Ash Hanson, the executive director of the Department of Public Transformation, has her elevator pitch ready when it comes to her organization’s mission. “We work with artists and change-makers to activate civic participation in small towns,” Hanson said during a Zoom interview.
Together with Anna Claussen of Voices for Rural Resilience, and with the support from the Rural Assembly, they are responsible for “On the Clock” – a series of online events that bring together rural practitioners and artists.
“‘On the Clock’ is a learning exchange for rural connectors and cultural workers,” Hanson said.
The premise of the meetings is to have “rural rockstars” support other rural activists and help them navigate complicated rural waters.
According to Hanson, the event offers its speakers an opportunity to “step up and into the limelight and share a little bit more deeply about their practice in this…intersection of creative workers and cultural workers and changemakers and connectors.”
The origins of the series were very informal and stemmed from a simple need for a community and support network. It was a space that “has become this really beautiful kind of healing, sometimes celebratory space, sometimes vulnerable space, where we get to really connect on a deeper level with other people doing this work,” Hanson said. They called it “Off the Clock.”
As the events grew, both Hanson and Claussen realized there is a wealth of knowledge worth preserving and documenting. With some structure and institutional support from the Rural Assembly, “On the Clock” was able to keep the informal, happy hour atmosphere and add the workshop dimension. The Rural Assembly is a national rural network sponsored by the Center for Rural Strategies, which also publishes the Daily Yonder.
“That space is a mix. So we allow space for there to be a kind of presentation, performance storytelling from the guest,” Hanson said. “And then it’s an opportunity to kind of break out and learn with, and from, each other based on prompts shared from the guest; and then more full group conversation and connection, resource sharing.”
What makes “On the Clock” stand out is the inclusion of art as a tool for more effective work with rural communities.
“I have spent more time in the last decade thinking of the art of dialogue, the art of conversation, the art of how people tell stories, and share stories,” Claussen said. “And in these ‘On the Clock’ [events], it’s been really great for people to come in and have a broad concept of what it is to be an artist.”
For Claussen, the advantage of including the artist’s perspective is bringing forward the sensation of how the work in rural spaces feels, rather than how those who do it think about it.
Outside of providing a fresh perspective and often a much-needed outlet, that approach allowed Claussen and others to see that art can be a professional tool in community work. The translation of art into social work can be surprisingly practical.
“Those are the artists that we’re looking to showcase ‘On the Clock’ – folks that are stepping outside of the studio practice and then to the social practice of … taking their arts and cultural practices and forms in and applying it to everyday challenges,” said Hanson.
One example is the work of artist Mary Welcome, who designed townhall punch cards for citizens of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Every cardholder would get a punch from the mayor every time they attended a town hall meeting. After collecting a certain number of punches, one of the city council members would take the resident out for lunch.
“It was encouraging people to show up to city council meetings to do this fun thing, but then it’s also building that relationship and seeing your city council and your mayor as somebody that you can go out to lunch with,” Hanson said.
If you’d like to participate in a conversation with Ash Hanson and Anna Carlson, you can register for one of the upcoming Rural Assembly: Everywhere breakout sessions, The Currency of Joy: An Informal & Intentional Happy Hour with Rural Cultural Workers, on April 21, and experience “On the Clock” live.
You can register for Rural Assembly Everywhere here.
The Daily Yonder is a media partner of Rural Assembly Everywhere.