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The Connectors

Meet the team

Our Core Connectors have been meeting virtually for over a year to ideate, co-create, and generate a pathway forward for the Minnesota Rural-Urban Exchange. Thankfully, we do not do this work from scratch. Launched first in Kentucky by Art of the Rural and Appalshop in 2014, the Minnesota Rural-Urban Exchange leans heavily on the values, framework and insights of our friends in Kentucky. Through a virtual learning exchange, our Core Connectors received direction, guidance, and experiential knowledge from our fellow Kentuckians. With their own perspectives, vision, and grounded reality of Minnesota, our Connectors are building off of this base to adapt the model for our place and people.

We invite our inaugural cohort to join us on this adaptive and emergent journey of creating meaningful exchange in and across our Minnesota communities.

Core Connectors

Joe Allen

Mahnomen; White Earth Nation
Project Director, Gizhiigin Arts Incubator
Father, Lakota, Ojibwe, Artist, Rural, Mentor, Entrepreneur, Introvert

Anna Claussen

Founder, Voices for Rural Resilience
Farmers daughter, mother, tomboy, social strategist, twin, scarf hoarder

Dawn Espe

Sr. Regional Development Planner, Region Five Development Commision
Wife, mother, planner, gardener, cook

Maddy Fisher

Economic Development Specialist / Lead for MN Fellow, Southern MN Initiative Foundation
leader, dancer, friend, daughter and deep conversationalist

Matt Fluharty

Executive Director, Art of the Rural
father, visitor, writer, artist, curator, zen wanderer, listener

Ashley Hanson

Granite Falls
Founder and Director, Department of Public Transformation and PlaceBase Productions
theater artist, enthusiast, climber, Leo, extrovert, adventurer, yogi

Emma Higgins

Lead for Minnesota Fellow, Grant and Program ResearcherNew Yorker, Runner, Improviser, Extrovert, Traveler, Barista, Rural Advocate, Advocate for Women

Cheryal Hills

Executive Director, Region Five Development Commisionrural, feminist, gardener, bridger, spiritual, atheist, change agent, equity advocate

Salma Ahmed Ibrahim

Lead for Minnesota Mental Health FellowSomali, Black, Muslim, Community Organizer, Writer

Teresa Kittridge

Founder 100 Rural Womenmother, sister, aunt, rural advocate, rural woman, curious, traveler, community servant, seasoned

Benya Kraus

Co-Founder & Minnesota Executive Director, Lead for AmericaDaughter, sister, Rural Advocate, Catholic, Thai-Midwest Fusionist, Eating with Hands Enthusiast

Jane Leonard

St. Paul
President, Growth & JusticeTwin, community builder from birth, family kin-keeper, Rurban advocate, flashlight/duct tape gal

Jonathan Locust

Associate Vice-President, Office of Equity & Inclusive Excellence, Winona State UniversityBlack American man, Father, Husband, Meditator, Entrepreneur, Committed to bringing higher vibrations to the world.


St. Paul
Executive Director, Metropolitan Regional Arts CouncilHmong American woman, daughter of refugees, arts administrator, auntie, Saint Paulite, creative collaborator, optimist

Jeremy Staab

Director, National Advancement at Artspace Projects, Inc.Dakota, Arts Administrator, Social Justice Advocate, Brother, Uncle, Friend

Erik Takashita

Interim Executive Director, Arrowhead Regional Arts CouncilSon, grandson, husband, father, Community builder. committed to social justice

Moira Villiard

Community-engaged artist, freelancer, and muralista community organizer, muralist, a descendent of both Indigenous and settler heritage, emo/punk kid at heart, a pluralist, a sweet potato and squash chef

Cassie Williams

Inver Grove Heights
Labor Educator, University of Minnesota
Black woman, mother, artist, poet, educator

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For Inquiries

Email Us

Anna at mnruralurbanexchange@gmail.com

The Exchange

Cohort Experience

The Connectors

Meet the 2023 Cohort and Core Connectors


Join Us


How to Apply


RUX so far