In September 2023, Springboard for the Arts announced the 2023 - 25 cohort of Rural Regenerator Fellows.
Each fellow receives $10,000 in flexible funds to support or expand on their existing work, and participates in two years of learning exchanges with their fellow rural artists. The Fellows were selected through a peer review process of 9 rural artists and leaders across the Upper Midwest, including 3 Rural Regenerator alumni.
The 2023-25 cycle brings together artists from a diverse range of mediums and regions. From photography to fiber arts, poetry to film, music and more, these artists are using their creative practice to foster connection, build and uplift equitable systems, encourage land stewardship, and support community healing.
Meet the 2023-25 Fellows!
Mary Knox Johnson
Mary taught high school English and Theater for over 30 years in West Fargo, ND, and currently serves on the Bemidji Community Theater board where she directs and designs two musicals a year, writes most of their grants, designed their renovated theater space, and is the “out of the box” thinker for many of their new ideas including Starbridge Academy, the umbrella term describing opportunities for children, the instigator behind their online presence, the editor of their newsletter and season brochure, and serves as one of the administrators and sometimes teacher for their BCT Jr. two week summer theater camp. She wears another “hat” as the president of an artist’s cooperative gallery where she showcases her own art work, weaving, children’s books, and other items. She recently started a podcast titled Northwoods Banter that discusses opposing viewpoints regarding social issues of today.
Keith Pilapil Lesmeister
Keith Pilapil Lesmeister is a writer and teacher living in northeast Iowa. His writerly preoccupations revolve around our relationship with the natural world, sports/athletics, and BIPOC experiences in rural locales. He's the author of We Could've Been Happy Here and Mississippi River Museum. He's also series editor for The EastOver Anthology of Rural Stories: writers of color. He's a founding editor of Cutleaf, an online literary journal, and EastOver Press. He earned an MFA from Bennington College and currently teaches at Northeast Iowa Community College. Learn more at www.keithlesmeister.com.
Viroqua, Wisconsin (driftless region) - Ho-Chunk, Sauk & Meskwaki Land
Franciszka Voeltz is a queer first-and-a-half generation Polish-American writer (poetry), literary arts administrator, outdoor expedition guide for young people, and organic vegetable farm worker. They write poems to go on a portable manual typewriter for magnificent strangers and curate an ongoing collective poem to the entire planet. They have been facilitating community writing workshops (at libraries, in prisons, in living rooms, at community centers, in the woods, you name it) since 2000. Nothing makes them come alive more than the magic that blooms when others are courageous enough to share their stories and words. Learn more at www.franciszkavoeltz.com.
Leech Lake, Minnesota
Ne-Dah-Ness Rose Greene is an enrolled member from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in Northern MN and owner of Greene Photography LLC. Ne-Dah-Ness is a self taught, BIPOC Women photographer and has been taking photographs in her community for 5 years. She continually challenges herself to reach further in refining her skills and diversifying her approach to this multi-faceted art media.
Ne-Dah-Ness is a social activist through art and is well known in the Indigenous world and beyond. She has been publicized in numerous publications such as People Magazine. She is invited by many gallery exhibits and is one of the most sought out photographers in her state. Her perspective as well as the camera and various lenses are essential to producing her art. A sense of intimacy in her imagery prompts a visceral reaction from her viewers, evoking emotions and understanding through the moments and movement she captures.
Anni Zylstra (she/they) is a folk singer, basketmaker, agroforester, and organizer based in the traditional homelands of the Oceti Sakowin and Ho-chunk in southern Wisconsin. She has spent the last decade collecting and teaching folk songs, running community music events, learning and teaching traditional crafts, organizing grassroots arts events, and building community in a variety of ways among rural queers and artists. Captivated by folk cultures of the world and what they have to teach us about community, creativity, death, and relating to the land, Anni looks to them as well as the queer and liberation-oriented visionaries of our time for inspiration on how to be in this world at such a wild moment of our collective history. On a typical day, you can find them at work in their studio, coppicing and tending to trees, or herding unruly ducks around the land where they live! Learn more at www.heartlandharmony.net/aboutanni.
