Radically Rural looks to bring thinkers and doers together in downtown Keene

·5 min read

Sep. 17—A summit focused on improving the wellness, livability and character of rural communities is returning to Keene next week and will take place over two full days this year with greater emphasis on accessibility.

Radically Rural, a series of programs hosted by the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship and The Sentinel, will invite business leaders, community members and policymakers from around the nation to venues throughout downtown to participate in panel and roundtable-style events on Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 21 and 22.

"We're all essentially trying to accomplish similar goals in our communities: we want our communities to be healthy [and] happy, we want them to be environmentally friendly, so on and so forth," said Julianna Dodson, deputy director of the Hannah Grimes Center and director of the summit.

Various programs will be offered both virtually as well as in person at the center, the Colonial Theatre and the Keene Public Library, among other locations throughout both days. Programs are divided into seven tracks: Arts & Culture, Clean Energy, Community Journalism, Entrepreneurship, All in for Health, Land & Community and Main Street.

Radically Rural organizers sought to make the summit an opportunity for specialized discussions to come together, Dodson said, citing a Grain Sheds panel as part of the Land & Community track to be held Wednesday afternoon. Ten panelists will speak about how grain sheds support local business and allow communities to network with one another by connecting regional grain supply chains, according to the summit website.

Dodson said the All in for Health track specifically has been reworked to focus on community health after Dodson said the COVID-19 pandemic "... blew [problems] wide open in rural communities to say, 'OK, we have a lot of work to do here.' "

The track will include discussions on health initiatives people can launch in their towns and how facilitating proper mental wellness and providing equitable housing can support retention of populations.

"This track is not specific to health care workers," she said. "All of us have a stake in the health of our community."

Other activities on the two-day itinerary include a group run Thursday morning starting at Ted's Shoe and Sport; the final event for the PitchFork Challenge, a pitching competition consolidated into Radically Rural that has completed two rounds of judging; and a Sound Fair to be held at Railroad Square.

The Sound Fair will be an experimental art installation where performers use objects to produce vibrations which Dodson said aims to get attendees mentally stimulated between programs. She said the installation will also be open to the general public.

"There'll be two sound installations at Railroad Square both days, and [performers] will be using really cool things to make really cool sounds," Dodson said. "It's a way for us to stretch our brains and we think it's important to not just have the more academic side of things but also have the right sides of our brains engaged while we're here."

The summit will open with keynote speaker Maine Sen. Chloe Maxmin, according to the Radically Rural website. Maxmin is the co-director of nonprofit Dirt Road Organizing, whose website says the organization strives to build equitable futures for rural communities. An afterparty from 7-10 p.m. Thursday at Nova Arts will close the summit and is free for the general public to visit.

For this year's Radically Rural, organizers brought on Jules Good, founder and consulting lead of Neighborhood Access, to serve as accessibility coordinator. Good, who uses they/them pronouns, said they conducted walkthroughs of the different venues to be used for programs to determine seating arrangements, helped compile a guide to the summit that includes accessibility information and coordinated the recruiting for American Sign Language interpreters.

"As a disabled person myself who attended the summit for the first time last year and had a few different challenges with accessibility, I was really excited to do this work and try to improve the experience for folks like me," Good said. "Last year, I had a hard time finding information about accommodations and when I asked

Good, of Somersworth, said they started Neighborhood Access in 2020 to foster trainings and workshops that teach community organizations about accessible best practices for interacting with disabled people. They said Neighborhood Access helps develop accessible best practices through a network of consultants across the country.

Accommodations for Radically Rural also extended to virtual participants, Good said.

"We did make sure that closed captioning is going to be available for all of the presentations available in the virtual summit," they said. "I'm also going to be working with the tech folks the day of the summit to make sure everything is set up in a way the cameras can see both the presenters and the American Sign Language interpreters."

Registration for Radically Rural is available on the summit's website at www.radicallyrural.org, with pricing dependent on whether participants are attending in person or virtually and on which days they choose to attend. The opening keynote to be presented by Chloe Maxmin is free to attend but also requires registration.

"Radically Rural is literally for everyone; you don't have to be a business owner, you don't have to run a nonprofit or be a politician," Dodson said. "If you're that person that hears about a need in your community and your heart starts to beat a little faster and you say, 'How can I help with that?' then you're the right person [to attend]."

Trisha Nail can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or tnail@keenesentinel.com.