Sometime during September of last year I received an email informing me that I had been nominated to participate in the prestigious Vermont Studio Center residency. I had just completed the Caribbean Linked IV residency in Aruba and was quite delighted to know that the work I made there was getting noticed. It was an especially welcome bit of news that came on the heels of an incredible “low” I was experiencing since I moved back home. I had sampled the “good life” for three weeks and wasn’t quite ready to go back to reality.
You are never fully prepared to handle the shift in gears from a super charged creative environment brimming over with unbelievable talent and camaraderie, to the reality of bills and adult responsibilities that await your return. That’s the beautiful thing about artist residencies; they allow you to be selfish for a while. You’re allowed to abandon the burdens of your daily routine and live the way all creative individuals should live: free to create at your own leisure. This is where I pretend that it isn’t always a mad dash in the end for me. But I digress.
Prior to this there had been no big announcement of my receiving the fellowship award on social media or anywhere else. In fact, just a select few were made privy to this information in large part due to my own slightly superstitious belief about counting eggs before they hatch. Life has a way of throwing curve balls and I didn’t want to let myself get too excited about something that wasn’t one hundred percent sure. But is there ever anything in life that is? In any event, I couldn’t subject myself to that much disappointment. And so I sat on this information for about three months as things slowly materialized and the date of my flight gradually approached.
When some persons did finally hear the news their bewildered expression often betrayed their congratulatory remarks, in a very innocent kind of way. The truth is, they had no idea what any of it meant. They couldn’t understand the concept of a residency and how it was relevant to artists. This lack of education and awareness about something as basic as an artist residency is something I’ve spoken about countless times before. But of course this is no fault of the individuals themselves. It merely points to a fractured education system that inhibits the progression of careers in creative disciplines. Regardless, I would always try (and sometimes struggle) to provide a good enough explanation to put their confused minds at ease.
So what is the Vermont Studio Center (VSC) residency and why is it so important?
VSC was founded in 1984 by a group of artists and has since expanded to become the largest international U.S. residency program for artists and writers. The center is situated along the banks of the Gihon River in the historic village of Johnson and, according to their website the location was chosen “with the intention of fostering creativity through community, collaboration, and quiet reflection supported by the unspoiled beauty of the northern Green Mountains.”
VSC includes over 25 buildings, many of which are historic. The center provides studio residencies to artists and writers in an inclusive environment and is committed to fostering creativity far beyond the residency program itself. They support arts education initiatives, cultural exchange programs, and fellowships designed to help creative practitioners facing certain barriers to their expression. Some of the center’s existing and past projects include the Displaced Artists Fund, Learning in Art & Culture Program (LACP), Literature in Translation Program (LiT), Master of Fine Arts in Studio Arts (a low-residency MFA program offered in conjunction with Johnson State College), Staff-Artist Program, Vermont Artists Week and Visiting Artists & Writers Program.
VSC’s campus is simple, sustainable, and tranquil. All housing and studio spaces offer modest comfort, privacy, and easy access to the rivers, mountains, fields, and streams that surround the campus buildings. The campus includes the Red Mill (which contains their administrative offices, communal dining hall, two gallery spaces, an art book library, and a resident lounge); a meditation house (a 24-hour space reserved for group and individual meditation); Schultz and Firehouse 3D Studios; Wolf Kahn, Barbara White, and Church 2D studios; Maverick Writing Studios; Mason House Library for Fiction & Poetry; Lowe Lecture Hall for public events; eight resident housing buildings and a yoga studio.
By this time next week (God willing) I would’ve endured eleven plus hours of flying (with three stops averaging a total of seven hours) before reaching Vermont. I would’ve also experienced the “unforgiving” Vermont winter my artist friends have been warning me about. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly intimidated, especially as someone who has never experienced any type of significant cold. I’ve been mentally “hyping” myself to deal with the weather for about month. Soon I’ll know if my efforts have been in vain. In the mean time I’ll take all the prayers I can get. Thanks.
In September of last year I was nominated for a Vermont Studio Center residency and sponsored by the Reed Foundation. Notes from the Vermont Studio Center Residency is intended to be a series of articles chronicling my experiences at the U.S. residency starting from the issuance of the fellowship award until the conclusion of the month-long program in February, 2017.
This article was first published in the Pepperpot magazine of the Sunday Chronicle newspaper on January 8, 2017. Click on the link to be redirected to their website: