The Spillway Initiative

Full website forthcoming in April 2022. We are grateful for the support of the Builders Initiative and the McKnight Foundation in helping to launch this work.

// Towards the Spillway

Spillway is a longterm, collaborative program grounded in the diverse cultures, communities, and social contexts of the Upper Mississippi River region that stretches from the headwaters in northern Minnesota to the confluence with the Ohio River, in Cairo, Illinois.

Through support for artists, culture-bearers, artisans, and storytellers – alongside the local organizations that support them – Spillway works to create the conditions for engaged projects that honor diverse lived experience, deepen regional relationships, and build networks of knowledge-sharing and exchange that will create opportunities for artists, culture-bearers, and artisans to thrive and to connect with new colleagues and audiences.

Spillway functions as a regional knowledge-sharing and public programming effort within Art of the Rural’s national initiative High Visibility: On Location in Rural America and Indian Country.

// The Confluence Point

Our proposal represents a convergence of networks, practices, and potential shared futures that have emerged from our long-term collaborative initiatives. Through Rural Generation’s national focus on creative community development and its engagement with regional networks in Iowa and Minnesota, we learned the value and policy impacts in building cross-sector exchange aligned around shared values of arts, culture, and creative expression. In addition to this, our Rural-Urban Exchange’s methodology for gathering and dialogue across the spaces of real and perceived difference has led us to understand how a region’s diverse cultural histories are the pivot points toward new futures. With High Visibility and its portfolio of exhibitions, podcasts, programs, and publications focused on rural and Indian Country, we have come to understand how this artistic field is illuminated by electric manifestations of difference, and deep creative brilliance, but is in need of more sustainable and accessible platforms for sharing this narrative with rural – and urban – audiences.

And, finally, through our River Work initiative’s experiences in the American Bottom region of East St. Louis, in Hannibal, Missouri, in Winona, Minnesota and points between, we have come to understand the Upper Mississippi as a richly diverse, and complicated, tapestry of cultures, communities, and intersections made more vibrant through the work of artists, culture-bearers, and everyday citizens. This ongoing river-focused work is present across our extensive American Bottom site, its American Bottom Gazette regional newspaper, and in our convening of the 2019 Anthropocene Vernacular field station events and programs in conjunction with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt.

// The Flow
Spillway cultivates its long-term work through three interlinked efforts:

• Engaged Residencies
Artists, culture bearers, and storytellers will be hosted by local organizations across this region to spark new relationships and exchange. In place of the traditional (and transactional) artist residency, these communities will host this individual three times across a two-year period, allowing the power of conversations, connections, and collaborations to develop over time.

With both the organization and individual supported, this work can have the space and resources to develop into a collaboration completed at the conclusion of this process, marked by public conversations, barbecues, exhibitions, or whatever combination of events best fits.

• Online Storytelling Platform
Edited and Curated by Matthew Fluharty alongside a Spillway Coordinator, this website will offer interviews, podcasts, videos, articles, links, and a collaboratively-soured map similar to the American Bottom Project site. It will feature a range of contributors from across Indian Country and the rural and urban communities of this region.

When joined with communicating the local work of the residencies, the Spillway platform will tell a deeply complex story over time of how these artists and communities are responding to social, economic, agricultural, and environmental change. Cumulatively, this site communicates the depth and breadth of this creative work – illuminating the Upper Mississippi as a distinct, culturally-rich region while expanding the available systems of support and visibility.•

• The Spillway Summit
Launching after two years of this engaged work, the Summit is a bi-annual in-person, weekend convening. The inaugural public gathering will occur in the fall of 2024 in Winona and freely offer the following elements for engagement: an exhibition and publication sharing the first two years (and five residencies) of local collaborations alongside related works; a barbecue and concert on the levee; public conversations and events at community sites; and a facilitated conversation with regional funders, elected officials, and policymakers on the systems of support for artists and culture-bearers in the Upper Mississippi River region.

// The Impacts We Seek

This effort will leverage Art of the Rural’s existing regional networks and practices to achieve the following effects:

• cultivate cross-sector, intercultural, multidisciplinary networks of exchange and knowledge-sharing

• communicate the richly diverse cultural histories and lived experiences in this region

• foreground and the power of creativity and storytelling in a moment when in-depth local journalism is disappearing from many parts of rural and Indian Country

• build partnerships between adjacent, but unconnected, stakeholders such as state arts and humanities councils, USDA Rural Development, folklorists, farmers, economic and community development leaders, local public and private enterprises, and these stakeholders’ national colleagues and networks

• celebrate the support, resources, and exchange available to artists in this region and, through exchange and conversation, articulate how these systems can be strengthened and expanded

• and, within all these above, center the presence and vision of artists, culture-bearers, artisans, and storytellers at the confluence of the social, economic, and environmental forces at work in the landscapes, cultures, and communities of the Upper Mississippi River region