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Resource Sharing & Authentic Community Collaborations

Have a challenge that needs a creative solution? Rural arts practitioners Anne O’Keefe-Jackson and Ashley Hanson have a simple idea: ask your neighbor! Learn about their collaborations and ideas to improve quality of life through resource-sharing. Spoiler alert—you can do it too!

An illustration of various birds coming together sharing materials for nest and food
Photo Credit: Mayumi Park

About The Guests

  • A smiling person of medium light skin tone with shoulder length dark brown wavy hair, rectangular multi-colored earrings, and a white collared shirt under a vibrant yellow sweater

    Anne O’Keefe-Jackson

    Executive Director, Mni Sota Arts

    Anne O’Keefe-Jackson is the executive director of Mni Sota Arts, a mobile resource center that provides traditional materials to indigenous artists in rural areas. She’s an enrolled member of the Lower Sioux Indian Community and lives on her reservation in Morton, MN with her husband, three children, and three dogs. Anne recently graduated from the Southwest Initiative Foundation’s Initiators Fellowship which provides support to promising early-stage social entrepreneur-leaders in southwest Minnesota. She received her undergraduate degree in marketing and American Indian studies from Augsburg College and her masters’ in business and leadership from Augsburg University. Anne currently serves on the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council Board and is an artist and advocate of the arts.

  • A smiling person of light skin tone and chin length light brown wavy hair, wearing a silver necklace and a black top

    Ashley Hanson

    Founder & Executive Director, Department of Public Transformation

    Ashley Hanson is a social practice theater artist, community organizer, and advocate for arts in rural areas. She is the Founder and Executive Director of the Department of Public Transformation, an artist-led organization that collaborates with local artists and civic leaders in rural areas to develop creative strategies for community connection and civic participation. She is also the Founder and Director of PlaceBase Productions, a theater company that creates original, site-specific musicals exploring complex realities of small-town life. She was named an Obama Foundation Fellow and Bush Foundation Fellow for her work with rural communities. She is a firm believer in the power of people, places, play, and exclamation points!


Marianne Combs: Welcome to Filling the Well, a podcast created to nourish, provoke and inspired artists and arts leaders. I’m Marianne Combs. For arts organizations to not just survive but thrive, collaboration is key, particularly in areas that receive less financial support, the ability to pool resources can compound the impact of arts organizations and cultural programs. In this episode, we’re going to look at how small arts organizations in rural areas are making themselves indispensable by filling in gaps and community resources, and we’ll discuss best practices for authentic collaboration. Our guest today are two collaborators based in west central Minnesota. Ash Hanson is the founder of the theater company, PlaceBase Productions, and the executive director of the Department of Public transformation in Granite Falls. The Department of Public transformation uses arts and culture to enliven rural communities. Anne O’Keefe Jackson is the executive director of Mini Sota Arts, a mobile resource center that provides traditional materials to indigenous artists in rural areas. She’s an enrolled member of the Lower Sioux Indian community and lives on a reservation in Morton. Anne and Ash have been working together over the past year sharing resources and cultural expertise. Welcome to both of you, and thanks so much for joining me.

Ash Hanson: Thanks for having us.

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: Oh, thank you

Marianne Combs: First to you Ash, what exactly does the Department of Public transformation do?

Ash Hanson: So we are an organization that uplifts and celebrates rural arts and cultural workers, really around the country, we’re based in Granite Falls, and we have a number of projects that amplify rural communities through arts and cultural work in and with Granite Falls community in the 18 county Southwestern Minnesota region, but we also do a lot of connecting, networking, resource sharing with rural arts and cultural workers across the country, so we see rural artists and cultural workers, culture bears as essential in the future of rural communities, and so we do what we can to help connect and support and lift up the work that’s happening, and to also pilot, try and launch new programs that give opportunities for rural artists to intersect with the public realm, the civic realm, social life, connecting and providing more cohesion in rural communities, especially in this time of isolation and polarity that we find ourselves in.

Marianne Combs: And, specifically, I wanna talk about the Department of Public transformations YES! House. Can you talk a little bit about what YES! House does, and what it is.

