Green River Ignites the Nite!

IMG_0528bPhoto: Ignite the Night pyrotechnics display on South Broadway.

Winter in Green River is typically a time to hunker down by the fire at home. You can rarely find residents venturing outdoors in the Winter at night, except maybe en route to a Green River basketball game. (Go Pirates!) This year was a different story, though, as Epicenter in partnership with the City of Green River, hosted the first annual “Ignite the Night” on South Broadway in Green River to bring people together and celebrate the unveiling of new lighted signs on Main Street.

The evening got started with a bang! Quite a few bangs, actually: a custom fireworks display by Marisa Frantz and Lisa Ward. The display began as a slow-burning fuse that set off a highly-anticipated series of events that could best be described as a pyrotechnic Rube Goldberg machine. Though the fireworks were seen and heard for miles, up-close was the real show. The team had rigged up an elaborate “ladder” of sparkling fuses hung over the street that led to an unlit bonfire in front of the Green River Fire Department.

Once the bonfire erupted into flames, the team celebrated the successful chain reaction alongside an audience of over 60 spectators. The bonfire lighting signaled that it was time for s’mores, chili, hot cocoa, and a live music performance by Clive Romney and friends at the Green River Firehouse. Clive Romney, Executive Director of Utah Pioneer Heritage Arts, was joined by Hank Mason and Jana Wells of Grand Junction, Colorado. They sang original songs of Utah’s rural heritage, pioneers, and folktales. Armed with glow-bracelets and LED accessories, the all-ages audience swelled to over 80 participants who danced and sang along with the musicians.

Those in attendance hope this celebration can become an annual tradition. Epicenter Principal Maria Sykes explains, “We held this event in the dead of winter to bring people together during a time when we tend to be kind of reclusive in our homes. I love that we can do this sort of thing in Green River. To adapt a Phil Conners quote, ‘Standing amongst the people of Green River and basking in the warmth of their hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.’ Sure, Ignite the Night will never be something as big as Groundhog Day, but it’s in the same spirit.”

Mayor Pat Brady shares, “I was not sure what to expect at Ignite the Nite. My expectations were greatly exceeded. The artists hired for the neon lights, the new welcome sign, and the fireworks were absolutely the right people to have done it. Clive Romney and his two vocalists were a perfect fit for the evening. Great lights, great music, great food, and a great crowd. Hopefully, next year even more of the community will participate.”

ITN-B-92bPhoto: The new neon sign at the Green River Coffee Company. Clouds by Lite Brite Neon. Quote from Edward Abbey.

During the week leading up to the event, a team of designers and builders led by artist Lisa Ward had been busy completing the reason for the Ignite the Night celebrations: the creation and refurbishing of lighted signs on Main Street in a project called Green River Lights. Made possible through the National Endowment for the Arts Our Town Program, Epicenter created a new neon welcome sign for Green River (located on the South side of Main Street just West of the Green River Medical Center) and a new neon sign on the Green River Coffee Company, and partially refurbished the La Veracruzana sign, formerly the Ben’s Cafe sign. Clive Romney also held music and storytelling workshops throughout the week for the youth of Green River at the High School, Book Cliff Elementary, Pyramid Youth Programs (PACT), and the Green River Library.

ITN-B-1bPhoto: The new Green River welcome sign.

Also unveiled at Ignite the Night was [light], a prototype for a lighted-bench designed in partnership with the University of Utah College of Architecture + Planning. [light] is currently on display in front of Epicenter (180 South Broadway, Green River, Utah), but will move to Main Street once more benches are fabricated and installed.

IMG_0544bPhoto: [light] on display at the Green River Fire Department for Ignite the Night.

This project and event was made possible with support from: AmeriCorps VISTA, Ryan Baxter, Bryan Brooks, Erin Carraher, City of Green River, Alison Jean Cole, Steph Crabtree, Phil Engleman, Marisa Frantz, Amber Furrer, Mike Goode, The Green River Coffee Company, Green River EMS, Green River Fire Department, Jarod Hamm, Christopher Henderson, Mary Holyoke, La Veracruzana restaurant, Chris Lezama, Lite Brite Neon, Juan Lovato, Kitty Marshall, Hank Mason, Oregon Arts Commission, PACT, Gwen Peck, P&L Electrical, Sara Polito, Waly Pont, Justin Queen, The River Terrace Inn, Robber’s Roost Motel, Clive Romney, Sorenson Legacy Foundation, Nate Stapley, Maria Sykes, Steve & Juanita Sykes, University of Utah: College of Architecture + Planning, Utah Pioneer Heritage Arts, Lisa Ward, Lesa Weihing-Madsen, Jana Wells, Amy Wilmarth, Colin Zaug, and the Green River community.

