Art of the Rural founded Public Launch in 2016 as a collaborative community space located in a downtown storefront in Winona, Minnesota.
This space and its many intersecting communities co-created a unique, equitable atmosphere for people to gather - and for emerging artists to offer programs, conversations, and exhibitions that, because of those cross-sector, intercultural confluences, could not have been presented alongside each other anywhere else.
In 2019, Public Launch deepened its mission to contribute toward the conditions for community problem-solving and long-term cultural exchange as Engage Winona joined Art of the Rural as an equal partner and collaborator in the building, catalyzing a wide range of partnerships toward a vision of a more equitable community. Through the support of the City of Winona, neighborhood work began to cultivate community engagement and creative problem solving, and to further creative community development practices to make visible neighborhoods’ needs, as well as their visions for the future.
Public Launch hosted over 70 events and 12 exhibitions, with all programming free and open to everyone. This work included the launch of Ashley Hanson and the Department of Public Transformation’s public exhibition and the hosting of monthly One Million Cups entrepreneurial networking mornings.
Exhibitions across these years included Mai'a Williams’ Bodies of the Desert poetry/video installation on myth and the Black diaspora, Sharon Mansur's Cedar Tree Project examining Arab identities in Minnesota, a video collaboration with Project FINE sharing the stories of immigrants and refugees in the region, an examination of the stigmas and erasures encountered by individuals addressing mental health in Joy Davis Ripley's Visible/Invisible photography exhibition/engagement series, Jon Swanson’s Winona Characters community portraits series, and musician Mike Munson's Winona Anthems project mixing music, photography, and storytelling to share the experiences of the community's youth skateboarding scene.
In between these activities, Public Launch hosted potlucks, LGBTQ game nights, music performances, entrepreneurial meetings, and presentations, and offered its gathering space to numerous community organizations. At its close during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Public Launch was operated by Art of the Rural and Engage Winona, and co-curated by Nathan Bauman, Matthew Fluharty, and Brian Voerding.
A long-term, collaborative initiative grounded in the cultures, communities, and histories of the Upper Mississippi River region.