Ash Hanson: Yeah, YES! House is an economic development concept, so we are… It’s an artist-led design build process. We held a year-long community engagement process, inviting residents from the region in to explore what the space could be through artist-led activities, and worked with a couple of incredible architects, Miranda Moen and James Aronson, who are really the people-centered architects to then take those ideas and turn them into design community, share back. And then we’re now in the community build process, which will include a series of Build workshops over the course of the next year, and getting folks in the door to help actually put the nails in the walls of this space that we are building together, and it’s a multi-use space, though there’s residents for visiting artists and the City artists and residents, we’ve got a performance venue, recording studio, yoga studio, gallery space, co-working space, and artist workshop. So these are some of the ideas that came out of the community design process and trying to put them all into one building.

Marianne Combs: Anne tell us about your traditional arts bus that you are working on and how it’s connecting communities.

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: Well, being in such a rural area when we wanted to focus on traditional art forms and helping artists with what they need for supplies, it’s just really difficult to find some of the materials that you might need, brain tan hides or porcupine quills readily available. And even to find those on internet would be somewhat… You’re putting faith in something that is very… A traditional piece of art to come in the mail or materials to come in the mail that you’re kinda like trying to find resources. And so we really wanted to provide connections for people to be able to create art and really support artists so that they continue their work. Also providing space for them or resources for them of different funding opportunities for financial support as artist, different opportunities such as the stuff that we’ve done with Ashley and different fellowships that they could be involved in to help support them as an artist, where they’re doing their work.

Marianne Combs: It sounds like you’ve had great success in getting native made cultural work, whether it’s literature or handcrafts into the hands of people who want to be buying from the indigenous community.

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: I think it’s important that really what we wanted to represent was just all native art, so that you know these are authentically made and that you’ll have a little bit of a history on who made this. A lot of times whenever I’m given… Nice enough to given a gift, but I like to know who created it, who’s the artist behind it, where they’re from, where they live, so you have a little bit more of a connection to that piece of work. So yeah, we’ve been very lucky for the few events that we did do, really having a lot of connection with people with the native books of native authors, contemporary as well as historical information, but really of putting… Really a connection with native people and being able to see that in contemporary space as well as traditional art forms.

Marianne Combs: And you’re also taking it to the level of food and community as it relates to providing food to community. Can you talk a little bit about what your plans are in that area?

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: Well, our many so to arts is a non-profit, and so part of trying to figure out how can we fund a lot of the work that we wanna do, not only just through finding grants and funds, but also to have an LLC that we created Wana Wota for a food, little food truck. So most of the gathering spaces that we have where we would sell our art and connect with artists and community, it’s really based also on sharing a meal together, sharing food and that connection that we make as well. So, we also started LLC for Wana Wota, and so we’ve done a few events with food, and we really wanna just create that space where a community gather where you can eat together at the same time, possibly hopefully have a portable art show, gallery space that would move with the art bus, so that you can bring gallery and connection of artist to different venues all over the place, so it doesn’t have to be an actual physical building per se.

Marianne Combs: What I think is so interesting about both of your projects is that it’s founded entirely on collaboration, neither one of your programs would exist without this notion of collaboration, you’re providing resources and serving as artistic catalysts in the region where you live. And I think we often think of rural areas as being at a disadvantage when it comes to support for the arts, but when it comes to collaboration, I’m wondering, are there advantages to working in rural as opposed to urban areas? Ash, what are your thoughts.

Ash Hanson: Yes, I think that this idea of the practice of neighboring and what neighboring looks like in rural communities really enhances how we collaborate, we know each other in wearing our multiple hats, and so it’s like, yes, your friends, yes, you’re the mayor. Yes, you’re also the editor. Yes, you’re also… There is just… You show up in a lot of rooms wearing a lot of different hats, and those folks who are really active and really involved on a regional level are often in the same spaces together, and you get to know each other in this relational way, so you have your working relationship, but you also hang out at bonfires together, and I think that that’s kind of part of… Not that that doesn’t happen in the city, but I feel like that kind of tightly woven community effort in rural communities is it makes its way into professional and artistic collaborations as well.

Ash Hanson: And then this point that you mentioned, Marianne, of like… And we need each other, and we need each other because the resources are less available in some instances, and that we have a lot of geographic spread that we have to reach out to and meet, so there’s that to contend with as well, and so we’re always trying to kind of connect with people across the region to expand our programming as well.

Marianne Combs: Anne when you think about collaboration, what are some of the advantages or strengths that rural communities bring to collaboration?

