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.
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 the 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.
Art of the Rural began in January 2009 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 River Summit initiative focused on the culture, landscape, and industry of the Mississippi River; 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. In 2022 will see the launch Spillway, a longterm, collaborative initiative grounded in the diverse cultures, communities, and social contexts of the Upper Mississippi River region.
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 include Appalshop, The Cedar Tree Project, First Peoples Fund, M12 Studio, Mississippi Center for Cultural Production, Plains Art Museum, and the Rural Policy Research Institute.
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.
Savannah Barrett, Exchange Director
Savannah Barrett is the Director of Programs for Art of the Rural and 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.
John Davis, Senior Policy Fellow
John is passionate about creating opportunities for artists to help transform communities. With over 30 years of experience creating and implementing rural artist residency programs and art centers, John has spent his career working to transform policy and amplify narratives of the arts in rural America. His collaborative and innovative work in New York Mills, MN has been recognized as a national model for rural economic development in the arts, and the town was twice recognized as one of the top 100 Small Arts Towns in America. His work with the Lanesboro Arts Campus initiative resulted in the city’s selection as one of the top 12 Small Town Artplaces in America. As a Bush Fellow, he has studied and advanced the field of rural arts and rural sustainability. He is currently a member of Waterers, disruptors of philanthropy stewarding funds to support BIPOC artists, culture bearers, and organizations across Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and the 23 Native Nations in that geographic region .
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.
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.
Board of Directors:
Anna Claussen – Voice for Rural Resilience
John Fenn – American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Matthew Glassman, Double Edge Theatre, Ashfield, MA
Sharon Mansur – Dancer, Winona, MN
Nikiko Masumoto – Agrarian Artist, Del Rey, CA
Sarina Otaibi– Minnesota Main Street, Granite Fall, MN
Richard Saxton – University of Colorado & M12 Studio
Ashley C. Smith – Fayette Alliance and Black Soil, Lexington, KY
Jesse Vogler – Free University of Tbilisi, Georgia