Karrie Steely is an artist, writer and teacher living in the remote reaches of southwest Nebraska. She and her partner work and create on their homestead farm during the warm season, and explore the southwest in an off-grid camper when the snow flies in the mid-west. She finds inspiration and connection in the diverse natural landscapes she's immersed in. When not exploring or creating, she focuses on her passion about rural community building through the arts. In McCook, Nebraska she's been making safe spaces for creative expression, working on an amazing community-based mural, and is involved in the realization of a creative arts district. Learn more at www.ksteely.com/about.
Pine Ridge South Dakota
Kyle was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Rez where he discovered his love for skateboarding, music, culture & filmmaking. Kyle started hosting local Events and shows. He founded and built the facility “Ground Control” which is an indoor skatepark / multimedia studio where skaters and artists can express themselves freely. Today he continues to create opportunities and advocates for the skaters and artists of his rez. Learn more about Kyle.
White Earth Nation
Courtney Bunker, an Anishinaabe artist from White Earth Reservation, has been working with Black Ash, Birchbark, Quills, and Beads since 2018, under the name Niibidoon. She enjoys learning from elders in her community and adds her own creative twist on traditional mediums. She also has learned digital art and has been able to express herself creatively through digital art.
Erika Nelson is an independent artist and activator, exploring contemporary art in the public realm. While living in a vehicle for two years, she explored the nooks and crannies of the United States seeking out the odd and unusual, gathering stories of people who build immersive home art environments, as well as roadside vernacular architecture known as World’s Largest Things. She developed her own traveling roadside attraction and museum featuring The World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things, settling in Lucas Kansas. She now serves as the Cultural Resources Director for the Garden of Eden art environment, a field representative for Kansas' Creative Arts Industries Commission, a Humanities Kansas scholar, and community activator. Her artwork manifests itself in a series of innovative, engaging public art projects incorporating art into the Everyman’s everyday experience. Through her travels, she has prepared a full meal utilizing foil and her automobile's radiator and heat manifold, stood on a sideshow performer lying on a bed of nails with a genuine Kansas Cowboy at the last functioning 10-in-1 sideshow in Coney Island, found out what The Thing is in southern Arizona, drunk free ice water at Wall Drug, eaten Rocky Mountain Oysters, seen Rock City, and been stuck in a traffic jam in Branson in front of Yakov Smirnof. Learn more at www.worldslargestthings.com/aboutus.htm.
Mary Ellen Jones
Mary Ellen Jones is a storyteller, filmmaker and community leader from California now living in Michigan. She spent many years producing television shows in Hollywood while also advocating for diversity, equitable pay for women and mentoring young people. When she asked herself some hard questions about the overall quality of her life, some adjustments were needed…primarily, finding love. Fast forward to committing to her person , she moved to rural NE Michigan and is thriving as an artist. Telling nuanced stories of voiceless, marginalized people influences her art. As a member of the Harrisville Arts Council and Farm to Fork Alcona, she contributes her distinctive voice to art, social issues and is passionate about marketing the many assets along the shores of Lake Huron.
Andrea V. Duarte-Alonso
Andrea V. Duarte-Alonso is a first-generation, Mexican-American, midwesterner. Growing up with parents working in the meatpacking plant industry, she had the privilege of moving around small towns in the midwest. She began her storytelling passion at a young age, writing short stories in notebooks purchased at the local thrift store. In 2016, She started "Stories from Unheard Voices", an online platform documenting the lived experiences of first and second-generation immigrants in Greater Minnesota. andrea is a freelance writer, a poet, and an educator. She loves getting to meet people and their stories, especially those that aren't often heard. Learn more about Andrea.
Klaire A. Lockheart
Vermillion, South Dakota
Klaire A. Lockheart is a feisty artist who uses traditional oil painting techniques to critique historical injustices in the traditional Western art world. She has lived in South Dakota since she earned her MFA from the University of South Dakota, and she is Miss Art World South Dakota. Lockheart enjoys using the human form as a vehicle to communicate the agency of women with viewers, especially since women artists were historically prohibited from studying live models and making historic paintings. In addition to addressing femininity and feminism within her artwork, Lockheart incorporates humor to make serious subjects approachable. Learn more at www.klairelockheart.com.