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: Well, I think it’s really helpful, even if you’re living 45 minutes away, we know a lot of the same people, and it’s much easier to get involved and to actually connect with other people. It’s beyond just the work you do, it’s personally connecting with people, and so they say, look at what someone’s doing and their effort, and pretty soon they start connecting and talking to other people, so pretty soon, the whole town knows what you’re doing, what you’re trying to do, and so it’s so much easier to support people when you get to know them on that personal connection and is able to get support and backing for your efforts as well is because people wanna support growth and see that personal connection in each other, so I think that’s why it’s so important with a collaboration and so much to me, it seems easier as a rural opportunity much more than in the city.

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: I think for me, even though I grew up in Minneapolis even I feel much more at a loss on how to connect and how to get involved, but at home in Lower Sioux or even in this rural in the 18 counties, I see the work they’re doing at opera houses, I see the work that Ashley is doing. I see… They’re so much easier to get involved and support each other, and it feels much more on a personal level. Even as artists, I know in my community, I know families that are artists, so I know the parents, I know their kids that are starting to do art work, so you just have a different level of connectivity with each other, that helps.

Marianne Combs: Now, the two of you are also collaborating, you mentioned. Talk a little bit about the collaboration. What are you doing together?

Ash Hanson: I can start and then Anne I’d love to pass it over to you. So there are three projects that we’ve been collaborating on since 2020, since spring of 2020, and I’ve been a fan girl of Anne’s for a number of years [chuckle] orbiting around, and there was… Right when the pandemic started this organization that Anne and I both worked with called Racing Magpie, that’s based in Rapid City, launched a virtual artist residence program right away, rapidly responding to the impacts of COVID and Peter Strong and Mary Bordeaux who run that organization… Again, this kind of rural network of collaborators, like yes, we have our local collaborators, but then this national network of like hi we’re out here doing this work, and there’s this really strong base and so yeah, I reached out to Peter and Mary and said, we’d love to do something similar in Southwestern Minnesota. We wanna do something to support and connect artists in this time, and Mary and Peter were like, yeah, well, as a white-led organization, if you wanna work with indigenous artists, you better be ready for a long-term partnership in a deep and meaningful way, and you need partners who are native-led organizations, and I was like, this is an awesome opportunity for me to reach out to some people that I really would have wanted to work with, including Anne and Eileen.

Ash Hanson: And sister who runs the… Is the Executive Director of the Dakota Wicohan. So two organizations that again I’ve have been following and loving from a distance, so we together Minnesota arts, Dakota Wicohan and Racing Magpie Department of Public transformation collaborated on the Dakota Community Artist in Residence program that was in the summer of 2020, and we selected three artists and supported their efforts in addressing the impacts of the pandemic on their communities, both the upper and lower Sioux community, it was a really successful beautiful program, and so we wanted to expand it, and so then we thought, what would it look like to include too, all BIPOC artists so if you are black artists and artists of color, in addition to indigenous and native artists in our region to really lift up BIPOC rural artists.

Ash Hanson: So, we began the process of designing the expansion of what that would look like, that’s been this year, and we just launched that call in November of 2021, and selected our artists at the end of this year here. And then the third piece is we run another little collective called the Women’s Empowerment creative action network, and it’s an event series and Anne partnered with us on our most recent event, which highlighted Oogie Push it’s called The Adventures of a traveling Meskwaki, and Minnesota Arts was our event partner and Anne moderated the Q&A another opportunity for us to deepen the relationships and understanding and connection of native culture in our region, and connect it to kind of more broadly the Midwest native indigenous folks in the Midwest at large, we had… That we have some really fun things that we’ve been dreaming about in the works for the future too, but those are the three that we most recently partnered on.

Marianne Combs: That’s great. Anne what do you get out of this partnership?

