Crossroads: Change in Rural America

For Students—Crossroads: Change in Rural America

Deadline: April 1, 2024

A Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibit is coming to Box Elder County in May, and we want your voices to be heard and your ideas to be included in the Exhibit!

Please write a one-page essay (in 500 words or less) or draw or paint a work of art answering some or all of the questions below. Your essays and artwork will be gathered together by the Brigham City Museum of Art & History and used as part of the Crossroads: Change in Rural America Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibit coming to Box Elder County in May. 

Please include your name, grade, school, and a parent or guardian’s email address when submitting the essay or artwork to your teacher. If you are submitting your typed essay online, or a photo of the 2D art you’ve created, use this form.

Essay Questions:

  • What is the future of rural America, and how does it impact American identity? 
  • Discuss the significance of land in rural communities and the challenges related to land use and conservation.
  • Explore the importance of community in rural life and how it has evolved over the years.
  • Analyze how rural Americans persist through challenges and contribute to the economic and cultural vitality of their communities.
  • Examine the role of individuals, communities, and outsiders in shaping the future of rural America and addressing important issues.
  • What would you do if you were Mayor? If you were in charge of the city, what changes would you make? Detail your vision for the future.

Artwork prompts:

  • Draw your backyard, neighborhood, or other local elements that represent rural life.
  • Illustrate your favorite place in Box Elder or Brigham City and what makes it special.
  • Create a visual representation of something that has changed in your town since you started school.
  • Draw something about your town that has changed in the past year.
  • What would you do if you were Mayor? If you were in charge of the city, what changes would you make? Draw your vision for the future.

Background information:

Americans come together at the crossroads. They invest in places and build their futures where their paths cross. Small towns became centers of commerce, trade, local politics, and culture. For some, the crossroads affirmed a new life in a new place. For others, the crossroads meant hard work and hard times.

Ideas intersect at these crossroads as well. Americans debate the meaning of independence and equality. They do not always agree, nor do they all benefit or profit from business or the decisions made. They face challenges with conviction. Some communities have declined, but most survive.

In 1900, about 40% of Americans lived in rural areas. By 2010, less than 18% of the U.S. population lived in rural areas. In just over a century, massive economic and social changes moved millions of Americans into urban areas. Still, nearly 60 million Americans live in rural areas. And, since only 3.5% of the U.S. landmass is considered urban, the vast majority of the landscape remains rural.

Americans have relied on rural crossroads for generations. These places where people gather to exchange goods, services and culture and to engage in political and community discussions are an important part of our cultural fabric. The United States needs vibrant and sustainable rural communities. Americans, no matter where they live, rely on the products of the countryside (and the productivity of rural people) for food and fuel.

Crossroads: Change in Rural America offers small towns a chance to look at their own paths to highlight the changes that affected their fortunes over the past century. The exhibition will prompt discussions about what happened when America’s rural population became a minority of the country’s population and the ripple effects that occurred.

Despite the massive economic and demographic impacts brought on by these changes, America’s small towns creatively continue to identify new opportunities for growth and development. Economic innovation and a focus on the cultural facets that make small towns unique, comfortable, and desirable have helped many communities create their own Renaissance. Today’s rural communities often struggle against negative views of rural America. Many Americans consider these areas to be endangered—suffering from dwindling employment, inadequate schools, and a barren, overused landscape. But, the true story of rural America is much more complex.

Revitalizing rural places matters to those who remain, those who left, and those who will come in the future. Rural Americans are taking on that challenge. The future is bright as small towns embrace the notion that their citizens and their cultural uniqueness are critical assets.

Crossroads: Change in Rural America is part of the Museum on Main Street, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and State Humanities Councils nationwide. Support for Museum on Main Street has been provided by the United States Congress. 

Crossroads: Change in Rural America has been made possible in The Brigham City Museum of Art & History by the Utah Humanities Council.