Within the past year, the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources has supported significant, community-based public art projects that contribute to the vibrancy and spirit of community in eight rural communities. The success of this work was largely due to the trusted relationships developed by the N.C. Arts Council with local arts councils and education and outreach efforts of the North Carolina Museum of Art. These projects have spurred interest and excitement in communities from both residents and visitors and will undoubtedly attract more spending and investment for years to come. The agency has received positive feedback from each community and the investment from DNCR has strengthened the relationships with these communities, providing opportunities for economic development much greater than their relatively small costs. Continued support of this program will be key in the department’s efforts to support rural North Carolina and highlight the unique cultural aspects and character of each community.
The Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and the North Carolina Arts Council has long supported economic development through investment in the arts. Our SmArt Communities program developed transformational downtown arts projects, such as the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Wilson, the Kinston Music Park and a series of art projects in Durham. These projects anchor these communities and have traditionally required enormous investments of time and money, primarily funded through grants and community-based fundraising efforts, The projects would sometimes stall or be scaled back because of costs. Coming out of the pandemic, DNCR has at least temporarily shifted away from these large-scale projects in favor of investment in mostly small, rural communities. The department reasoned that creating art in a small community without requiring a matching grant, burdensome administration or a years-long project schedule would add value to small downtowns trying to revitalize or to build or expand an arts-based economy. The project builds on the interest shown in small communities in the past few years by people seeking new experiences closer to their homes and all projects were reflective of the respective communities and their collective interests. DNCR invested $250,000 on this effort as a pilot project and in just a few months has already seen results in some of the eight communities selected as the inaugural recipients of our Rural Arts Engagement Grant program, thanks largely to the efforts to Leigh Ann Wilder, the director of creative economies for the N.C. Arts Council. Some of the projects have been completed, while others are in progress.