Epicenter has just received a $45,000 grant from American Express to fully fund the design, construction, and performance monitoring for the Frontier House!
At 650 SF and $36,000 (not including land and fees), the Frontier House is designed to be a housing prototype to address the overuse of mobile homes (“trailers”) in rural places, specifically in Green River where 28% of the housing units are trailers. These 133 Green River trailers house 49% of our population. Most of these homes (2 in 3) were built before 1976, before the federal government dictated minimum standard building codes. This means these homes are over forty years old, built with 2×2 very thin walls, and suffer from a lack of efficiency and durability. This prevalent issue has come to light as our Fix It First program began offering assistance to homeowners living in trailers by making critical home repairs. We soon discovered these old trailers were requiring more costs in repairs than the home was even worth, yet there were limited to no other housing options for these families that were affordable.
This new housing prototype seeks to bring homeownership within reach for our low-income populations. As a stick-built home, the Frontier House will serve as an asset for a family, rather than a depreciating “vehicle” as trailers are treated across the country. In this way, we hope to build a family’s wealth and home security so that they can escape intergenerational poverty and have an asset to borrow against for such things as higher education and entrepreneurship.
—A report from the field by Kirsten Southwell, Frontier Fellow.
When asked, “So what are you going to do in Utah?,” my response was, “Something about rocks.”
The vagueness was both a blessing and a curse. This was my first artist residency, and the lack of a plan left me worried that I wouldn’t be able to perform. In reality, I could not have ever premeditated the project that organically grew out of my time in Green River.
I started my learning about the raw materials native to the area, specifically in the context of the mining history of the region concerning coal, uranium, salt, gypsum, and potash. I was obsessed with how mines and tailing ponds looked from above—open wounds and unnaturally colored geometric ponds. I can’t fully articulate the source of my fantastical interest in mining, but I appreciate how Lucy R. Lippard explains her preoccupation with gravel pits:
“Like archaeology, which is time read backwards, gravel mines are metaphorically cities turned upside down, though urban culture is unaware of its origins and rural birthplaces… Their emptiness, their nakedness, and their rawness suggest an alienation of land and culture, a loss of nothing we care about.”
— Undermining: A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West
The story of mining is the story of civilization. In modern times, the imagination for what is below continues to encourage the industry to thrive, both shaping and being shaped by the geological constraints and cultural demands of our world. This is especially true in the Colorado Plateau of Utah—where Green River sits—as a region of exceptionally rich natural history and diverse human interest. Here, we can see the triumphs and failures of the impact of mining in both the people and environment.
I visited mines to take pictures and collect specimens. I tried using different natural materials I collected to manipulate textiles: finding rusted metal for shibori, dissolving potash into mordant, applying salt crystals to wet dyed fabrics. While my experimentation veered into abstraction, I grounded myself by visiting the local John Wesley Powell museum archives, the Utah Natural History Museum, and a trip to the Western Railroad and Mining Museum in the neighboring town of Helper to attempt to understand what natural forces make the Colorado Plateau so rich and how what is underneath has shaped life above ground.
Pulling from my own professional background in the museum world, I decided that my project would be a digital museum exhibit called The Romance of Mining. It blends fact, fiction, and narrative to explore the financial and interpersonal value of natural resources, the lure of the mine, and our thirst to control our surrounding landscapes. All of my experiments and specimens are artifacts in my exhibition, including a quilt, a dress, a portrait series, and select pieces from local’s personal rock collections.
The work I made is only half the story. The project was very ambitious for just one month, and I felt endlessly exhausted. My sanity, positive attitude, and do-it-to-it spirit would have been completely impossible if not for the social backbone and community warmth from the people of Green River.
The people of Green River, and especially the Epicenter staff, are very generous. It’s one thing to move to a small town for a month, it’s another to move to a small town with an awesome group of thoughtful and hilarious people that will endlessly entertain and engage you. I have a tinge of sadness knowing that I won’t be here to tailgate for the next City Council meeting or scarf the ‘za with you all of you again soon, but am humbled to have met people so incredibly dedicated to their community.
On that note, I was also impressed with the respect that Epicenter has garnered here, and that respect seemed to be reflected onto myself by extension. The people that participated in my project were bringing me into their homes without question, sometimes without even meeting me in person. These were some of my favorite moments, watching people light up while talking about the rocks they decided to pick up a rock—out of an endless world of rocks—and bring home.
Life after this residency is a bit of a mystery to me. I have a little peace knowing I will get to continue wrapping up this project from home, and I hope that the emotional and mental effort I put into developing my artistic practice will continue. I look forward to following the work that is continues to happen here in Green River, and am so excited for all of the future fellows to fearlessly dive in and get weird. I’ll be leaving behind some rocks for you, and a cheat sheet of all the best mines.
Today, we bid farewell to a great collaborator and friend. Armando Rios, who first joined Epicenter as an AmeriCorps VISTA in 2012, will be leaving us for new opportunities in the great state of Michigan. Over his four years in Green River, Armando has helped Epicenter achieve momentous things, including:
– the completion of the first Green River Habitat for Humanity House,
– raising $70,500 in grants for Habitat for Humanity and serving a year-and-a-half on their Board of Directors,
– starting and developing Fix It First, recipient of the Utah Housing Coalitions’s 2014 Rural Project of the Year,
– 37 Fix It First project completed, affecting 100 Green River Residents and repairing 25% of the 146 homes identified by the Green River Housing Plan as in need of repairs, and
– raising $93,000 in grants for Epicenter, and self-generating $40,305 for the Fix It First program through client repayments that sustain the program perpetually.
We will miss his service, unparalleled work ethic, drumming abilities, and mirthful excitement. Below are some of our fondest memories of Armando and Green River.
5. (Almost) Every Taco Tuesday: Taco Tuesday has been a tradition since Epicenter’s inception: every Tuesday at 11:30 AM the staff goes to a local Mexican eatery (cue the never-ending La Veracruzana v. La Pasadita debate) and eat lunch (sometimes actual tacos) together. Regardless of the potential for slow service or mixed-up orders, Armando is always down for Taco Tuesday, and I love that about him.
4. Church Camp (circa July 2014): During Armando’s time in Green River, he’s always been the drummer for the house band. Of all the times they played, my favorite night was actually just a random Church Camp practice. It had been a +100-degree July day, but we had just been blessed with a late-afternoon rainstorm. With the garage doors open, a cool breeze, and the multi-colored Christmas lights reflecting off the wet concrete driveway, Chris Lezama and Armando played to an audience of me and a few others. Everything felt just right.
3. The Battle of Westwater (July 21, 2014): Every summer in July, Epicenter goes on a Westwater rafting trip. On the second day of the 2014 trip, a great naval battle was waged. I don’t recall the details of the battle, as much of it was a blur, but I could guess that while Chris was attempting to water-board me, Justin Queen was probably Hulk-smashing Armando into the river. Or maybe he was just peacefully hiding under the shade of the raft. You never quite know with Armando.
2. GRHS Basketball: I love going to sports games of all kinds, I always know that I could count on Armando to join me in cheering on the Green River High basketball team. The DJ G. Riches jams and semi-warm nachos just won’t be the same without Armando’s nervous panicking during the last few minutes of the closest rivalry games.
1. Grand Canyon: Epicenter has a tradition of road trip staff retreats, and the 2013 trip to the Grand Canyon puts all other road trips to shame: swimming in cold Lake Powell on the hottest day of our lives, sleeping on the edge of the Grand Canyon without another soul for miles, finding scorpions by blacklight at night, learning how (not) to dribble an Australian rugby ball. I worry that we’ll never have as good a trip as that one.
None of these memories are directly work-related. That’s not to say that Armando wasn’t an incredibly valuable asset to Epicenter’s work; he built the Fix It First program up from the ground! He will be missed in the office, but he will especially be missed as a contributor to the culture of Epicenter after-hours and to the community of Green River at large. He’s our ambassador of good times, sultan of summer, bringer of beats, dancer to Pony, lover to all, and the most fashionable longboarder/cyclist for over 100 miles.
