Creative Residency

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine living in Portland, Oregon; or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; or Washington, D.C. Now imagine leaving that life, and all the people in it, behind to come live and work in Marquette for three months.

That is what three artists have done. They are the first of a projected three-year pilot program, bringing creative people from out of state to Marquette for a three-month residency. If all goes as hoped, the sponsorsthe Marquette Chamber of Commerce and its creative subcommittee, Evolve Marquettehope to secure long-term funding to make the project permanent.

Evolve Marquette is the cultural and creative alliance called for in the City of Marquette’s 10-year Arts and Culture Master Plan. Its residency program is intended to spark creative connections within Marquette, at the intersection of creative and economic development, and beyond, as each wave of artists takes what they learn and create back to their homes for further dissemination.

Matthew Conboy is one of them. A Pittsburgh-based photographer and multi-media artist, he has found great inspiration just walking around Marquette and its environs, camera in hand, exploring.

Portland-based storyteller Breesa Culver is another. Her energies are directed to seeking out stories of the U.P., listening to what people have to tell her and then giving those reminiscences shape and turning them into podcasts.

Megan Alpert, a poet and journalist living in Washington, is especially grateful for the quiet and serenity that she is finding in Marquette, which is giving her the emotional space to work on poems focused on anger.

“In 2016, it felt like the whole country was really angry,” Alpert said. “No matter what people’s politics were, there was so much anger.”

This got her thinking about anger, as well as about violence and power. How do these things affect relationships between people? How can anger be paralyzing or destructive or even energizing? What does one do with one’s own anger?

From these questions, her poetry is growing. While writing poetry is generally a solitary endeavor, Alpert is exploring the possibility of using her time in Marquette to engage others as well, through readings or audience participation in small groups.

“What we need to start doing is understand our own emotions better,” Alpert said. “We have to become mindful and intelligent about what we feel and what makes us feel that way if we are to make creative and positive use of anger.” She was stirred by marches recently organized by Marquette Senior High School students: “I’m moved by these young people, acting from a plane of ‘yeah, we’re gonna win this.'”

Culver, too, has been moved by stories she has heard and people she has met in Marquette and in other areas of the UP, particularly the Keweenah Peninsula. On a trip there, “Lots of small things struck me as incredibly powerful. A red fox crossing the road. The Jam Pot, where monks live centered on beauty and nature and bread. A sign advertising deer skull boiling. An antique store called The Last Place on Earth.”

Professionally, Culver helps non-profits by helping amplify their stories for potential donors and grants. Here, she hopes to help amplify the stories of ordinary UP residents. She is particularly eager to hear stories that involve matters that are unexplained, perhaps mystical, maybe with strange coincidences; “a little bit eerie but not scary, stories of the improbably that couldn’t happen anywhere but in the UP.”

People who have such stories to tell and wish to share them with Culver are invited to email her at breesaculver@gmail.com.

Culver’s plan is to shape what she hears into podcasts and then distribute them to wider audiences. “They’ll be my love letter to the UP.”

In addition to his own photography, Conboy is working to develop partnerships with UP hospitals, especially in Marquette and Chippewa Counties, to expand a program that he created in Pittsburgh called “Start with Art.” The premise of this program is that art is important to every human being, and that every human being deserves access to art. Literally, then, people can and should start with art. So in several Pittsburgh hospitals, every single baby born there is sent home with their own signed print of an original work of art.

With the Pittsburgh program in its fourth year, Start with Art’s 10,000th baby received her artwork this past January, and Conboy is hoping to expand the program in Pittsburgh as well as in the UP. “The hospitalsnurses, aides, everyoneenjoy it as much as the parents and babies do. They put the medical paperwork into the same bag that the artwork comes in, so that the parents have to open it and touch it. That hands-on touch fosters everyone’s relationship with the art.”

Conboy said, “This is not ‘baby art,’ like pastel bunnies. This is serious, meaningful art. We try to choose art that a baby can enjoy zoning out with in the nursery, and can still enjoy as an adult many decades later.”

In Conboy’s view, it is important that a community invest in local art, because that strengthens the community as a wholea view very much shared by Evolve Marquette, and indeed an important part of its reason for existence. So Start With Art uses the work of Pittsburgh artists for Pittsburgh babies, and the intent is to provide UP babies with the work of UP artists.

The response to Start With Art has been powerful and positive, Conboy said. “I’ve had parents contact me, wanting to get in touch with the artist so they can buy a new work for the baby’s first birthday. One nurse became a mother and gave birth in the hospital she worked it; she sent a three-page critique to hospital administrators of her experiences as a patient in her own hospital, but the last sentence said how thankful she and her family were for the baby’s art.”

Then, said Conboy, “Another mother had a baby in our first year, and he received his art. Last year, she had another baby in the same hospital, but there were major complications and the baby had to be transferred to another facility. But there, in the middle of all the fright and confusion and pain, she stopped and insisted that the new baby receive his art before they left.” Clearly, something deep is being touched with this early hands-on experience with art.

All three artists are finding themselves energized by their residency in Marquette. Alpert had been ill and house-bound when interviewed, but she said, “Every day as I write I look out at Lake Superior. It’s a balm. Being here rather than in a busy city helps me have space and wherewithal to approach difficult emotions.” Culver said, “I love the resilience here. In fact, I feel deeply seduced by the UP. I laugh more, am delighted more when I am here.”

Conboy said, “My calendar is filled every day, meeting people. So I schedule an hour of exercise and then sauna, which refocuses my energy. I never understood before what a sauna could do, and now I get it. Then, I take my camera or my phone and my notebook and go walk around, exploring. I’m feeling enormous energy, and feeling deeply invested in this community. I hope I can take some of this energy and some of this feeling back to Pittsburgh with me.”

Conboy added, “There aren’t many cities that support artists as much as Pittsburgh does, and I’ve been talking with Marquette people about how Pittsburgh approaches art, in order to provide ideas and encouragement. Then, when I return to Pittsburgh, I will proselytize what Marquette has to offer.

That is an important part of what the Marquette Chamber of Commerce is hoping for by bringing these artists to Marquette. Its goals include increasing the contribution and value of the city’s creative industries by ensuring an attractive, supportive and sustainable environment for artists and businesses; supporting the creation of new work by nurturing the creative process and strengthening creative people’s voices in society; and energizing local creative people.

To make this happen, those selected are provided with the opportunity to live and work in Marquette for three months, including staying in a lake-shore house with private bedrooms but shared living space and sauna. The Marquette Food Co-op donates a food stipend to help defray expenses, and the artists have access to a fat bike as well. Funding for this pilot project comes in part from a grant provided by the Michigan Film and Digital Media Office, a part of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Out-of-state artists interested in applying for future residency opportunities should contact director@marquettechamber.org.

As for local artists, Evolve Marquette is developing further opportunities, including an ambassador program providing funding to attend out-of-state creative events and participation in a “Seat at the Table” conversation series allowing local artists and businesses to cross-pollinate and support each other. For more information, visit the Chamber of Commerce’s website.

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