Melissa spent the week of August 12-18th in Houston Co. as part of a week-long collaborative residency with her co-CAIR, Todd Melby. It was an experiment to invite two like-minded applicants--one originally from Houston and the other from Minneapolis--to accent each other's ideas, fieldwork and production.
Just over a month has passed since the Crystal Creek Canyon Lodge Citizen-Artist Residency, and still I find myself thinking of it on an almost daily basis.
I’m a contextual person, and often when I approach a project or situation, I move through what I like to call my “data-gathering” process. I gather insights, information, and questions from the situation and people involved. Once I spend enough intimate time with this information, I am able to internalize it to some degree. And then once I internalize, I am able to start distilling my thoughts, questions, or decisions from this internal map.
The residency was a week-long data-gathering process for me. I was completely immersed in it, spending 14 hours conducting interviews (not including prep and research) with 16 people (and a handful of pigs), drove around 300 miles in Houston County alone traveling to and from interviews and residency commitments, and visited six different towns (and even more townships) within Houston County. I talked to a wide variety of people including organic hog farmers (hence those pigs I interviewed), a dairy farmer, a pastor, historians, a volunteer firefighter, a journalist, a politician, an organic whiskey distiller, and an owl enthusiast.
Now, that’s a lot of information. But what did I really take away from this experience? Here are a few sentiments that are starting to distill within me as time moves on.
I grew up in Houston County, and visit frequently, so I know many faces, places, and businesses in the area. However, I continually found myself pleasantly surprised throughout the residency, meeting even more people and businesses doing amazing things for community. For example Sweet 16 Farm run by Sarah Joy Wexler-Mann and her partner Daniel Drazkowski. Or Dayna and Nick Burtness Nguyen and their pastured pig farm, Nettle Valley Farm. And then there’s the International Owl Center in Houston, MN. These are just a few of the many amazing people I was able to interview. I feel endlessly lucky that I got to meet and spend time with these individuals and businesses in my hometown county.
This experience was full of many firsts for me. It was my first artist residency from the side of the artist. It was my first community to gather audio from for a podcast I’m hoping to start. Audio is a relatively new art form to me, and I’m entirely self-taught with audio recording and editing. During this residency, I learned so much about the world of audio from my residency collaborator, Todd Melby. He spent time walking me through some audio editing tutorials, gave me tips on interviewing and field work, and talked through some of my podcast ideas with me. I am so grateful to him for teaching me the ways of audio journalism
I’m already pretty passionate about my rural roots in Houston County, and this residency brought that out even more in me. When I look at my hometown county, and other rural areas in Minnesota, I see so much potential. These rural areas are teeming with community builders, creatives, and entrepreneurs doing interesting things; but I’ve found that there is often a lack of support of, communication between, or opportunities for these people and their work. I was raised by parents who instilled in my siblings and I a sense of entrepreneurism and community responsibility. That said, I am now able to see more ways I can add to and support this community: through my upcoming podcast, through my work in the arts, through the experience and connections gleaned from my masters in Arts & Cultural Leadership at the U of MN. Since the residency, I’ve become even more sure that my work in the arts and as a community will greatly revolve around lifting up, highlighting, and supporting the work of rural community builders, artists and entrepreneurs.
This whole project has always been about one main thing for me: community. I am my happiest and most fulfilled when I am a part of something bigger than myself, and for me, that something has always been community. Through this artist residency, I have grown my definition of community. It exists in so many places: churches, families, city government, neighboring farms, swimming groups, school, coffee shops, art studios… we could keep going. Really, the only magic ingredient that community needs is people. People who connect over something, and then through that connection are able to grow and expand their horizons to build something together. Thank you to every single community that welcomed me in during this residency; you make me want to say all the corny, sentimental, and absolutely genuine things, such as this: you have my heart.
And finally: gratitude. I will leave you with this photo and caption that I posted on my last day of the residency, as it still sums everything up:
“Houston County: thank you. Crystal Creek Canyon Lodge Artist Residency: thank you. Mama Nature: thank you. This last week has been inspiring and overwhelming and thought provoking and all I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you.”