Cultures and Communities Along the Upper Mississippi River

Faye Dant, Director of Jim’s Journey: The Huck Finn Freedom Center in Hannibal, Missouri; photo: Anna Sirianni, KBIA

Spillway is a longterm, collaborative program grounded in the various 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 rural-urban networks of knowledge-sharing and exchange that will create opportunities for artists, culture-bearers, and artisans to thrive, connect with new colleagues and audiences.

Spillway is organized by Art of the Rural, in collaboration with Engage Winona in Winona, Minnesota; Jim’s Journey: The Huck Finn Freedom Center in Hannibal, Missouri; the Brooklyn Historical Society in Brooklyn, IL; the Native Womens Care Circle in the St. Louis region; and The American Bottom Project in the East St. Louis region of Illinois.

This fall, Belt Publishing in partnership with Art of the Rural, will release Spillway Fellow Faye Dant’s Hannibal’s Invisibles, the first book documenting Black history, lived experience, and photographic archives in Mark Twain’s hometown. Also beginning this fall, St. Louis-region Fellows will guide and contribute to Crossings, a public field school and event series taking place through 2024.

Begun in 2022, the Spillway Winona Stories collaboration with Engage Winona continues at spillway.xyz, alongside Winona Spillway Fellows, and a program of events, excursions, and rural-urban exchanges in the Winona region of the River. 

A full Spillway site, with further partner announcements, will publicly launch in the summer of 2023. We are grateful for the support of the Chicago Community Trust, McKnight Foundation, and Minnesota State Arts Board in begining this work. 

Associated programs alongside this initiative include:

Through both an extensive digital resource and The American Bottom Gazette regional print publication, this project invites scholars, activists, artists, educators, and citizens to collaborate towards telling the complicated history of the 65-mile floodplain to the east of St. Louis. This work has recently been featured in Art in America and is the supported by Illinois Humanities and a Divided City grant via the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

A collaborative project supported by the Haus der Kulturen der Welt and undertaken with The Luminary and a range of artists, curators, scholars, and activists, this work shares the multigenerational story of how the St. Louis region’s people have lived, cultivated and embodied their everyday culture in the midst of the convergence of social, environmental and economic forces.

Public Launch (2016-2020)

Located in downtown Winona, Minnesota, this collaborative community space offered media and convening resources, while also presenting free exhibits, meals, and events focused on the everyday, living culture in the Upper Mississippi region.