In the Mississippi Delta -- a region plagued by poverty, illiteracy, and geographic isolation -- local history and culture can often become buried beneath the area's woes. And yet, it is these unique assets that can revitalize local pride and make the difference between community survival and decay.
The National Endowment for the Arts
is dedicated to helping communities like the Delta rediscover their identity and reshape their cultural landscape. Beginning July 1, 2012, the Citizens' Institute on Rural Design (CIRD) will be a partnership among the NEA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Project for Public Spaces, along with the Orton Family Foundation and the CommunityMatters® Partnership.
CIRD works to enhance the quality of life and economic viability of rural areas. CIRD does this through design workshops that gather local leaders together with experts in planning, design, and creative placemaking to assist with locally identified issues. Since the program's inception in 1991, CIRD has convened more than 60 workshops in all regions of the country, empowering residents to recognize and leverage their local assets to build better places to live, work, and play.
"The future of many rural towns will be shaped by how well they can create vibrant communities where people want to be," said USDA Deputy Under Secretary of Rural Development Doug O'Brien. "Arts investments in small towns can be an integral component of driving economic vitality by attracting residents and visitors alike to the main streets which are an enduring symbol -- and critical to the future -- of rural communities."
"As I travel around the country, I see more and more evidence of how creative assets can stimulate local economies," said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. "In rural areas there is a particular need to bring people physically together, and the arts and good design can be the catalysts for that. In its new configuration, CIRD will build on 20 years of experience and expand its work in rural settings by creating a strong knowledge network, providing access to innovative tools, and disseminating best practices."
The new group of partners leading CIRD offers a depth and breadth of expertise along with additional initiative components that together will allow CIRD to help more American towns find better design solutions to the challenges of growth and development. Those new program components include pre-workshop training calls, post-workshop follow-up, and online resources.