It was not until I returned to the Bay Area that I realized how aesthetically different those small towns like Pilot Rock are from San Francisco or Oakland. The difference that stood out to me was not the obvious one of skyscrapers versus farmland, or bustling city streets versus virtual ghost town. Rather, when I returned to the Bay Area I was struck by how much the urban landscape incorporates and showcases art in comparison to the rural areas I visited.
Of course, big cities like San Francisco, Oakland, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles are centers for art. Aside from their many museums and universities and art programs, these big cities are littered with murals and sculptures. In fact, urban areas make art out of the most mundane objects. I have seen public garbage cans ornamented with mosaics and intricate paintings on utility boxes in Oakland.
The big, urban cities mentioned above are home to a community of artists, including some that are homegrown and some who have moved to the city for the purposes of pursuing their art. Though rural areas generally do not appear to showcase art on the same scale or in the same way as these big cities, rural America certainly has a number of artists. However, given the small populations of rural communities and, in some areas, their relative isolation from other towns or cities, one of the challenges for artists in rural areas has been establishing a community of artists.
Rural America Contemporary Art (RACA) is an online movement that seeks to connect artists in rural areas of the United States. According to its website, RACA:
. . . aims to develop community among contemporary artists who live and create in rural America, and to be a positive, vibrant, stimulating voice for the evolving identity of the rural contemporary artist. RACA seeks to contribute to the whole of American contemporary art through a culture of discourse, inclusion, and aesthetic engagement.Art of the Rural is another organization that gives voice to rural artists and allows them to create their own, evolving narrative of rural culture. Art of the Rural also seeks to bridge the rural-urban cultural divide by connecting with various communities through digital media. The organization also encourages people from diverse communities to participate in an ongoing dialogue on art, culture, and policy through various events and publications.
Some rural artists, such as painter Russell Ricks from rural Idaho, see their art as a way of "preserving" or documenting rurality. Toward this end, Russell Ricks travels to various regions to paint rural landscapes and landmarks. Brian Frink, the founder of RACA, seeks to narrate a piece of rural life and culture through painting his rural clients' pets. These are just a few of the many examples of persons giving voice to the community of artists in rural America.
The proliferation of art found in urban areas does not and should not suggest that rural areas lack or have a shortage of artists. Nor should it suggest that the urban artist is more progressive than the rural artist. Although spatial obstacles have presented and continue to present a challenge in the way of establishing an interactive community of rural artists, the internet has provided one way of alleviating that challenge. And although rural art may not be as conspicuous as urban art, rural art is very much alive.