John is internationally recognized for his success in using culture as a means to turn around the economic fortunes of the small rural towns.
He led the charge in founding a unique rural artist residency program, and established a cultural nonprofit in an abandoned building downtown turning it into the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center, arguing successfully that it would become an economic development engine for the town and its 1,200 residents.
John was right. From 1992 to 1998, 17 new businesses opened in New York Mills. The Today Show, The New York Times, USA Today, and National Public Radio all featured the town and its culture-backed revival. Bucking a national trend for rural areas, New York Mills did not lose population but actually grew slightly from 2000 to 2010.
Now helping lead a similarly culture-driven economic renewal in another small Minnesota town, Lanesboro, John is imminently practical. Decades of experience have taught him how to go about culturally-focused revitalization in ways rural residents can — and do — support.
“You don’t start by looking for money,” he says. “And you don’t use the ‘A’ word. You start by sitting down and having coffee with people and making a collective vision. You start by understanding what your community has to share, and then looking for interesting ways to tell its story.”
If you’re interested in ways culture might be deployed to help your community prosper, you’ll want to take in John’s presentation, as well as the Culture & Rural Development panel he’ll be participating in at Keeping It Rural 2017 (Kelowna, June 20-21).
Click here to register for Keeping It Rural 2017.