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: Well, it’s definitely a mutual admiration with Ashley because I’ve watched the work that she’s done, and she’s done her homework as well, I love that Mary and Peter gave you that little heads up on what’s gonna have to happen, because Ashley has paid attention to that on really connecting with relationships and creating that… And definitely that ongoing process of not just like, hey, let’s do one project together, but what are we gonna do for the future, and how are we gonna work together. And so it’s been a wonderful experience because Ashley brings a lot of different resources, like I’m just starting out and growing, and so I don’t have any physical space, one of the things that we’ve talked about hopefully in the future is a shared gallery space, and then also featuring an artist or storyteller to come into the areas, so how can we feature that, so she’s been very generous with her support and help and the different connections that we’ve made, so I think it’s essential, especially for myself as starting out as a non-profit, I need to have a little more connections to resources at this time, so it’s been invaluable to me, and not only that, but also helping watch both her organization and Racing Magpie experience with having artists in residency, having that much more AV and technical experience [chuckle] than myself on how do you do these virtual sessions, what’s the best way and different methods, so it’s been a great learning experience for me.

Marianne Combs: And Ash, What are you getting out of this collaboration?

Ash Hanson: Really? Wise friendships? [laughter] Keep us held accountable. And again, enrich and deepen the programs that we’re offering, and this is generational healing work and decolonizing efforts, and knowing that you have collaborators that are working together and learning, I’m learning so much, learning so so much and just always humbled and honored to be in space with Anne and Aileen, and Peter and Mary, and my own efforts of decolonizing my mind and myself at our organization at large, in addition to that it’s these friendships that are developing and beginning to dream together of what does our region really need and how can we support each other.

Ash Hanson: I think that one of the things that we started offering right away was fiscal sponsorship for rural arts organizations, because it is really hard to launch a non-profit and not everybody needs it for every project. So that was one of the other ways, Anne and I worked together early on it’s just that kind of the bridge while you’re waiting for your paperwork, but you wanna apply for some grants, like how can we help each other out with that and those resources, and then the same thing it’s like, maybe not everybody needs this particular program to be run in there with their organization, but if you partner on it and you can deepen it and broaden it, expand it with partners that seems to work well in rural spaces because of just the population size, however many people are gonna be involved, and then how spread out everybody is, you wanna be able to connect with more people, and so I think it’s that networking piece, it’s the relational piece, and then the opportunity for the wisdom shared is most appreciated, most appreciative of that.

Marianne Combs: There are often subtle and not so subtle power dynamics in collaborative projects, and one institution might have the money and structural capacity while the other institution provides the cultural expertise and authenticity. What do you recommend people do and not do when it comes to approaching other arts organizations to collaborate, what are some of the best and worst practices in entering into this kind of a relationship?

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: Well, I think for myself has been continued growth with a relationship with Ashley and Mary and Peter, really developing that friendship and relationship and trust, that’s usually sometimes been the piece for me for collaboration where I’ve kind of step kind aback is because I’m not sure others approach on cultural sensitivity on connectedness of really being authentic with their artists and what the motive is to have them there, and it’s to educate and it’s really to enlighten people, and that to me is what I’m looking for, and so I think that’s just really the growth and I see that as also the… What would be the pitfall? If you just show up and they wanna put your name on a grant application, but really you’re not doing any work together and you’re not really working together, and there’s really no shared benefit from both organizations, then I would definitely stay away from that, but I’ve really appreciated the growth and the friendship at the same time.

Marianne Combs: Ash, how about you? I know you’ve had experience with working as a rural arts organization, with partnering with urban, larger metro-based arts organizations. Does that have its own power dynamics?

Ash Hanson: Yeah, absolutely, and I think… Just ditto and echo everything that Anne said, I think… A couple of little tangibles. Yes, have relationships throughout, so it’s not that you’re just tapping when you’re doing a grant application, as you mentioned. But then also in the design of it, in the writing of the application, in the early, early stages, in the thinking about it, like I am considering maybe applying for something like this, talking to your friends and partners before it’s due tomorrow. [laughter] Which is… Sometimes that happens. And then in the design of it and the language of it and in the feel and how we invite people in, that’s… We had multiple design meetings for both IGNITE rural and Dakota community artists and residents before we even got the logo together, just to kind of… What is the feel of this and how are we… What do we want this program to really do and be? So I think that early connection is key and ongoing connection is key, the in-between projects, the before projects. And I think with urban institutions, our experience has not been necessarily that way either. It’ll be… We’ll get a phone call or email from somebody who says, “Hey, we got an arts tour grant, can we bring our show to your community? Is it… What’s it called Rock Falls?” And you’re like, “Okay.” [laughter]

Marianne Combs: That must be frustrating.

