» Ashley Hanson
How did you become an artist?
I have only recently come to self-identify as an artist, but I have been creating (or enabling) art for quite some time. I was first attracted to the arts while growing up in rural Minnesota. I was always amazed by how many people would come out for the annual high school musical, or to see the artwork at the county fair. It gave people a reason to come together and enjoy each other’s creativity and talents; it provided a sense of community that I otherwise did not experience. I especially loved theater, as it allowed me to shed my Midwestern inhibitions and just play. And, I have always been attracted to the art of the story – a natural fit as, living in the land of 10,000 big fish stories, a good story isn’t hard to find. I went on to study theater at the University of Minnesota – but not theater in the traditional sense… I took a course called Performance and Social Change, which was the first major step in my journey as an artist. From there, I began studying Theater of the Oppressed and other Applied or Community-Based Theater techniques. I went on to get my MA degree at the University of Manchester (UK) - International Center for Applied Theater. I moved back to the US in 2009 and began working with Public Art Saint Paul. After a few years as an arts administrator, I was reminded that I not only wanted to administer art - I wanted to create it! So, I took the big leap – and now I am a self-identified working artist. I have recently started a theater company that produces community-based theater in rural communities, shedding Midwestern inhibitions and putting big fish stories on the stage!
What inspires you?
COMMUNITY! I love watching people come together to connect, share, create, discuss, engage and play. What I love about theater is the communal aspect of it. It requires people to work together, trust each other, take risks together, listen to and support each other. To me, nothing is more inspiring than that.
Why is art a powerful tool for speaking out, for creating change in the world? How have you used art to do that?
Art has a way of making issues more accessible to a broader audience, by providing a unifying lens and language. It allows us to transcend space and time, in order to emotionally connect to the human stories behind the issues. It provides a shared experience as a starting point for deeper discussion – creating the impetus for action based on a commonly understood language.These experiences place value on the universal, reminding us that this is our shared home, strengthening trust in each other to make decisions based on the benefit of the community rather than the individual. My personal work is focused on uniting individuals and communities through exploring collective narratives in accessible performances. One of my projects, Granite Falls: A Meandering River Walk (in collaboration with local playwright, Andrew Gaylord), involved over 50 community members, 12 community organizations and the City of Granite Falls to produce an 11,000 year history of the area in a 45-minute site-specific, walking theater performance. The production, based on interviews with local residents, explored the complicated and symbiotic relationship the town has with the Minnesota River (one of the most polluted in the state) and was performed by local actors and musicians. This place- and issue-based work strives to reconnect individuals with their shared values, and in turn, inspire stewardship of their community. I strive to show through my work that shared knowledge paired with collective action can move a community from “where they are” to “where they want to be.”
How has Intermedia Arts been a part of your story?
I had been to many readings, gallery openings and festivals at Intermedia Arts in the past, but my relationship with Intermedia grew when I was selected as one of the members of the 2010 Creative Community Leadership Institute. Going through the Institute really helped me realize that I was not just an arts administrator or practitioner – I was an artist! And I needed to do my art! Shortly thereafter, I left my full-time job to become a working artist and contract arts administrator. Thank you Intermedia Arts!
How has art changed you?
Art has changed me in many ways, including building my confidence, innovation, joy-level, and my ability to see the world from many points of view. But, the most important change or impact that art has had on my life is that it has provided me with a way to connect to people in a deep and meaningful way almost instantaneously. Whether it’s through a project that I am producing, or experiencing another artist’s work, I truly feel that art is the fastest, sturdiest and most accessible bridge to unite individuals.
“Shared experiences remind us that this is our shared home, strengthening trust in each other to make decisions based on the benefit of the community rather than the individual.”
- Ashley Hanson
What do you find most exciting or inspiring about Creative CityMaking? Why did you want to be a part of it?
What excites me about this program is that it puts people at the center of the planning process. Both Wing and I identify our work as people-oriented – and we believe that our combined artistic processes could discover incredible community engagement practices when combined within the guidelines of the City Planning process. We want to be a part of it because our work has social issues at it’s core, and we see that as a part of all City Planning, whether it be economic, transportation, or environmental – as is true with City Planning, our work is inherently social-based. Both of our processes are similar to the City’s in that it takes time, thoughtfulness, understanding of multiple perspectives and creating a product that best represents the lives of those you are trying to represent. I am looking forward to discovering new engagement strategies that can be a model for sustainable practices – it’s one thing to do a one-off project; it’s another to use the information gained from that project to create a tool that can be used to inform future planning and be an ongoing source for community engagement.
What do you hope to contribute through Creative CityMaking? What do you hope to receive?
I hope to contribute the experiences that I have gained working to connect people and stories in rural communities, and applying it to an urban setting. I hope to contribute to the ongoing movement of ensuring that every voice is heard. I hope to inspire and encourage people to get involved in the City planning process. I hope to create engagement strategies that live on long after this program is finished. I hope to receive knowledge and insight into the needs, hopes and dreams of the community that can only be gained once you have built sturdy bridges through trust and relationships. I hope to keep this sentiment, greatly expressed by Lao-tzu, at the core of my work: “Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. And with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say, we have done this ourselves.” – Lao-tzu
Ashley Hanson received her Master of Arts degree in Applied Theatre at the University of Manchester, UK, where she focused on the role of theatre in the sustainable development of communities. For the past ten years, she has facilitated, written and directed theater and arts-based programs with many different communities and organizations. Ashley’s work is focused on uniting individuals through exploring collective narratives in accessible performances. Ashley’s place- and issue-based work strives to reconnect individuals with their shared values, and in turn, inspire stewardship of their community. She worked as the Program Director for Public Art Saint Paul, where she managed multiple public arts programs; most notably, Wing Young Huie’s The University Avenue Project, one of the largest public art exhibitions in the nation for 2010. She is accustomed to serving as a liaison among artists, city departments and the community. She calls herself an “Arts Enabler,” working with artists and organizations on the “unsexy” part of the arts – administration and organization – to bring abstract visions into concrete productions. Ashley has received fellowships from the Creative Community Leadership Institute and the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture. She is also a founding member of the Yes!Lets Collective of Twin-Cities artists, musicians and community enthusiasts, and she plays ukulele and sings in three folk/Americana bands.