The Mill Works to Help Artists Affected by Quarantine

Rachel Toups.

By Sue Moore

The Mill at Vicksburg, committed to growing the existing arts and culture community in southwest Michigan, sponsors the Mill Music Residency and the Prairie Ronde Artist Residency. When pandemic forced the residencies to temporarily postpone their programming, they searched for alternatives that would allow them to continue serving artists and their community of local and online followers.

“The Mill is a cathedral for big ideas,” exclaimed musician and audio/visual producer Jonah Cohen from his home office in Seattle. He was the initial audio producer in 2019 for The Mill’s Musical Residency in Vicksburg.

Now the residencies are about to rise again in the virtual world.

Artists and performers are really hurting now with music venues, studios, and gallery spaces currently closed, according to John Kern, director of both residencies. The Vicksburg residencies have devised a way to help, he said. “Many arts organizations and artists have been deeply impacted by what’s happening right now. So, we solicited proposals from our former artists in which we offered to pay them a small stipend in exchange for 30 minutes of digital content.”

Chris Moore, The Mill at Vicksburg founder, green-lighted the effort to support two visual artists and two musicians. There were so many good ideas that it was decided to offer five people a contract.

“We are developing a collaboration between us and the artist by asking them, ‘How do we take what you have and put it to work?’” Cohen said. “We are attempting to take the current situation and make something positive out of it, creating enthusiasm and excitement by programming and celebrating art and culture and creativity for people who make and do these things. We’re attempting to program The Mill before it can even be opened.”

Cohen said the challenge is to figure out how to navigate paying artists to do 30-40-minute sets in a video, clean it up a bit, and put it out for the public to enjoy.

The plan is to have participants capture their video and audio from their home and/or studio and then have Cohen and Taylor Kallio, of Kalamazoo Aerial Media, assist the artists in achieving the effect they are looking for from off site, or while maintaining proper social distancing. While Cohen works with selected musicians, Kallio is working with the visual artists who are encouraged to consider creating content that discusses a technique, or a studio tour.

One of the artists, musician Rachel Toups, found a beautiful location to film. She was inspired to do a little more than just set up a phone in her living room, so she devised a way to make her work a bit more visually interesting.

“They are very excited to be able to pursue their art,” Kern said. Cohen and Kallio will help the artists map out their 30 minutes of material in pre-production meetings. The artists can then record the content, themselves or with the help of a producer, who will then complete the post-production work.

Once the 30-minute videos are complete, Kern will work with the producers, artists, and the Mill’s marketing team to create a plan with images and a timeline for release of the content. Promotional footage and images will be released to help push the work out on The Mill and the Prairie Ronde web and social media platforms. The current plan is to release the 30-minute blocks with links to both organizations’ YouTube channels.

Toups and visual artist Penelope Anstruther, are the first two participants chosen for this project. They were here in 2018 as resident artists.

Natalya Critchley, a visual artist currently living in Kalamazoo and previously Venezuela, was the second visual artist selected. Kevin Large is the other scheduled musician. He was in Vicksburg as the opening act for the Moondoggies, playing in the former Home Again consignment store to commemorate the launch of the Mill Music Residency in the fall of 2019.

How to get people to tune in? It will hinge on local interest and reliance on each artist’s social media network. For instance, Rachel Toups has approximately 1,000 Instagram followers while the Mill’s Facebook page has 800 to 900. This gives the Mill and Prairie Ronde an opportunity to cross promote with the artist in ways that could increase broader awareness and excitement for the content.

“It’s a new thing for us to experiment with, but this is a good time to try new things. Our participants are all in for it. We can’t know what the audience will look like, or what the reaction to the content will be, but this has the potential to help some people out while offering a nice diversion,” Kern said. “We are fortunate to have this opportunity to help out in some small way.”

The sites will be pushing out content starting in June, according to Kern.

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