Ash Hanson: Yeah, you’re like, “Well, I really think this is a great opportunity, but there’s like, it would have been really nice if maybe you would have called us first or something before you wrote us into the grant or came and visited.” One of the things that really gets me is visiting, I love to visit, I love to spend time with folks. I know it’s harder right now to be in person with each other, but when I do get a request from a larger urban institution to collaborate or partner on something, my first request is that they come for a visit. I’m like, “That sounds great. Why don’t you come out, see us, meet us in our space.” And most of the time, then the emails go silent. It’s like, “That’s a long drive.” Or it’s rare to get that reciprocal exchange, but often we are expected to come to the cities for lots of things. And yes, it’s a five-hour round trip drive for me as well as you, and you have more resources than me. [laughter] Where’s the sharing here? So I think it’s really important for urban organizations who are thinking about touring, partnering with rural organizations becoming state-wide or offering state-wide programming, or strengthening your state-wide programming.

Ash Hanson: I think a lot of folks stay state-wide, but are really metro-centric. Do some road trips, just come visit when you don’t have a project on, just do that research, do that homework and come have a cup of coffee with us and see what’s going on, so that later, you can have a more authentic connection with folks in… Outside of the metro area.

Marianne Combs: Yeah, I’m hearing from both of you, trust and time, that these are two key factors in collaboration, is that taking the time. And also this sense that it’s not a one-off that you don’t come to us thinking you’re just gonna do this one project, but this is… If you’re gonna invest in us, let’s make this a relationship where we continue to invest in each other over a long period of time. Does that sound right?

Ash Hanson: Yeah.

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: Definitely, I think so, yeah. I’ve been lucky to get to know Ashley a little bit more than she knows about probably. But I’ve really seen authentically how she does her approach to different partnerships that she’s trying to create. But I think that’s terribly important, is the time and the relationship, the energy.

Marianne Combs: What advice do you give people who are seeking to connect, but maybe are scared to do it the wrong way? That in terms of going down the path of collaboration and partnership, who are maybe used to spending the majority of time just struggling to keep themselves alive as opposed to partnering with somebody else and investing time in another organization.

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: I think for myself, it helps me to be a little bit more accountable for my portion of the relationship. If I’m by myself, usually I’m like, “Uh, I wonder if I should apply for this funding. I wonder if I should do this.” But I love that working both with Ashley and Mary and Peter, that I’ve been able to bounce ideas off of them, when we’re trying to think of, “Would this work?” Or even if there’s something coming up from a film maker that I wanted to talk to Ashley about, I think that would be amazing for that community. So it just allows you to really, I think, expand your ideas of your possibilities, and then especially if someone has great shared space that you can use or help collaborate with, ‘cause if not, you’re really limited on what you could do for shows, how many people you could have attend.

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: And I think that would feel like a barrier, if you didn’t have an actual physical space, you just wouldn’t apply to do these different things where I know if I can work with Ashley, or if I ever get out to Rapid, and Mary and Peter have a beautiful new space, there’s opportunity there. And so I think that’s just part of that growth process. Even if you’re not ready right now, eventually, I hope my organization will be ready to do something and be totally reciprocal as well, and having space in Morton down at Lower Sioux here too, for them to come in this space as well. So that it’s not just for myself, but it’s really a collaboration of how we’re gonna work together in the future, and I think that’s really important. And I haven’t found that with a lot of organizations, so I don’t think this is something that’s easily replicated as well, but just really putting the time into relationships and getting to know people really well, having an understanding of how they approach this work and have an appreciation for that.

Marianne Combs: Ash about you?

Ash Hanson: Yeah, that’s what I appreciate so much about working with Anne is… Too is this deepening of the efforts that you might start to cook up, and then when you get to brainstorm and daydream with other folks who also have values that are aligned with yours, and hopes for your community that are similar, that it’s going to be better, it’s going to be better. And it takes time. And I think one of the things that, like you mentioned that might keep people from collaborating on that level is where does the time come from, if you’re super strafed, scrappy young start-up non-profit. But if you do invest in that way, then you do have more hands on deck, more minds in the… The cooks in the kitchen, making the recipe better. And then your program project, your space, whatever it is, is going to end up being much richer and much more meaningful and actually do what it’s set out to do.