You’ve left your mark on this place, Armando, and you won’t soon be forgotten.
– Maria Sykes, Principal of Arts and Culture, 2009-present
Despite his self-infatuation as a Leo, Armando is quick to speak of his love for each of us: those here now, those in the past. The “I love you”‘s he throws out to everyone can come across as flippant, but in quieter moments we’ve had one-on-one, I can honestly say he’s actually very genuine in his care for us all, noting specific reasons and lengthy stories that he holds on to. For years he served as the Volunteer House on-site manager, often the first to welcome the hundreds of people that have visited with a hand-written note, local tips, and an invitation to watch the sunset. It’s not uncommon that people recall a story with Armando as a key component of their time here in Green River, no matter the length of their visit. It’s Armando’s everyone’s-always-invited attitude that I hope we find a way to maintain after he leaves.
Beyond that, he simply gets shit done. He has been at the bad end of plumbing, in tiny crawlspaces and attics, installed drywall overhead, renovated a dog kennel, and pulled weeds alongside volunteers he recruited, doing all these things in what most would determine inclement weather. Armando’s also the one making sure there is music and beer for the beach, to which I can’t recall one instance where he declined going.
– Jack Forinash, Principal of Housing, 2009-present
There are too many great Armando memories—we all know this. But one of my favorite first memories was Melon Days 2012. It was the first time Armando and I had been on a float in a parade. Thrilled to be nuzzled up next to itchy hay bales, a half-dozen excited children, and buckets of candy to throw at the parade watchers, it was quite the introduction to our new home in Green River. This was only the beginning of our time in the wild, wild, West—packed with new adventures and endless happy moments.
Armando’s love for Green River and the people that live here is intoxicating. I truly admire his commitment to the work he has done, and this all attests to Armando’s quality of loyal friendship. He is a true friend: trustworthy, honest, and incredibly fun. I feel very lucky to have had time to work with and get to know the one and only Armando Rios Verde.
– Ashley Ross, AmeriCorps VISTA, 2012-2013
Armando was the first person I really got to know at Epicenter. Just a few days into my internship last summer, he and I left Green River to drive a group of design students from Japan around the Mountain West and then to Design Build Bluff where they worked on some small design-build projects. We acted as chauffeurs and advisors, radio DJs and cultural ambassadors. Many of the stories gathered here highlight Armando’s insatiable desire for fun and entertainment, but what I remember most from that trip is his equally strong sense of caring and responsibility. He remained protective of those students (whether hiking on a cliff edge or preparing for a night on the Las Vegas strip) and a diligent teacher. Looking at what Armando has accomplished over his four years at Epicenter, it is obvious that those qualities—his sense of responsibility and his care for others—have allowed him to foster great relationships with volunteers and grow the Fix It First program into an award-winning precedent. I saw all of that immediately within him. Over a year later, that trip with those Japanese students and Armando is still my fondest memory of my time at Epicenter.
– Bryan Brooks, AmeriCorps VISTA, 2015-present
1. 8-8-88 Celebration: Armando’s 27th birthday including tattoos by Mary, a dance party, and an amazing time.
2. Melon Days: Matching watermelon shirts for the parade, the watermelon eating contest, volunteering at the kid’s art booth, and everything in between.
3. Swamp Cooler: Although it was freezing, Armando eagerly helped remove a swamp cooler off a roof for a home repair. We enjoyed throwing it off the roof so much that, for a second, we considered carrying it back up to be able to throw it back down again.
4. Sardines Champ: Ten of us searched for Armando for a good half hour while playing Sardines. Turns out he was hiding under the couch. Luckily no one sat down.
5. Disc Golf: Armando’s sense of style is unsurpassed in almost all situations. The outfit he wore while playing disc golf further confirmed this.
6. Backyard Pool Parties: Armando: the pool inflator, filler, and DJ.
7. Utilikilt: The first day Armando wore his homemade Utilikilt working on site… only to spill Horchata on it during lunch at the taco truck.
8. Swasey’s Beach: Armando was always at the beach, but the most memorable moment was probably his impersonation of Baywatch last summer. Unfortunately, this resulted in losing another pair of his glasses to the mighty Green River.
Thank you Armando for playing such a large part in making Green River great and unforgettable. You were always willing to hang out—whether it was Sunset Club (I always look east now because of you), binge watching Netflix on cold winter weekends, or just sitting around the fire telling awesome stories. Green River is going to miss you, but Grand Rapids is going to be great. In all sincerity, ‘preciate ya!
– Katie Anderson, AmeriCorps VISTA, 2015-present
(June 7, 2016) Today, ArtPlace America announced that Epicenter’s Riverside Common is one of
80 projects that it will consider for its 2016 National Creative Placemaking Fund. These 80 projects are 6% of the 1,361 initial applications that ArtPlace reviewed.
ArtPlace America’s National Creative Placemaking Fund is a highly competitive national program that invests money in communities across the country in which artists, arts organizations, and arts activity will help drive community development projects that are addressing challenges or opportunities related to agriculture and food; economic development; education and youth; environment and energy; health, housing; immigration; public safety; transportation; or workforce development. Epicenter has proposed Riverside Common, a new, affordable multi-family housing community in Green River, Utah.
As the next step in ArtPlace’s process, Epicenter will complete more extensive application materials and schedule a site visit with an ArtPlace staff member and a national peer expert this summer. ArtPlace will convene these peer experts for an in-person panel meeting this fall and will then announce the final projects in which it will invest a total of $10.5 million in December 2016.
The complete list of the 2016 finalists for ArtPlace’s National Creative Placemaking Fund may be found here
About Epicenter’s Riverside Common
Green River’s 2012 Affordable Housing Plan (rated a top ten plan in the state by the governor’s office) identified a severe lack of rental housing: only twelve apartments exist in town (2.5% of all housing). Epicenter and its partners are working to construct twelve new and well-designed multi-family housing units that provide durable and efficient options for local residents. These units will innovate a model of housing in rural places, where traditional funding and access to architectural design are scarce. This Riverside Common will raise the collective standard of living, empower residents to become change leaders and beautify the community through design.
Riverside Common will double the available multi-family rental units in town and provide currently unavailable options (e.g. studio, multi-bedroom, and fully-accessible units). Elderly residents will have the option to age-in-place rather than 60 miles away from their family and lifelong home. Young adults will gain an affordable option outside of their parents’ home. The project will improve the standard of living, decrease substandard housing (specifically overcrowded mobile homes), and demand more of negligent landlords. The outdoor shared space will foster a micro-community and provide a third-space for populations that have been traditionally underserved including elderly, young, disabled, Hispanic, and low-income residents. Riverside Common will be the new standard for affordable and well-designed housing in Green River and for rural communities throughout the country.
About ArtPlace America
ArtPlace America (ArtPlace) is a ten-year collaboration among 16 partners foundations, along with 8 federal agencies and 6 financial institutions, that works to position arts and culture as a core sector of comprehensive community planning and development in order to help strengthen the social, physical, and economic fabric of communities. ArtPlace focuses its work on creative placemaking, which describes projects in which art plays an intentional and integrated role in place-based community planning and development. This brings artists, arts organizations, and artistic activity into the suite of placemaking strategies pioneered by Jane Jacobs and her colleagues, who believed that community development must be locally informed, human-centric, and holistic.
Media contact: Maria Sykes
Epicenter and Pyramid Youth Programs are partnering again this summer to bring a creative summer day camp to Green River. Pyramid has some excellent summer programming (like river running!) and we’re excited to be a part of it.
Dates: July 25-28, 2016 from 9am – 2pm. These dates are firm. You would need to arrive 5-7 days prior for orientation and preparations.
Compensation: $2000 stipend and a $1000 materials budget. Free lodging for up to two people.
Support: At minimum, you would have support from one Pyramid summer staff and one AmeriCorps VISTA. Pyramid and Epicenter can provide tools, but please list needs in your proposal.
Programming: Projects need to be arts or design focused. Ideas that have been discussed by the staff include, but are not limited to: theatre/performance, visual arts, performing arts, costume design, furniture design, sculpture, singing, songwriting, writing/poetry, design/build toys, and visual arts basics. Other camps will cover the following, so please do not submit proposals focused on: food/cooking, storytelling, dance, or film/photography.
Restrictions: The kids are 5-13 years old with little to no arts experience. The number of kids can be capped if you require it, but you can expect 5-15 kids otherwise. Projects should occur on-site at the Community Center or within walking distance (located at 125 S Long Street). The project must be completed within the week and result in a final deliverable such as an opening, booklet, performance, and/or young artists taking home a completed work of art.
Potential Venues: Pyramid’s facility has one large room with a stage and a commercial kitchen. OK Anderson Park has plenty of green space, a fenced-in concrete basketball court, and a baseball field. Green River State Park also has plenty of grassy area and a boat ramp with a dock. Green River High School has two gymnasiums and one theatre. The JWP Museum has a movie theatre and one large meeting room.
Your proposal should include:
-A CV/resume, include past experience with youth
-A draft/outline of the 4-day camp (full lesson plan not required at this time)
-List skills that kids will be learning (e.g. drawing techniques, crochet, color theory, creative process)
-1-3 applicable references from teaching artist positions or applicable work/projects
Email your proposal(s) to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, June 17 at 9am MST. There is no limit to the number of proposals you can submit. Due to the high number of applications, we are unable to answer questions prior to your proposal submission. If your proposal is selected, we will contact you directly.
We have a unique opportunity for an exceptional designer with a wide and varied skill-set: a chance to spend a year living and working in a small town in Utah. To help citizens of this rural community lead better lives. To demonstrate the value of design in community problem solving. To gain a one-of-a-kind experience in an alternative model of professional practice. To learn new skills. To improve our non-profit. To improve yourself.
We believe this desert town can bloom, but there is work to be done. We’d like to work with you to do it.
Who We Are
Epicenter is a design-driven community development organization that serves the rural town of Green River, Utah. Epicenter strives to provide local solutions to community problems through a holistic approach with projects in three sectors: affordable housing advocacy and repair, business development, and arts and culture. An agile team of designers, creatives, and doers, we have a community-centered and multidisciplinary approach to problem solving and innovation. Here, we nurture local businesses, artists, entrepreneurs, and ideas.
We’re dedicated to this town and our practice, but constantly building on what we do and redefining how we do it. We are looking for more ways to engage our community and to help citizens envision their future. That’s where you come in.
Who You Are
— You’re an adept designer who is looking to take a deep dive into a rural community to learn about its issues and to strategize how its strengths can overcome its weaknesses.
— You have an eye for detail, a mind for numbers, and a willingness to get your boots dirty.
— You have exquisite verbal, visual, and written communication skills.
— You dream of open spaces, big skies, bold colors, and promising futures.
— You have experience and/or interest in working on a team with different skills and backgrounds.
What You Will Do (examples)
— Document, demonstrate, and articulate the value of design in addressing Green River’s problems.
— Execute graphic design for Epicenter’s projects, programs, events, and the organization as a whole.
— Strategically gather information and analyze data to help determine community needs and wants.
— Facilitate opportunities to help improve local businesses and local workforce.
— Assist in planning and execution of local events that encourage community participation and celebrate Green River.
— Work with motivated local organizations and co-workers to improve this community.
Compensation and AmeriCorps VISTA
The position is a twelve-month, full-time VISTA position that is potentially extendable for an additional year, or with successful fundraising, could become a full-time salaried position. VISTA members receive a living allowance, a health insurance benefit, a relocation allowance, pre-service orientation training, assistance in finding housing, and an education award of $5,775 or cash award of $1,500 at successful completion of service.
AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is a national service program designed to fight poverty, originally envisioned by President John F. Kennedy. Most current Epicenter staff members originally arrived to Epicenter via AmeriCorps VISTA and we are proud to offer this position once again.
We have funding, community partners, and the initiative to make this town as vibrant as its backdrop. All we’re missing is you. Come join us this year.
To apply, send your CV/resume, design portfolio, and a one-page cover letter to VISTA@ruralandproud.org by Monday, June 6 at 9am MST. If you have any specific questions about VISTA, please visit the Corporation for National & Community Service website.
We look forward to meeting you.
National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Jane Chu announced 64 awards totaling $4.3 million supporting projects across the nation through the NEA’s Our Town program. Epicenter and the City of Green River’s partnership is one of the recommended projects for an award of $50,000 to support the “Rural and Proud Initiative” to assist and support revitalization projects in downtown Green River, Utah.
The Our Town grant program supports creative placemaking projects that help to transform communities into more lively, beautiful, and resilient places with the arts at their core. The NEA received 240 applications for Our Town this year and will make awards ranging from $25,000 to $100,000.
“For six years, Our Town has made a difference for people and the places where they live, work, and play,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Projects such as the one led by Epicenter and the City of Green River, Utah, help residents engage the arts to spark vitality in their communities.”
“Often called ‘the Crossroads of the West,’ Green River is at a crossroads of another kind. This small desert community is in the process of choosing its next phase. Like many rural towns, this desert community can passively accept the economic conditions it was given, or we can choose to commit to strengthening our roots, embracing our people and history, and finding creative ways to empower the community. Green River has chosen the latter. The Rural and Proud Initiative will remind residents of Green River’s history and traditions, invigorate us to creatively voice our desires for the future, transform downtown into a more vibrant destination, and involve designers in making those desires a reality.” –Epicenter principal of Arts & Culture, Maria Sykes
To begin the project, Epicenter and the City of Green River will invite selected designers to support local ongoing revitalization efforts through small scale arts/design projects. Projects will reveal and reinforce the distinct character and quality of Green River and reimagine and activate locations downtown, especially forgotten spaces. Proposed projects will support and shape the ongoing local effort to enhance quality of life and opportunity for local residents, increase creative activity, and discern and celebrate this place.
Projects will foster interaction between community members and discover new ways to engage existing resources, spaces, and cultures. Participation is by invitation only. A local selection committee will select four projects.
For a complete list of projects recommended for Our Town grant support, please visit the NEA web site at arts.gov. The NEA’s online resource, Exploring Our Town, features case studies of more than 70 Our Town projects along with lessons learned and other resources.
To join the Twitter conversation about this announcement, please use #NEAOurTown16.
Green River is in dire need of not just affordable housing but also durable and efficient housing to replace our deteriorated housing stock. Astonishingly, trailers account for 28% of total housing units in Green River (compared to 6% nationwide or 4% in Utah). And, based on a recent study by Epicenter, 69% of all trailers are built before July 1976, before HUD established a national building code for mobile homes. Of all housing types in Green River, still the figure is high: 47% of all homes are in need of repairs (ref: 2012 Green River Housing Plan). We seek to eliminate substandard housing in Green River through a holistic approach including home repairs (via our award-winning Fix It First program), new multi-family housing construction (currently in pre-development), and through our design and construction of the Frontier House by the end of 2016.
This study acts as a guide for precedent and best practices for the Frontier House and any future single-family construction in Green River.
We’re excited to announce our next round of Frontier Fellows and returning artists! Click here to download a PDF of the announcement.
Feb/Mar — Walker Tufts
Mar — Catherine Page Harris*
Apr — Hannah Vaughn + Damien Delorme
Apr — Sincerely Interested*
May/Jun — Kirsten Southwell
Jul — Anne Thompson
Sep — Ashley Ross*
Oct/Nov — Jessi Barber
Jan — Clive Romney
Feb/Mar — Sarah Schneider
Apr — Charlie Macquarie
May/Jun — Erika Lynne Hanson
Aug/Sep — Caitlin Denny
Oct — Tristan Wheelock
*Artists with an asterisk next to their name are returning visiting artists, technically not new Frontier Fellows.
Want to join us in 2016 or beyond? Stay tuned here.