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Why do People Visit Rural Artist Communities? // AR Zhang


Lily Brooks showing her work in the Volland Store

"Why do People Visit Rural Artist Communities?"

Lily and Jeremiah are artists who have visited Volland several times. They love to show their art work and stay in the Volland store for weeks. We had an interview with them on February 11th, and the most impressive part to me is that Lily can name all the places in her photos. These places are small towns like Volland that are barely heard of. She kept them in her art work and they became part of her unique memory. This made me wonder why artists like her would love to drive all the way from east coast to Volland and show their work in the Volland Store? What makes the rural artist community attractive?

Growing up in a busy city in China, I’m used to relying on the internet, high speed transportation, receiving tons of news from social media. When there’s so much going on in a city, I was subconsciously hardwired to have efficiency as the top priority.  I never imagine myself doing a project in Volland, a town totally different from my former living experience. There seems like nothing to do when I first got there. But the more time I spent on site, I slowly began to understand the reason why people come and stay in this small town.


Volland is special because it’s an art gallery located in the prairie, a place for Lily and Jeremiah to share their memories with local people in the middle of their road trip. This art museum is also to preserve and cherish the history of Volland. And even though they lose the connection with the outside world, what they gain here, is their time, time that only belongs to themselves. This is the first advantage of a rural area.


After the train stopped serving Volland in 1945, the town slowly faded out from the Wabaunsee county. This took away the liveliness of Volland, but the history and pretty prairie are something that can never been taken away. Suzan Barnes, the owner of the Grand Central Hotel & Grill in Cottonwood Falls, said that “people come to the Flint Hills looking for the unique landscape above all, but the art helps bring in the travelers and explorers. People are looking to enjoy the landscape through arts.”

Erin Wiersma creating pieces from the ash of a prairie burn

Erin Wiersma is an associate professor in the Department of Art at Kansas State University. Her painting work was inspired by the prairie. She also took advantage of the burning grass and let the ash draw for her. As you can see in the photo, she would stand at the burned grass, dancing in the wind to find the best dialog with the nature. The fire still lighting up behind her. Instead of fear of the fire, the audience can feel that she enjoyed the moment when the prairie, burning fire, art, and herself blend together in this scene. This experimental work can be done nowhere else but in the nature someone really loved and experienced.


When we were doing the schematic design, we quoted so many times that people come to Volland because of its pretty prairie. However, the prairie is one of the important reasons that there are several similar art galleries, like Tallgrass artist residency, Matfield Green is also promoting the prairie to attract visitors. Volland, on the other hand, needs to show some special strength that makes it stand out from its competitors. It is based in a village and, although the population is gone, Wabaunsee county is still supporting it. Culture and community should be part of the main attractions.

Sewing group in the Alma historical museum

One time me and some folks from studio visited the History Museum located in downtown Alma. We occasionally saw some old grannies sewing a blanket on the second floor of the museum. After chatting with them, I learned that the pattern is from a local artist, she passed down the labor work to them. From the smiles on their faces, I can feel that they enjoyed this. It was an entertainment after they retired, as well as a social activity that gathered all people around their age to do something together. I saw a great opportunity from this case that engaging people from surrounding area and sharing their expertise could become one of the attractions.

Handmade in Bakersville, NC 

Another example is HandMake in Bakersville, a small town in North Carolina. It is called the “Gateway to Roan Mountain”, where the mountains turn pink every June. It had gone through a great depression in early 1990s since most manufacturing factories were affected by the Bakersville flood in 1998. Accordingly, the population reduced from 3000 to 300, and it almost went silent until the leader started the Small Town Revitalization Program. The program takes advantage of the local experienced craftsmen and connects them with schools, artists, and tourists. People go to Bakersville to experience the nature and learn craft skills from the locals.


A place becomes meaningful when people are physically there and appreciate it. The Design+Make studio is trying hard to revitalize the Volland community. We want people to come to Volland to experience the prairie, the community and our work.

Written by AR Zhang

Work Cited

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