Ash Hanson: And I think the wisdom that Anne brings into the room when we are doing a design process together, it’s invaluable, and it’s this… You learn a lot more than you would doing it on your own as a collaborator as well. So I think you’re investing more long-term in a lot of ways, in other people, but also in yourself. One thing I wanted to say about that time piece too, is just that thinking about how our systems and our structures keep us from that. Our kind of white supremacist, perfectionist and philanthropic structures keep us from having the time and space needed to really make deep and meaningful connections and…

Marianne Combs: Say more about that. That’s… I find that fascinating.


Ash Hanson: Well, I… There’s never… I don’t know of any. Rarely is there ever a grant that will just give you time and space to make connections with people to become friends. So earlier when we said it would be great to know people before you apply for a grant with their organization. Yes, making friends with folks is very vital and your time is very limited. So if there were more opportunities in philanthropy to either loosen up what operating looks like, so operating support could be like 10% of your time is just in partnership and relationship building, but it’s paid for, so you can build it into your work week, that you can higher your… You can tell your staff, yes, that coffee you’re having with that person is paid time. Yes, that… The kind of grey hours between work and social where you’re having a beer with the chamber of commerce director, and it’s not work, but it is, but you’re, “Do I… Am I getting paid for this? But you’re my friend, but also that messy stuff.” Just know it is, it’s all part of the work and life and art and it’s connected.

Ash Hanson: But if there were more resources to really invest in that kind of relationship building upfront, then you would have less of this, “Oh my god, the grant’s due tomorrow, do you wanna partner on this thing?” And people going, “No, I don’t even know. You never reached out to me before.” So I think that it needs to come from the ground up, but it can also be supported from the structures of financial resources that we have in philanthropy and public funding.

Marianne Combs: What are the biggest stumbling blocks to productive collaboration, aside from the fact that time is a limited resource, and you’re not getting funding to build relationships specifically? Are there other major stumbling blocks you’ve encountered in terms of making collaborations work?

Ash Hanson: I think the communication and clarity, clarity of roles, yes, but also just like what the intention of the collaboration is. It’s like, “Oh, this is what I… Actually just for this part, this part of this thing.” We’re being very clear of what’s expected, seeing a lot of our time is really limited. So sometimes you can have a collaboration that’s really deep and really entrenched, we’re in it together from the whole project, and then it’s like, “You know what, I really need you at these four meetings. And I… “ But that really works best when you already have a relationship, so that it’s… The accountability piece is there, that it’s not tokenizing someone and that’s not extractive, that it’s like, “I’m respecting your time, and I know that this is where we can offer, whatever a partner statement. Or we can know that your time is valuable, so we wanna make sure that it’s in these areas where you have the most interest.” And I think then that kind of communication outward too, externally of being clear with the rest of your community or your stakeholders what this collaboration is and why is another, I think stumbling block too, of just clarity around the intentions of the collaboration internally and externally.

Marianne Combs: What have been some of the biggest rewards that have come to you from collaboration? When you look back at the collaborations you’ve had, or maybe surprise benefits that you didn’t expect, but arose because of a successful collaboration?

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: I think for myself, it would just be that, it’s just a continued process. I’m even kind of surprised, how long have I really known Ashley? I watched her from afar, ‘cause I… A big dream of mine was always to have a building and a space, and I see Ashley and what she’s doing in her community and even the ability to really do a lot of outreach. Some people say they do outreach and community involvement, but that’s sometimes a questionnaire or something. But this is actual physical being in the space, asking, getting feedback, making changes and being open to a different outcome. So I guess I think it’s just that it’s surprising me how it still continues to evolve. Ashley had offered when I was first starting out to actually sit down physically with me and help me write out my non-profit paperwork, which no one’s ever done except Ashley. [chuckle]

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: So, but here I’m willing to make that commitment into you, and then it just continued to evolve from there. And so I’m always just surprised that as we continue to move, how it continues to grow and change. I continue to get resources from Ashley and from other… From Mary and Peter like, “Here, here are some different funding resources. I think this would be a great opportunity for you. What are your thoughts about this?” So it’s just like it continues to evolve, you trust those relationships that you have, and so you know that they’re a good resource for you. Their connections that they have to other people, would probably be really helpful and beneficial for you as an organization. So just trusting that whole process has been really surprising to me, and it’s continued to evolve, so it’s not so narrow, it’s really about the relationships.

