Minnesota artist Ashley Hanson has been named an Obama Foundation fellow — one of only 20 picked from across the world. Based in Granite Falls, Hanson (pictured above in Floyd, Vir., pop. 432) works to revitalize and connect rural communities using art, conversation and, last year, a little yellow school bus.

The foundation chose Hanson for its first class of fellows from more than 20,000 applicants from 191 countries, it announced last week. Those fellows "are creating transformational change on many of the world’s most pressing problems," according to a press release.

“I’m very much still processing it,” Hanson said by phone.

Hanson, 34, got the word in a tough moment. She was in the midst of working on her taxes — which, because she’s a freelance, independent artist, are complicated. And she realized that her adjusted gross income last year came to less than $10,000. “I give everything to this work,” she remembers thinking, “and why? I was in that space.”

That’s when the phone rang.

News that she had nabbed a two-year fellowship with the Obama Foundation — an honor that comes with regular meet-ups and mentoring — was validating. And validation can be hard to come by, she said, especially those in the world of “creative place-making,” a field that uses the arts to build better communities.

“I dropped to my knees,” Hanson said. “We’re out here, scrappy artists making it happen with the very limited resources…”

Hanson, who created PlaceBase Productions, responded to the 2016 presidential election by planning a project that would take her across the country. First in a little yellow bus — and then, when that broke down, in a rented van – she traveled to 24 cities with fewer than 10,000 people. What she found inspired an exhibition at the Outpost Winona.

Read more about that project, called Public Transformation, here.

Hanson has pledged to use the Obama Foundation opportunity to bring all those scrappy artists’ to the table.

“I hope I can amplify more voices," she said Wednesday, "and draw more attention to the work happening out on the prairie and across the country.”