You may know that experience where you go to a conference and come home with your head buzzing with all the new ideas and connections you’ve made. You’ve met like-minded people, heard about their projects, and seen connections with your own work. You are charged up with creativity and ready to plunge into a ton of new plans you have written in your little notebook.
Then you get back to the everyday grind of email and conference calls, and somehow all that energy dissipates.
Pilar McKay and Amy Brooks had just that experience at the National Rural Assembly in Washington, D.C. in September. They valued the connections they’d made with other rural arts and culture advocates and wanted to find a way to continue the conversation.
“I didn’t want to wait two years to talk more about the stuff that’s important to us,” McKay said.
So they launched Rural Arts Weekly, a weekly Twitter chat at #RuralAW (also on Twitter at @ruralartsweekly) for rural arts advocates to talk about the practice and policies of placemaking, an effort to strengthen communities through creating better public spaces.
“We know our territories,” said Brooks, a Central Appalachian arts advocate. “But we don’t all know each other. We don’t always have the time or resources to develop the connections or advance the conversations that build a united front. Rural Arts Weekly aims to carve out a bit of time each week to forge those interpersonal connections, to facilitate those conversations, and to unite the voices of rural arts advocates for greater creative and civic progress.”
In the first few weeks of chat, participants have unpacked their Rural Assembly experience; talked about strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for the rural arts; and explored the role of activism.
At this point, you might be wondering “What is a tweet chat?” It’s a real-time, text-based discussion of a particular theme conducted on Twitter. The tweets are gathered together by the use of a common hashtag included in all the tweets – in this case #RuralAW. The Rural Arts Weekly tweet chat is held every Monday at 1 p.m. Eastern time, 10 a.m. Pacific, and everyone is welcome to join. The chats are also archived.
To participate in a tweet chat, you just need to have a Twitter account (and if you have one and have never been quite sure what to do with it, this is the perfect opportunity). Then you can search for the hashtag to follow what’s going on. One of the best ways to follow a tweet chat is to go to a site like tweetchat.com at the scheduled time and put in the hashtag (#RuralAW). This will show you only the tweets that are a part of the chat and will also automatically append the hashtag of the chat to your tweets so you can take part.
Tweet chats are very informal, don’t require much time, and are a great way to connect with new people who have common interests. Typically, the tweet chat moderators, in this case McKay and Brooks, ask questions (e.g. “Question 1: What does ‘activism’ mean to you as a #rural artist? Do you consider yourself an activist? #RuralAW”), and then everyone chimes in with their thoughts. Sometimes the chats follow the planned topics, and other times they veer off into other spontaneous directions. Often ideas that are discussed in the chats spin off into other forums and sometimes even into full-blown collaborations.
Pilar McKay (first speaker) and Amy Brooks discuss the origins of Rural Arts Weekly.
As rural artists and advocates themselves, McKay and Brooks bring a lot to these conversations. McKay is a full-time professor of public communication at the American University in Washington, D.C. She is also managing director of Shake on the Lake, an outdoor summer theater festival on the shores of Silver Lake, New York, and is managing partner of the Silver Lake Brewing Project – yes, a craft brewery. How does she do it all? A friend said that one thing he likes about McKay is that she takes advantage of every minute of the day.
Brooks is a Central Appalachian rural arts advocate and dramaturg. She has served as humanities director for the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and is a co-founder and producer of the UMass New Play Lab. She is currently completing an MFA at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Both grew up in rural locales – McKay in Perry, New York, and Brooks in Morgantown, West Virginia – and now split their time between their rural homes and cities where they are engaged in work and studies. Dividing their time means travel, something both McKay and Brooks enjoy.
“When you’re going through a rural area, what you see is what you get,” said Brooks. “You can immediately locate the places that are important. It’s all right there.”
McKay and Brooks say they’d like to build participation in their Twitter chat. Future chats will include topics and guest tweeting about topics such as building rural arts-and-culture advocacy. They’d also like to think about expanding the program to include a podcast.
As with most rural conversations, their chats have also covered overlapping areas of rural policy, such as education, broadband, food, and other areas. Even rural advocates who aren’t directly involved in the arts might find common ground in the Rural Arts Weekly chats.
“Rural arts is an economic development engine,” McKay said. “I believe in the future and potential of rural arts, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!”
Karen Fasimpaur lives in rural Arizona and is an online communications consultant. She helped manage social media and other activities for the September 2015 National Rural Assembly in Washington, D.C.
Disclosure: The Center for Rural Strategies, which publishes the Daily Yonder, also coordinates the National Rural Assembly.