Shanai Matteson is a writer, public artist, and cultural organizer.
She lives and works in northeast Minneapolis and across the Mississippi River watershed.
Shanai is from the small town of Palisade in northern Aitkin County, and still spends much of her time in rural Minnesota. She draws inspiration for her creative and community life from the working-class people who raised her, the stories they tell, and their relationships with land and water that she still calls home. She is a mother of two young children, who inspire her to consider all of the ways that raising a family, participating in community life, working for social and environmental justice, and creating public art, can be part of an integrated whole.
Shanai is co-founder and collaborative director of Water Bar & Public Studio, an artist-led benefit corporation that serves water to build relationships and transform culture.
She is also one of the founding artists behind Works Progress Studio, a public art and design studio focusing on collaborative socially-engaged artistic and design projects.
Shanai was one of the designers and artistic directors of the City Art Collaboratory program of Public Art Saint Paul, a fellowship and think tank for public artists and scientists immersed in systems thinking and paradigm work.
She is a core partner in Healing Place Collaborative, a group of artists, educators, researchers and activists who play leaderships roles in articulating the vital nature of the Mississippi River in the life of the Twin Cities - a Dakota place.
Her collaborative artistic projects have been featured in museums and art spaces across the United States, but whenever possible, she prefers to work in public spaces close to home.
Shanai loves working with others on collaborative projects that are rooted in place and ecology, and which grow cultures of reciprocity and care. She is most interested in emergent work at the margins of established fields and practices, and believes that edges and intersections provide fertile ground for artists and others to learn and create, with and in their communities.
Shanai studied creative writing at the Perpich Center for Arts Education, attended the University of Minnesota (Cultural Studies, History of Science, Museum Studies). She is an alum of the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs (H.E.C.U.A.) City Arts Program (now Art for Social Change), was a Fellow in the Creative Community Leadership Institute at Intermedia Arts, received a 2013 Bush Fellowship, and was the recipient of a 2014 River Stewards Emerging Leader Award from the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation.
She is a 2018 McKnight Visual Arts Fellow. As an artist, she and her collaborators have been awarded artistic grants from Forecast Public Art, Metropolitan Regional Art Council, National Endowment for the Arts, and Minnesota State Arts Board. Her artistic work is collaborative, iterative, and emergent.
In addition to her ongoing work as an artist, small business owner, and collaborative director of a locally-focused art and ecology space, Shanai serves on the Advisory Group for the US Water Alliance's new national project Advancing One Water Through Arts and Culture.