Marianne Combs: How about you Ash?

Ash Hanson: I’ve… Yeah, I wanna again ditto everything that Anne said, and then thinking about the next level of relationships too. It’s like the relationships with your collaborators, but then also the networks that your collaborators and friends bring to the table. One of the biggest challenges, I think for lots arts organizations, but I think in rural areas is, “How do you get the word out? How do people find out about what you’re doing?” And yes, you need like seven different forms of communication and seven different taps on people’s shoulders. And so having a couple of other folks in your network that are like, “Hey, here’s the thing that my friends are doing.” Or, “Here’s something that seems interesting.” Is key to the success of… You’re reaching the people that you wanna connect with and broadening and expanding your relationships. And you have your tight-nit collaborators, but then seeing the ripple effects in the circles… Within the circles is strengthening that base and helping to invite more people into those kinds of longer-term collaborations. So I think that that’s something that has been a beautiful, maybe unintended benefit, is just, making friends of friends or connecting with new artists to invite into working with our organization or in our different events or programs, is that our collaborators also have their collaborators and we can kind of continue to expand it together.

Ash Hanson: It makes me wonder if arts organizations are better at collaboration or not. As a question. Because I… What you just said Anne about being willing to enter a process and not knowing… Having… Being open to change, I think it’s like theater artists, like generative theater artists, that’s kind of the name of the game. You invite people in, and you work shop it together and you don’t really know what the outcome is gonna be, so maybe that’s a good… That’s a good collaborative skill. But I just… I’m just… That makes me curious, are arts organizations more set up for success for collaborations or less? Who knows? I guess we’ll find out. [laughter]

Marianne Combs: Looking forward, you mentioned earlier funding of course, and funding is always a big one. But what would be helpful or key to improving your ability to collaborate with others? What would make collaboration easier? Or should it be easier, isn’t the work part of what makes it so important?

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: Well, I think it depends, I guess, on what the work is. To me, it’s the artists that we work with, and the communities that we work with, it’s extremely meaningful to me. And so for that… For me, that’s worth the effort, that’s worth the time, that’s worth everything, that’s worth not getting paid, that’s worth… It’s just, that’s worth it. To invest in people and to invest in place and want to make a difference and a change, so that’s worth it. So I can’t imagine it being too easy and I probably wouldn’t do it. I was like, “Oh, this is so easy and it’s so easy to come by, not a big deal.” But to me, I love going to small communities, see what they offer, see how they connect with their community. It’s a different level sometimes. I relate it maybe somewhat to coffee shops, where you have these gathering spaces too, where people connect and people… It really has a sense of community, and how they reach out to people, or how they collaborate, or how they… What they offer, I just think is extremely interesting to me.

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: And so to me that’s worth the effort, it’s worth the time, it’s worth the collaboration, it’s worth the growth. Because I’m hoping it will be long-term, it won’t be short and easy and quick, and I don’t think it’d be as impactful than if it’s not or not as meaningful to me anyways.

Ash Hanson: That’s such a good point, yeah. I think that intentional informal spaces, like if you think about conferences or things like that, that used to be a thing, [laughter] and I… But I don’t know if it’s this opportunity just to get to know each other’s work on a state-wide level. The rural to rural exchanges, I think are really important. And then I think, again, thinking about if urban organizations are interested in collaborating with rural, or even supporting rural collaborations. Even stepping out of the way and providing resources for rural to rural exchanges, if those resources are more available in urban areas. So yeah, that intentional informal space for relationship building and space, and again, yeah, time and resources, whether it’s funding for that intentional informal relationship building space would be really vital.

Marianne Combs: I guess, and this is just off the top of my head, but I’m just thinking about issues of state-wide infrastructure. Are there things that are being neglected that if they weren’t being neglected, would support you in doing your work better?

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: Well, I think this comes up a lot of times for grant funding. I know Ashley and I have had this conversation with artists that apply for grants. And even being on committees and everything else, I understand the logistics of these hard border lines of fundable and non-fundable. Literally, you can move across the street and not be fundable from somebody else. Where there’s all these structure lines that happen, even we see that as, for Dakota community, for exiled Dakota people who live outside of the state of Minnesota boundaries. Of how that… Really, I’ve been where people have gotten to talk to the State Arts Board about understanding the relationship, why you would bring artists in from Landry, South Dakota. Why would you… It’s like not understanding the historical nature of the relationship and all the political and colonization that’s happened to the state of how we look at these structures. And so I really… I… It’s hard to be hard and fast with these rules when you’re on grant committees.

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: Of like, what’s fundable, what’s not fundable. Where you live, where you’re not included in that area? Instead of really the contribution that different artists can bring or the collaboration efforts that can happen that are outside of these boundary lines that are created. I think that would be… I think that taking away some of that would be… Just open up more possibilities.

Marianne Combs: Do you think that there are misconceptions that people have about quality of life and the arts in rural areas?

Ash Hanson: I think there’s… The dominant narrative is that rural areas are… Have less, are declining, are dying, are shrinking. And yes, that permeates the psyche of rural places into this scarcity mentality, but as we said earlier, there is so much abundance and so much richness in relationships and the ways in which we can collaborate and share and resources, and we do know what each other are up to for better and for worst sometimes. [laughter] But that there is abundance, and I think that a lot of the work that I think Anne and I both do and why I love working with Anne has to be… Has to do with celebrating that abundance, celebrating our cultures, celebrating rural-ness and the space outside of the metro area, yes. But uplifting artists whose resources… Who might not have as direct access to resources that are financial and urban-centric, but have a ton of resources when it comes to connecting to their community, their cultural heritage, knowing what their neighbors need and want, that those… That richness is there.

Ash Hanson: And if we can be a catalyst for providing additional support to live that up, that’s what we really wanna be able to do and help other folks from urban areas or other areas, not see rural communities as lacking, but that they are very rich and wealthy in what they have to offer in the arts community.

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: Well, I think that’s important because, I think that’s why some of the work that I started to do is that I saw from sitting on all these different committees, the millions of dollars in support that are given to artists in the state of Minnesota. But how few are given to artists of color, different rural communities, and part of it is just really of understanding access. How you change those structures. I know even for the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council that I sit on, we changed the structure of the application process, we changed the structure of the accountability for how you reach out and have diversity in your board and also in who you service community, and really challenge those ideas. So it’s not just the same people applying, getting the same money every single year, but how do we expand that process. And I think even the grant application or the call to artists that we put out for, BIPOC artists, is specifically calling that out into these rural areas so it makes people think, “What does that mean, and how does that apply, and who are those people?”

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: I’ve seen even through this last call to artist for BIPOC artists, people who were first time applicants that I know are artists that have never applied for funding before. Who have never applied, and have the… Just the faith in themself as artists to be able to feel that they can do this and they can have access to some of these resources. So I think that’s just extremely important to also feel like you’re diversifying that access and how people apply. Even on the last application, you could submit a video, if that’s more… If that works better for you, instead of these structures of, definitely have to be typed, it has to be this way, it has to be formatted this way. And wonder why at the same time organizations are not reaching out and having any new different type of diverse applicants as we’re doing things a lot of the same exact ways we’ve always done them. And so I think that’s just so important to look at how do we change those narratives and to be more inclusive, but also to grow as rural organizations.

Marianne Combs: Beautiful.

Marianne Combs: Anne, Ash, thank you, this has been a fabulous conversation. Really appreciate you spending the time with us today.

Ash Hanson: Thank you Mary and thank you Anne.

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson: Thank you guys so much.

Marianne Combs: You’ve been listening to Filling the Well. Our guests for this episode were Ash Hanson, Executive Director of the Department of Public Transformation, and Anne O’Keefe-Jackson, Executive Director of Mini Sota Arts. I’m your host, Marianne Combs. Want to dig deeper into the ideas behind this episode? Visit the Arts Midwest ideas hub, a collection of free curated articles and tools to help creative leaders foster growth within their organizations and communities. Go to artsmidwest.org/ideas for more.

Marianne Combs: This podcast was produced and edited by Emily Goldberg and mixed by Eric Romani with original music by Dameun Strange. The Filling the Well series is made possible with financial support from the Bar Foundation based in Boston. The Bar Foundation’s mission is to invest in human, natural and creative potential, serving as thoughtful stewards and catalysts.


Marianne Combs – Host

Emily Goldberg – Producer

Dameun Strange – Original Music

Eric Romani – Master Mixer