Please visit our blog in the near future for a film by Ryan Baxter documenting the Green River Lights project and Ignite the Night event.

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017


Epicenter to Receive $20,000 from the NEA

img_0895Photo: Local mule-riding resident in the parade for Green River Melon Days, a 100+ year tradition in Green River, Utah.

—For immediate release:

Green River, Utah – The National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu has approved more than $30 million in grants as part of the NEA’s first major funding announcement for fiscal year 2017. Included in this announcement is an Art Works grant of $20,000 to Epicenter to support community engagement activities celebrating oral histories, folklore, and narrative traditions of Green River. This project will engage artists, musicians, filmmakers, archivists, storytellers, and/or designers to discern and celebrate Green River’s rural pride and pioneering spirit. These artists will express and disseminate various stories and narratives through their preferred artistic media to create a well-designed and thoughtful way of engaging these narratives. Planned activities include interviews of local residents, the design of publications, recording of local stories and music, performances of new work, production of short films, and community gatherings.

The Art Works category focuses on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts.

“The arts are for all of us, and by supporting organizations such as Epicenter, the National Endowment for the Arts is providing more opportunities for the public to engage with the arts,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Whether in a theater, a town square, a museum, or a hospital, the arts are everywhere and make our lives richer.”

“Our visiting artist program, the Frontier Fellowship, has a seven-year history of discerning and celebrating the local culture of Green River. I can’t wait to for community members to be engaged in these artists’ processes. I, personally, look forward to witnessing the innovative interpretations and contemporary presentations of the stories of my neighbors and fellow community-members by our visiting artists,” says Epicenter Principal of Arts & Culture Maria Sykes. “Our list for potential artist participants includes Caitlin Denney (digital media archivist), Clive Romney (composer/musician), Ryann Savino (writer), and Tristan Wheelock (photographer/filmmaker).”

For more information on projects included in the NEA grant announcement, visit


Tuesday, December 13th, 2016


Frontier Fellowship Report: Kirsten Southwell

—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.

1_rocks_and_minesA repeating pattern made from Google Earth images of land use around Utah (left). Rocks I collected, shaped, and polished from the Crystal Geyser (right).

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

2_archivesInspirational images from the John Wesley Powell Research Center and Archives.

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.

3_mine_visitsCollecting potash from the Intrepid Potash Ponds (left) and collecting uranium from a mine off Interstate 70 (right).

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.

4_jarsSpecimens I collected during my fellowship. Left to right: not sego lilies, potash, coal dust, geyser rock, snake corpse, Morrison Formation, and not uranium.

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.

5_quilt_dressAbandon the Grid quilt, which used mined materials to influence the dying of the fabrics (left). Mine pattern dress (right).

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.

6_portraitsMining portraits. Richard (left) Katie (middle) Armando (right).

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.

7_mine_friendsEpicenter staff Bryan, Katie, Ryan, and JD with resident barkitect, Rusko, in a gypsum quarry in the San Rafael swell.

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.

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016


Call for Proposals: Teaching Artist


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 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.

Friday, June 3rd, 2016


Arts-based Community Development Investment for Green River

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 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.


Monday, May 9th, 2016


front-pageImage: Anne Thompson, “Hand Sign (Higginsville, Missouri),” 2015.

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.

Thursday, April 14th, 2016


HDTS: Epicenter

Situated in and around the rural environment of Green River, Utah, HDTS: Epicenter was a weekend-long collection of site-specific artworks, happenings, and performances inspired by the desert landscape of Southeastern Utah and its rural communities. HDTS: Epicenter also served as a meeting of minds, with the two kindred institutions of High Desert Test Sites and Epicenter equally contributing to the organization and curation of events.

