By Sue Moore
The outside renovation of the former Lee Paper mill is work that passersby can readily see from Highway Street in Vicksburg. What isn’t as obvious are the Prairie Ronde Artist Residency members who have done their work inside the Mill at Vicksburg.
Since 2018, artists from all over the world have been invited to live in Vicksburg for one to two months and to create new work in the peace and quiet of the Mill and the village. Their finished work has sometimes been displayed inside the Mill for guests to delight in or, more often, in downtown Vicksburg at Prairie Ronde’s pop-up art gallery, located at 101 E. Prairie.
The Residency program was the brainchild of John Kern who came to Vicksburg four years ago to work with his wife, Jackie Koney, the manager of the Mill project. Kern taught middle and high school for over 25 years, first in Minneapolis and Seattle, then the Republic of Georgia and, most recently, in Kiev, Ukraine. He photographed the streets of Kiev when it was undergoing revolution in 2014 and has an interest in many kinds of arts expression. In 2017, he suggested to Chris Moore, the owner of the Mill, that it would be good for the area arts community to have a full-blown cohort of people who could make art in the Mill. Thus, the Prairie Ronde Residency was born.
The power to exchange ideas was a driving force in Kern’s thinking. He visualized the residency as a place that would provide artists with the space and time to work on their craft in a unique setting, namely Vicksburg and the Mill. The goal was to create a dialog between Vicksburg and the broader arts community where different views might be explored. It would be fully funded with a stipend of $2,000, a place to live while in the village, and $500 for travel expenses. One important stipulation is that participants should give back to the community with a gallery show and a piece of their artwork that would remain with the Mill.
The first 17 artists have offered a wide variety of work. There have been painters, photographers, musicians and visual artists. Pamela Hadley, a light artist from Chicago, will open the third season of artists beginning in April. She will be followed by Erica Ferrari, a sculptor from Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Last year, the Mill joined the Alliance of Artists Communities (AAC). “At first we joined them to stabilize our number of applicants. By joining this organization, we’ve been able to move away from our initial reliance on word-of-mouth applicants. Joining the AAC means that we’re included in a network of over 1,500 residencies around the world – that’s increased our reach into the artist community dramatically and has begun to create the Prairie Ronde Artist Residence, and Vicksburg, as a destination for artists from all over,” Kern noted.
“This is the power of art and culture,” Kern said. “The seeds are planted on some level and suddenly they germinate. We are planting ideas and looking for them to grow in the Mill and the greater Vicksburg community.”
If you’d like more information about the residency and their schedule of coming events, follow them on Facebook or Instagram (@prairierondeartistresidency) and on the web at prairierondeartistresidency.com.