“I was inspired!” Just one of many reactions from participants when I visited an art class in session at Pioneer Pointe. Others commented, “I didn’t know I had any artist in me,” and “I never knew I had this in me!”
Here’s how it all began. The idea for the artist-in-residence program came about in a conversation between Steve Guttormson, Director of PioneerCare Foundation, and Klara Beck, then director of the Kaddatz Galleries in downtown Fergus Falls.
The program was designed to bring a visiting artist into the living settings to lead participation in weekly art workshops with residents. The artist provides the art instruction in each location – PioneerCare Center, Pioneer Cottages and Pioneer Pointe – adapting the activities based on each resident’s interests and abilities. To take it one step further, the artist lives in an apartment at Pioneer Pointe during their residency and is encouraged to immerse themselves socially. The artist participates in other activities, dines regularly with tenants at Pioneer Pointe, and agrees to a three-month residency.
“It’s important for people of all ages to feel empowered to express themselves in creative and meaningful ways,” said Steve Guttormson. “It’s also important to sometimes be an active participant rather than an observer.”
The Kaddatz was awarded a $52,000 Arts Access Grant by the Minnesota State Arts Board in January of 2020. Almost immediately, the program was paused at times and adapted to accommodate pandemic-related restrictions. Amanda Callahan, the Kaddatz’s education coordinator, led workshops early in the program. She also designed and implemented a competitive, nation-wide application process to select artists who would participate. In developing the program, they also received some technical assistance from Springboard for the Arts in Fergus Falls.
Without further ado, let’s meet the artists! Elyse Krista Mische began her residence on November 1, 2021. “I was connected to the Kaddatz Galleries through following them on social media,” explained Elyse Krista, “and when I saw this opportunity, I knew it was literally my dream residency. I was taking a course about art leisure activities and the therapeutic effect they have. Older adults experience losses of various kinds and art has been something that helps; art allows them an outlet to find a different and new purpose. It’s just a different way to look at the world they are currently in.”
Elyse Krista found herself the perfect fit with the tenants and residents. “I so appreciate the way they’ve embraced me,” she said, “and included me in some hilarious conversations and told me all about themselves and their families. It’s been such fun to attend things with them like exercise class, bingo, and even happy hour! They want to know me, too. They ask a lot of questions, and they tell me they are proud of what I’ve achieved. I found out how important education was to them, and I think that’s why they like to come to art class, because they are never done learning.”
Elyse Krista said this residence definitely gave her more real-life experience. “I saw people living each day, coping with little losses along the way,” she said, “and some of these losses can change your identity a bit. I think that’s why it’s so important to come together with others and have experiences that highlight your current personhood.”
Elyse Krista completed her residency at the end of January. “I am going to miss all of these new friends so much,” she said with a bright smile, “and I know there will be a lot of letter writing between us! I learned again that we have so many different lives and that we should be accepting and curious about them. Life is challenging and beautiful. I think art highlights that; it unites people. I am so very grateful for this experience!”
Next up, let’s meet Jeff Rivers, our second resident artist who joined the neighborhood at Pioneer Pointe in February. Jeff always knew he had an interest in art, even though he first thought he would go to law school and eventually have a career in politics. “I guess I always knew I had a real interest in art,” said Jeff, “and I knew in my heart I always wanted to make my own art. I didn’t want to just read about artists or talk about artists; I wanted to BE an artist.”
Jeff attended Ohio University and George Washington University, enrolling in Art History and Design programs. “While at Ohio University, I met an artist,” he explained, “and I thought her work was amazing. She asked about my future plans, explaining that she was moving to Philly. So, I moved to Philly, too! I found it a tough city, one where you had to learn to survive and thrive. That experience taught me the work ethic it took to break the mold of success.”
Jeff began to apply for various artist residencies when he received an email from Amanda at the Kaddatz Galleries in Fergus Falls. “Here was this email that provided me the opportunity to a paying position for what I do,” he said, “and that’s art! I looked so forward to this chance to get away from the city for some peace and quiet; a place to focus on my art making.”
As is the norm, the people residing in Pioneer’s living settings opened their arms to their new resident artist. “Everyone was so welcoming,” said Jeff. “The tenants at Pioneer Pointe regularly leave treats and gifts outside my apartment. They’ve really made me feel like part of their neighborhood.”
Jeff’s art classes with participants are focused on the idea of memory. “We’ve worked through art to break down the idea of memory,” he said, “and we created art about the memory of an important person, an important place, and a favorite object.”
Participants in Jeff’s workshops and classes are learning they can do things with art they never thought possible. “I’m not surprised at what these people can do, because they have the ability through confidence, and I hope I’ve encouraged them to know we all have the ability to do whatever we set our mind to,” explained Jeff.
The Kaddatz leadership was excited about Jeff’s vision to highlight the importance of memory in his time as resident artist. “Memory can be difficult for people this age,” said Jeff, “and I wanted my art to fire a memory for them. I wanted to communicate with them regarding those memories and share not just their art but share each other. Memory creates such a beautiful domino effect. It brings people together. I think it always has, and always will.”
Participants who attend the workshops vary from week to week, but the response is always the same; they enjoy each other’s company and conversations, and are surprised and pleased by what they can accomplish with their art.
When asked about the experience, one responded, “I can refinish furniture and I can sew, but art? I’ve never had anyone teach me to do this. I so look forward to this class every week!” Muriel remarked on the cardboard sculptures they made. Ardis especially liked the collage she created, made from strips of magazine, finished with her own words layered on top.
Bill loved the folk birds and Lois especially remembered working with clay to make pencil holders and candy dishes. Ruth said it was a challenge, but she was certainly up for more and Lois said it’s exciting to see what they can all achieve.
“I never thought of myself as an artist,” said Carolyn, “but every week, I surprise myself. I think we all do!”
“A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.” – Salvador Dali
It seems there has been enough inspiration to go around during this Artist in Residency program at Pioneer; and with inspiration comes joy. We leave you with one final quote from one of our Pioneer artists: “I created this little bird,” she said proudly as she held it tightly to her chest, “and this little bird makes my heart feel better.”
Story by Mary Dolan
Photo credit: art photos by Elyse-Krista Mische
This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund. The PioneerCare Artist in Residency program is a partnership between PioneerCare and the Kaddatz Galleries in Fergus Falls.