This article explores how two rural arts festivals, one in the town of Boyle (Boyle Arts Festival), in Western Ireland and the other in the municipality of Mantyharju, (Salmela Festival) Eastern Finland, contribute to the development of their respective localities and communities via two different models of festival implementation. Both festivals have a major focus on visual art along with other events such as music and enjoy strong reputations for promoting quality artistic experiences. Drawing on the concepts of cultural capital, resilience and resourcefulness, the article investigates how the arts can work in providing wide-ranging possibilities for engaging with local development activities and shaping local development agendas in diverse and changing rural contexts. The research is based on semi-structured interviews with 15 festival contributors and individuals in institutional support roles. It finds that an emphasis on community-focused, quality of life priorities that is a feature of the Boyle festival increasingly presents challenges to sourcing funding, and that an entrepreneurial approach applied in the case of the Salmela festival, while economically successful, does not provide the same scope for community participation. Both approaches have implications for the ways the festivals impact on local development processes.