About Our Work

Sharon Mansur leading a dabke, a traditional Arab folkdance, during her Dreaming Under a Cedar Tree project; Photo: Sydney Swanson

Founded in 2010, Art of the Rural is a decentered, collaborative organization that works to forward knowledge sharing, network gathering, and rural-urban exchange.

Our initiatives are longterm, trust-based efforts that co-create spaces for exchange and impact across the traditional dividing lines of place, practice, and lived experience.

This work takes the form of convenings, barbeques, exhibitions, public policy, newspapers, dances, case studies, and many other ways of collectively cultivating relationships and knowledge.

Though our work reaches across many geographies, we are headquartered in Winona, Minnesota, a town located within Dakota homelands, on the banks of the Mississippi River.

To start a conversation or see our recent work, we can be reached via email, as well as on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Our Values

Our work begins through honoring lived, everyday experience and respecting diverse cultural histories. We assess our success by the degree to which folks build trust and neighborliness over time — and we believe that those open, inclusive relationships are the foundation of creative problem solving in rural communities.

We seek to meet folks not only where they are, but listen and learn where they have been as well — and to cultivate the conditions for equitable, longterm exchange. Our organizational capacity to share powerful ideas is only as solid as the spirit of interdependence, and difference, within this.

We believe the idea of distance – geographic, racial, cultural, and economic – can often define the dimensions and the capacities of our rural regions and Indian Country, and their relationships to urban areas. In the divisive years since the 2016 elections, this distance has come to symbolize deep disparities in access to information and resources and to challenge a more equitable and inclusive understanding of the inter-relationship of our cultures and communities. We work with folks to co-create platforms for knowledge-sharing, exchange, and collective impact that collapse this distance and amplify the work of organizations across our region and increase quality of life for its communities.

Our History

Art of the Rural began in January 2010 as a blog and a digital media effort focused on sharing models for contemporary rural creative work. As the internet in the early 2010’s caught up with rural folks’ aspirations to connect and collaborate, Art of the Rural evolved — offering national convenings, alongside region-focused projects, to stimulate networks of learning and exchange.

This work has progressed as a series of longterm initiatives, each over seven years old at this point: the Rural Generation initiative on culture and creative community development; the Spillway grounded in the various cultures, communities, and social contexts of the Upper Mississippi River region; and the Rural-Urban Exchange, which offers a creative leadership network to folks across Kentucky and Minnesota. In 2020, in collaboration with the Plains Art Museum, Art of the Rural launched High Visibility: On Location in Rural America and Indian Country, a multi-year, multi-region initiative that matches exhibitions, place-based projects, convenings, and publications towards expanding the national narrative on rural arts and culture. 

Partners and Supporters

We are grateful for the collaboration & support of folks across the country.

Our work operates on a local, regional, and national level, seeking to build bridges and pathways for knowledge sharing and exchange between communities, organizations, and fields of practice.

Close partners in this work have included Appalshop, The Cedar Tree Project, First Peoples Fund, M12 Studio, Plains Art Museum, the Rural Policy Research Institute, and Sipp Culture.

We are grateful to be supported in this work by individual donors from across the country. To pitch in with this work, please visit us here.

Many thanks to the foundations, endowments, and initiatives that have supported us in the past, including ArtPlace America, Arts Midwest, Builders Initiative, Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, The Divided City Initiative, Bush Foundation, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Illinois Humanities, McKnight Foundation, Minnesota State Arts Board, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Our Staff

Savannah Barrett

Exchange Director
Savannah Barrett co-founder of the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange. She serves the board of the Center for Performance and Civic Practice, the Art of Community: Rural SC, and the Robert E. Gard Foundation. She has widely published essays and interviews. She holds a Masters of Arts Management from the University of Oregon, and is an alumnus of the Muhammad Ali Scholars for Peace and Justice at the University of Louisville and from the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts. She previously guided programs for the Center for Community Arts and Cultural Policy, the Louisville Visual Art Association, the Oregon Folklife Network, and Paul Paletti Gallery.  Savannah is a twelfth-generation Kentuckian and was raised in Grayson Springs, where she co-founded a local arts agency in high school. She is a proud steward of six acres of her homeplace and currently lives in Louisville.

