By Jef Rietsma
A pair of artists – one from New York, the other from California – has been selected to participate in the inaugural season of the Prairie Ronde Artist Residency at the former Simpson Paper Mill as its ambitious redevelopment plan moves forward.
In working with the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center (VCAC), the artist-in-residence concept had been imagined in the “thinking about it” stage, said John Kern, who played a key role in creating the program and its guidelines. The VCAC is planning to help by hosting meet and greets and the occasional opening.
“We had been looking at ways in which we could develop a broader creative community even though there’s already a good one existing here in Vicksburg,” Kern said. “We were wondering about how we could raise the profile a little bit.”
The idea gained momentum thanks to Frances Li, a visual artist in New York City. Kern said Li is his wife’s niece and spent a month in the area last year. The visit afforded Li, Kern and his wife, Jackie Koney, an opportunity to debate the merits of an artist-in-residence concept at the former mill.
Kern and Koney are playing major roles in the mill’s redevelopment under the authority of its backer, Chris Moore.
Li was behind an email blast that targeted a network of her friends and like-minded artists who might have an interest in the local opportunity. Kern said nearly a dozen people applied for the position and two seemed to stand slightly above all others.
May Hong, who hails from Brooklyn, N.Y., plans to do mural work over a four-week period once she arrives April 23. Meanwhile, Penelope Anstruther, an Oakland, Calif. resident, is set to do a multimedia project by creating sculptures with found objects from the mill, Kern added.
“The agreement is they can do whatever they want, though we encourage them to incorporate the mill complex as much as they can and Vicksburg in general in their work and in their planning,” Kern said. “In addition, we’ll ask every artist to do some sort of a community give-back, whether that’s open studio space or a gallery opening or some sort of event with some sort of effort to include the village.”
Ultimately, a finished product will be turned over to the Mill for its private collection, Kern said. He added that artist-in-residence participants will receive a $2,000 stipend, a place to stay for their visit and use of a vehicle.
Kern said he is excited for the program to take root. Being part of the interview team, he said, was a thrill.
“They’re all very serious and brilliant people, and they are looking forward to just having quiet time to focus on making what they want to make,” he said. “These are professional artists so they are serious about what they do, they’re eager to be here and participate in the community.”
Kern said the artists will have any portion of the mill not under construction available for inspiration and their use as a workplace.
For now, the local artist-in-residence program will see just one artist working at a time.
“Right now, we’re set up for one at a time,” Kern said. “We’d like to explore maybe growing it into something a little more cohort-driven down the road, but right now, that’s what we have.”
Anstruther plans to arrive in late May and stay a month. Both Hong and Anstruther chose the lengths of their stay, Kern said, noting they were given a window of between four and seven weeks.
The second application series recently closed and Kern, along with others who are a part of the Prairie Ronde Artist Residency program, are in the midst of evaluating their portfolios and bodies of work.