High Desert Test Sites’ then-managing director Aurora Tang first became aware of Epicenter’s work in 2010 from a trifold brochure left at the Center for Land Use Interpretation’s Regional Arts Complex in Wendover, Utah, where she also works. Aurora and HDTS co-founder/director Andrea Zittel were both familiar with Samuel Mockbee and the Rural Studio program at Auburn, the Epicenter co-founders’ alma mater, and followed Epicenter’s activities from afar.

It wasn’t until a few years later that the two organizations came directly into contact with one another, when HDTS 2013 participating artist Bennett Williamson was concurrently in residence at Epicenter as a Frontier Fellow. Bennett took a brief leave of absence from his residency to install his project in Joshua Tree, bringing Epicenter crew member Ryann Savino along for the 1000 mile ride.

Following the HDTS 2013 event, which took High Desert Test Sites on the road from Joshua Tree to Albuquerque, HDTS decided to turn its focus to the communities and contemporary art programs in rural Utah for 2015. The original idea was to work with a range of partners in rural communities all across the state, but after visiting Green River and Epicenter, it became clear that this single area was so unusually and incredibly rich and diverse in its natural, agricultural, cultural, industrial, and recreational offerings, that they could devote the entirety of the event exploring and highlighting this often overlooked region and still only begin to scratch the surface. Having Epicenter as inspiring and enthusiastic partners sealed the deal.

Participating artists
Steve Badgett
Alyse Emdur and Michael Parker
Butchy Fuego and the Seeing Trails Division of Fine Arts
Kathleen Johnson and Mark So
Alison Kinney, Daniel Nickerson, Cyrus Smith, and Matt Takiff
Nicole Lavelle
Charlie Macquarie
Allan McCollum
Jordan Topiel Paul and J. Gordon Faylor
Ephraim, Kiersten, and Raivo Puusemp
Bennett Williamson

HDTS: Epicenter was made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Arts (Art Works–Design), Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Utah Division of Arts and Museums, Emery County Travel Board, and the Sorenson Legacy Foundation.

Read more about HDTS: Epicenter.


Tuesday, April 12th, 2016


Frontier Fellowship Report: Sarah Lillegard

—Sarah Lillegard – 2016 Frontier Fellow


“…any landscape is composed not only of what lies before our eyes but what lies within our heads.” D.W. Meinig, geographer

Growing up in the West, I have a familiarity with open space. The imagery of it has gotten stitched onto my clothing and embedded into memories. From all those years of tumbleweeds crossing highways and dirt under my fingernails, I thought that I had an understanding of the western landscape. But here, in Green River, I know nothing of the West. Everything is so foreign, and, like learning a new language, I’ve filled my journal with terms to reconcile: escarpment, Mancos shale, tamarisk, tributary, and butte. Looking at the red rocks and Green River, I keep thinking: how do you let a landscape imprint itself on you? How do you commit it to memory?


My second evening here, we walked to the top of Monument Hill. Standing in one spot, Jack pointed to the La Sal Mountains, and then turned to the Book Cliffs, then the San Rafael Swell and finally G Hill. In that moment, my body became a compass with each formation marking a new orientation.


I don’t know how to sum up every nuance of a place even though I am constantly craving more—more stories, longer golden hours and later nights. I have spent a handful of afternoons in the libraries and archives reading about coal mining and sheep ranching. I can tell you about cattle ranchers versus shepherds or who broke curfew in the 1960s. But for all of the records and books, the history of a place doesn’t include catching cattails as they go to seed or trailing a smokey-faced cat along the sidewalk.


The West is still so young. People here can trace their roots back to when the land had yet to be “settled.” All of that homesteading means there’s an inescapable pride in the community. Visiting small-town museums throughout southeastern Utah, that hometown pride is so achingly evident. Families came west to make their fortunes, own a plot of land, and exercise their freedoms. With each of those families came the desire to turn a group of houses into a respectable town. Organizations, institutions, societies, churches, businesses and entertainment were all a part of that effort. As the towns grew in function, so did the pride the residents took in them. This created a sense of vested ownership that knowingly or unknowingly feeds into the present.


After a month, it’s hard to drive away knowing that things will continue to change without me here to watch them. I have spent my time in Green River being an observer and only at the end turning that into being a maker. Walking around I never took photos of the old, dilapidated buildings. They seemed greater than some narrative of nostalgia and ruinenlust. I kept wondering: how do you point to the history of a location without romanticizing the loss of it? In the end, I just made some objects and it wasn’t until I left that I realized the almost invisible memorials they could be. That seems like the quietest reward and best sort of goodbye.