Anna Claussen 

Minnesota Rural-Urban Exchange Coordinator
Anna is a photographer, community place-maker, policy and social strategist. She bridges years of practice in urban design and sustainable agriculture policy with a life deeply rooted on a Minnesota family farm. Anna founded Voices for Rural Resilience, a collective of rural leaders who embrace a portfolio of empathy building tools to create a reality where rural people are heard, feel moved and take the lead in our collective fight against climate change. She was named a 2017-18 Nathan Cummings Foundation Fellow. Prior, Anna was the Director of Rural Strategies at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), a non-profit working locally and globally pursuing cutting edge solutions that benefit family farmers, rural communities, and the planet. Over the last two decades, Anna has focused on creating resilient communities through the design and vision of alternative land-use plans; by advancing market solutions within the emerging bio-based economy; by sitting in tough spaces, wrestling with problems, and believing in the humanity of all people.

Matthew Fluharty

Founder and Executive Director
Matthew is the Founder and Executive Director of Art of the Rural, a member of M12 Studio, and faculty on the Rural Environments Field School. His work flows between the fields of art, design, humanities, policy, and community development.

His poetry and essays have been published widely, and his work with his colleagues in the American Bottom region of the Mississippi River has been featured in Art in America. Matthew is the organizing curator for High Visibility: On Location in Rural America and Indian Country, a longterm collaboration with the Plains Art Museum. He recently received a Curatorial Fellowship from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for this ongoing work.

Born into a seventh-generation farming family in Appalachian Ohio, Matthew’s upbringing instilled a belief that everyday, multigenerational knowledge can teach us about where have been, where we are, and where we might be going. Those lessons led him to take vows with the Zen Garland Order, a community that is a part of what’s known as the Socially Engaged Buddhist movement.

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Sharon Mansur

Spillway Navigator
Sharon is an Arab/SWANA American experimental dance and interdisciplinary artist whose creative work integrates visual and visceral landscapes, finding expression as live art events, public art happenings, performance installations, and dances on film.  Since 1991, Sharon’s multi-dimensional projects have been experienced in theaters, galleries, parks, parking lots, street corners, gardens, cafés, apartments, train stations, empty storefronts, fields, rivers and other intriguing and often surprising locales throughout the U.S. and internationally. In recent years her creative investigations have been supported by the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council, Minnesota State Arts Board, Springboard for the Arts, Winona Fine Arts Commission, and The McKnight Foundation. Sharon teaches at various universities, festivals and summer dance programs and is currently an adjunct dance professor at St. Mary’s University. She is also a therapeutic bodyworker integrating massage therapy, reiki, craniosacral therapy and somatics.. Sharon currently makes her home in the Mississippi River town of Keoxa/Winona, Mne Sota Makoce/MN, Dakota Land.


Amelia Martens

Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange Coordinator
Amelia is the author of The Spoons in the Grass are There To Dig a Moat (2016), a book of prose poems, selected by Sarabande Books for the 2014 Linda Bruckheimer Series in Kentucky Literature. She received both an MFA in Creative Writing and an MS in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education from Indiana University and currently serves as the Associate Literary Editor for Exit 7: A Journal of Literature and Art. She is a recent Pushcart nominee and the author of four poetry chapbooks:  Ursa Minor (winner of the 2017 Prose Poetry Prize from elsewhere magazine, 2018), A Series of Faults (Finishing Line Press, 2014), Clatter (Floating Wolf Quarterly, 2013), and Purgatory (winner of the Spring 2010 Black River Chapbook competition; Black Lawrence Press, 2012). Her new poems appear, or are forthcoming in: Cream City Review, Still: The Journal, Southern Indiana Review, and Sweet: A Literary Confection. She is married to the poet Britton Shurley; they have two smart/beautiful/brave daughters and a ridiculous dog.


Our Collaborators

Minnesota Rural-Urban Exchange Core Connectors

Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange Steering Committee

High Visibility Exhibition Curatorial Team

Board of Directors

Anna Claussen

Executive Director, Voices for Rural Resilience, Minneapolis, MN

Chrissy Deal

Director, Livingston Fellowship Program, Arts & Social Change Grantmaking at Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, Denver, CO

John Fenn

Head of Research and Programs, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, Washington, DC

Matthew Glassman

Project Artistic Director, Unnamed Childrens Artistic Laboratory Project,  Ashfield, MA

Sharon Mansur

Dancer and Curator, Winona, MN

Nikiko Masumoto

Agrarian Artist, Del Rey, CA

Sarina Otaibi

Activate Rural Program Director, Department of Public Transformation, Granite Falls, MN

Mitzi Sinnott

Executive Director, All Here Together Productions, Huntington, WV

Brandi Turner

Co-Director and Programs Manager, Sipp Culture, Utica, MS