About Public Transformation

The 2016 presidential election revealed major rifts in our country - most notably, a profound disconnect between urban and rural areas. It revealed that we are not talking to each other openly enough, that we don’t understand each other deeply enough, and that many assumptions are being made on all sides of the conversation.

Theater and social practice artist Ashley Hanson, whose large-scale public performances put rural life at their center, was curious how other artists working in rural areas were contemplating these geographic divides. As an artist who works in both rural and urban areas, she set out to investigate what her responsibility is in this conversation: "How can I do my work better? How can it dig deeper to better connect individuals and communities across these great divides? I decided to do what I know best: ask questions, listen deeply to the answers, and to share what I learn in a way that helps us all connect, and move forward, together."

So, she bought a little yellow school bus and set off on a 6,200 mile high-paced fact-finding mission, visiting 127 artists in 24 communities with populations of under 10,000. For six-weeks, the little yellow school bus ("Gus") acted as a cross-country mobile artist residency, with a rotating cast of Mobile Artists-in-Residence documenting the work of rural-based creatives, cultural leaders, and arts organizations, as they make their place in American culture.

After the initial 6-week Research Road Trip, it became clear that the Department of Public Transformation journey was far from over. The Department continues to expand and adapt to find new ways to tell stories, share knowledge and understanding, and connect artists all over the country. What started as a road trip has turned into an ongoing artist inquiry and rich national network of rural makers, movers, and shakers. America is big, and we are so excited to see what the future holds.

Thank you for your time and support!


Ash & the Department of Public Transformation