Right in our backyard?
John W. Bateman
Have you ever wondered what a residency program is? According to the Alliance of Artist Communities, there are more than 500 active residency programs in the United States alone. For more than a century, residencies have been an integral part of artist communities in the U.S., particularly as organizations like The MacDowell Colony and Yaddo Corporation helped lead the way and foster environments that, between just the 2 of them, has fueled Pulitzer Prizes, MacArthur Fellowships, a Nobel Prize, and a vast array of works, honors, and awards. Although those are two of the oldest programs in the country, they are far from the only ones.
Residencies can be quite extensive and significant, like the seven-month Fellowships at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Others can be short-term opportunities like two-week opportunities at the Vermont Studio Center, or the Yale Writers’ Conference every June. No residency is alike: some involve workshops and community service requirements, while others simply require artist focus and output. Some are funded, others aren’t. These different experiences offer a tremendous opportunity for emerging and established artists of all genre and media to build their craft and share it with the community.
Did you know there’s one down the road, right in our backyard at the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge?
The Artist-in-Residence at the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, created in 2013, was the first of its kind in the state. Artists who’ve participated in this 2-4 week program at the Refuge have included locals, as well as others from California, New York… even The Netherlands. Part of the draw for artists is the opportunity to learn about the wildlife and culture of Northeast Mississippi.
The benefit isn’t limited to the artist’s own curiosity. Lori Neuenfeldt, Gallery Director at Mississippi State University, seen the program shape the artist’s style and subject matter, such as Caetlynn Booth, who continues to reference the cypress swamps in her paintings. Lori also relayed another benefit from exposure that the Noxubee Residency provides: “I’ve had artists comment on how much they love being here and how surprised they are. Some even mention how different Mississippi is from their preconceived ideas.” The impact extends beyond the artist’s individual experience, whether by their sharing of diverse stories and culture that make up Mississippi’s gothic fabric, or carrying their experience back to their own communities.
In other words, the Noxubee Residency helps influence both art and the outside perception of life in Mississippi.
The Noxubee Refuge also benefits. Steve Reagan, Project Leader at the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge, describes how the Artist-in-Residence provides an alternative perspective on wildlife, the refuge, and the refuge system. Although staff approach their work from a scientific view, the artists approach the Refuge with an entirely different perspective and communicate that with the public in a very different way than trained scientists. He is amazed that, “although the artists connect the dots much differently, we end up at the same destination in regards to the importance and heart of the Refuge, its wildlife, and habitats.” With the help of artists, Steve notes “we can continue to show the public why wild spaces are an important part of our American heritage.”
“But how does the community benefit?”
It’s an important question, so I’m glad you asked! Residency programs create local access. It’s not simply about outside exposure or helping artists. For patrons and community members, particularly those unable to travel widely for the sake of art, the Noxubee Residency creates opportunities for the public to meet new artists, experience different works, and see perspectives they might not ever gain. For instance, the Noxubee Residency requires 2 public presentations by each resident artist.
Much of the programming for the Noxubee Program takes place on location at the Refuge. However, this October, SAAC, MSU, and Friends of the Noxubee Refuge are bringing the summer 2017 Artist-in-Residence to downtown Starkville.
Witness the influence of the Refuge and the residency on the arts community here. For free. On October 20, in the basement at 929 Coffee House in downtown Starkville at 6 p.m., Artist-in-Residence Gillian J. Furniss will share about her work and experience at the Refuge. Her short presentation will be followed by a brief Q&A. Did I mention that the event is FREE?
Bring questions. Be curious.
Interested in the Artist-in-Residence program? Take a look here. Applications are accepted year round.
Self-taught and Stellar
John W. Bateman
I’d heard of Divian, before I met her, through a mutual high school friend. When I first met this astounding, creative, wearing a black wide-brimmed hat and large sunglasses at Nine-twenty Nine, I knew we had to talk about her work. You may know her father, Dr. Douglas Conner, who was the first African-American physician in Oktibbeha County and, at one time, the only medical provider for the black community. Divian is a tremendous talent in her own right. Here’s a bit of our recent conversation about her art, the creative process, and life in Starkville.
You told me when we first met that you are putting together a fine arts exhibit. What is that going to be? There are two things I want to do: one is an exhibit of children. The other is a “Faces of Starkville.” Show real people. The nitty gritty.
I’d love to see a Faces of Starkville exhibit. What do you think the arts community needs?
More shows and exhibits. I want to see more art of all types. Music. Everything. Work different from mine. I encourage my kids to try new things, whether food or activities. Step outside the box. Have fun - we have murder mystery dinner parties and you have to come in costume. I want my children to be more accepting of diversity, so I start with food. I figure if they start by being open to new foods, then they’ll be open to people who are different from them.
Do you have any advice for a young artist who is starting out? You define you. Don’t allow someone else to define you. Their likes and dislikes are not yours. Do what makes you happy. I think people want to change who they are, because they think that’s gonna make them successful. Really, success is about being true and consistent to who you are.
If you’d like to see more of Divian’s work, you can find her on Instagram, or online here or even here… (meanwhile, I’ll be working on an invitation to these murder mystery dinners).
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