civic organizations—those organizations which actively participate in the community, provide examples of leadership, and are capable of organizing talented individuals to accomplish community goals.[2] The third consists of the community’s cultural identity and an appreciation of it as a source of strength, economic opportunity, and community cohesion.[3]

All of these assets are present in rural communities—even distressed communities—in varying degrees.[4] Two tactics were identified that strengthen these assets. The first intentionally identifies and cultivates local talent (Tap into Local Talent and Leadership). The second creates spaces for creative talent (Create Artist and Artisan Space in the Community).

[1] This refers to the concept of social capital, or the connections and networks among organizations and people, including the norms and trust that develop because of those connections and networks. Stronger bonds enable more effective community responses to adversity. Cornelia Butler Flora & Jan L. Flora, Social Capital, in Challenges for Rural America in the Twenty-First Century 214, 222 (David L. Brown & Louis E. Swanson, eds, 2003) (noting that communities with high levels of social capital are in the best position to implement change). See also Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community 19 (2000) (defining social capital); Mary Emery & Cornelia Flora, Spiraling Up: Mapping Community Transformation with Community Capitals Framework, 37 J. Community Dev. Soc’y 19, 21(2006) (describing various forms of community capital); Mark R. Warren, J. Phillip Thompson, & Susan Saegert, The Role of Social Capital in Combating Poverty, in Social Capital and Poor Communities 1, 9 (Susan Saegert, et al., eds. 2006) (reviewing studies finding that bonding social capital [forming close ties] is strong in poor communities, as it helps with survival). But compare Cynthia M. Duncan, Social Capital in America’s Poor Rural Communities, in Social Capital and Poor Communities 60 , 66-74 (Susan Saegert, et al., eds. 2006) (providing anecdotes of strong bonding social capital [close ties in small communities] and weak bridging social capital [bridging different groups both within the community and without] in rural Appalachia and Mississippi).

[2] Active civic organizations are an important component of a community’s civic capital. See Gary Paul Green and Anna Haines, Asset Building and Community Development 197 (2d ed. 2008) (discussing “structural political capital”).

[3] The values, traditions, history, and symbols or goods reflecting those values comprise a community’s cultural capital. See Green & Haines,above note 343, at213, 220-21; Susan Fey, Corry Bregendahl, & Cornelia Flora, The Measurement of Community Capitals Through Research, 1 Online J. Rural Res. & Pol’y 5-6 (2006). Cultural capital may provide a source of economic opportunity. Tom Borrup, The Creative Community Builder’s Handbook: How to Transform Communities Using Local Assets, Arts, and Culture 6-7 (2006) (reviewing academic literature exploring the connection between culture and economic vitality); Ann Markusen & David King, The Artistic Dividend: The Arts’ Hidden Contributions to Regional Development (2003), available at http://culturalpolicy.uchicago.edu/events/artistic-dividend-arts'-hidden-contributions-regional-development (examining the contribution of the arts and artists to regional economies).

[4] See Emery & Flora, above note 342, at 21; Green and Haines,above note 343, at 213; Susan Fey, Corry Bregendahl, & Cornelia Flora, The Measurement of Community Capitals Through Research, 1 Online J. Rural Res. & Pol’y 5-6 (2006).