Culture & rural development — how culture revitalized New York Mills, Minnesota

The Great American Think-Off has helped put New York Mills on the map

Culture & rural development go hand in hand in New York Mills, Minnesota

Culture & rural development  — are they, or should they be, linked?

Zachary Mannheimer, founder of the Des Moines Social Club, VP of Creative Placemaking for Iowa Business Growth, who has led numerous revitalization efforts in rural communities in the American Midwest, argues that the answer is a resounding yes.

Mannheimer, who is particularly focused on attracting and retaining young people to rural communities, underscores the first challenge for every rural place is answering the simple question, what makes us unique?

Too often, he points out, the answer is, “we’re on a river,” or “we have a particular historical building.” Mannheimer argues these answers don’t cut it — a compelling answer, rooted in some combination of culture and entrepreneurialism, must address at least some of the things most young people are looking for in the places they choose to live, including:

  1. an active cultural scene
  2. fibre optics
  3. entrepreneurial culture
  4. restaurants & bars
  5. breweries & distilleries
  6. co-working spaces
  7. public spaces
  8. innovative housing
  9. retailers
  10. great schools
  11. lively downtown core
  12. local public markets
  13. good jobs

Rural places that can add location — in particular, proximity to mountains, oceans, and lakes — to items on this list are in particularly good shape when it comes to shaping a compelling answer to the uniqueness question.

So clearly if Mannheimer is right, culture, in its broadest definition, one that includes outdoor pursuits, the culinary arts, and in some ways new & emerging technologies as well as the “traditional” arts looms as a crucial element for those rural communities wishing to renew themselves.

Certainly the residents of tiny (population 1,225) New York Mills, Minnesota, would concur.

In less than a decade, thanks in large part to a concerted effort to build out the town’s arts infrastructure, New York Mills saw a 40 percent increase in employment, and a growing reputation as an intriguing community that stretches across the USA.

In the first of a series of brief case studies on the impact of culture on rural revitalization, we take a closer look at the New York Mills experience.

The first in a series of case studies on culture & rural development


Interested in culture as a rural revitalization driver? Then you’ll enjoy this interview with John Davidson, who led the charge in New York Mills, and now serves as Executive Director of Lanesboro Arts.