Rural Communities: How to Engage and Collaborate with Them

Calvin Phelps

Jackie Clay

Melinda Childs

Jennifer Joy Jameson

Jeff Barnett-Winsby

Selected by Open Call
Organized by Calvin Phelps/
Pike School of Art - Mississippi

There are unique challenges to operating an arts space in a rural setting. Engagement and support is instrumental, and there are many ways to foster a strong relationship with your community.

At Pike School of Art - Mississippi, we have been fortunate to gain the support of a broad range of the community. We believe that much of our success has been because of this driving model:

We seek to actively collaborate with as much of the community as possible.

To date, a few of our projects include conducting an after-school art workshop in a partnership with the McComb School District and the City of McComb, installing a growing collection of micro-libraries built by students at South Pike High School and painted by students from Jubliee Performing Arts School and Summit Elementary School, and mounting a show organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in collaboration with the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Our next large-scale project kicking off this fall was specifically chosen because of how it uses art to engage the community.

This fall, PSA-MS will mount the exhibition do it Pike County. First curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, do it began in Paris in 1993 as a conversation between Obrist and the artists Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier. Obrist was concerned with how exhibition formats could be rendered more flexible and open-ended. This discussion led to the question of whether a show could take “scores,” or written instructions by artists, as a point of departure, each of which could be interpreted anew every time they were enacted.

do it Pike County instructions will be interpreted by student artists from Jubilee Performing Arts Center (JPAC) and McComb School District and the local community. Exhibitions and events will take place at JPAC, St. Andrew’s Activity Center, McComb Public Library, and Percy Quin State Park. The exhibition is a P.S. Satellite of Prospect New Orleans‘ Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp taking place in nearby New Orleans.

Concurrently, PSA-MS has begun researching the feasibility of partnering with the City of McComb to transform the vacant Pike County Juvenile Detention Center (formerly the McComb City Jail) into the permanent home of Pike School of Art - Mississippi. If the project moves forward according to plan, PSA-MS will begin construction shortly after do it Pike County closes in February of 2018.

Collaborating in a rural setting does have its challenges, especially when working discursively in a fraught political climate. It is important to listen to your community, engage them (on their level), remain true to your organizational mission, and let the work happen.