Reading List:
“Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert” Terry Tempest Williams
“Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild” Ellen Meloy
“Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman” Peter Korn

“Old King Coal” Sturgill Simpson
“Southbound” Doc & Merie Watson
“The Last Pale Light in the West” Ben Nichols
“Sixteen Tons” George Davis
“Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” Lucinda Williams

Monday, February 29th, 2016


Thank you, Fellows.

—Maria Sykes – Epicenter Principal of Arts & Culture

Photo: Still frame from the Summer Summit 2013 video by 2012 Frontier Fellow Nick Zdon.

Over the years Epicenter has received support from countless individuals, foundations, and entities. One faithful stream of support has come from our Frontier Fellows who come from all around the world to lend their enthusiasm and talents to Epicenter’s daily practice in Green River. Thanksgiving seems like the perfect day to thank our Frontier Fellows and make a special announcement (more on that below). Thank you to our 50+ Frontier Fellows who have contributed 8,000+ hours to Epicenter through leading workshops, exploring and documenting the region, and generating work that is informed by Green River’s history, people, and the surrounding desert landscape. The Fellowship has featured graphic designers, visual artists, architects, sound artists, a doctor, printers, musicians, cooks, explorers, photographers, organizers, social practice artists, educators, curators, filmmakers, collaborators, writers, a poet, historians, illustrators, and more.

We’re excited to announce that we are celebrating the fifth year of the Fellowship through an exhibition in early 2016! The upcoming exhibition is a retrospective reflecting on the arc of the Frontier Fellowship and will feature work created by Fellows during their respective residencies in Green River. The exhibition will be housed in the Rio Gallery in downtown Salt Lake City from March 18 – May 13, 2016; please save the date of March 18, 2016, for an opening reception.

This exhibition is made possible through a partnership with the Utah Division of Arts and Museums and support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

What to be a Frontier Fellow? Instructions to apply are here. All applications are due in-hand at 9AM on December 7, 2015.

Thursday, November 26th, 2015


Frontier Fellowship Report: Laurelin Kruse

—Laurelin Kruse – 2015 Frontier Fellow

On my third day in Green River I woke up in the early, still dark morning to what sounded to my half-dreaming mind like a church organ—enormous, projecting a single minor chord across town and into my bedroom. The sound was so even and warm, and I imagined what kind of musical instrument it could be coming from: a giant harmonica, the size of a basketball court, played from the high school gymnasium, or an enormous church organ, the pipes reaching half a mile into the sky. It took several minutes of cycling through images like this for me to finally recognize it as a train announcing itself as it pulled into town.

I’ve heard this sound two or three times a day since I’ve been in Green River, and at first, each time I could slip back into imagining it as a giant harmonica, but the more I heard it, the more it sounded like a whistle, and now, four weeks into my stay in Green River, I only hear it for what it is—a train routinely passing through town.

Getting to know a place is like this. At first every detail is like a strange dream or something from a movie—a wide and quiet Main Street, the loose dogs roaming around the town, the pale Book Cliffs, the longness of Long Street, the taco truck that permanently operates out of an old gas station. When I first got to town to begin my Frontier Fellowship, these details were odd and cute, dare I say Instagrammable. But as my days in Green River accumulated relationships replaced romanticism. I learned many of the loose dogs were simply waiting around for treats. I started going to the taco truck nearly every morning for a bacon and egg breakfast burrito and after a while felt less like an intruder as I ate my breakfast inside next to the woman who made it as she watched her telenovelas.

I’ve spent the past year traveling from place to place, sacrificing a solid sense of home for an ongoing, nomadic project, the Mobile Museum of American Artifacts. I’ve dipped into towns for a day, or lived places for a few months. By the time I reached Green River for my Frontier Fellowship, everything in me said PAUSE! REFLECT! So I’ve spent a month in Green River reflecting on what it means to be a visitor in a place, or an artist in a place, to pass through, to make something, to leave something behind or take something with you. What’s the difference between romanticism and relationship? At what point does one transform to another? How do romanticism and relationship influence the stories we tell about ourselves, the places we live, or other people and other places?

I’ve thought about this as I’ve taught storytelling workshops to high school and elementary students, as I’ve spent a few days exploring the Green River archives, as I’ve talked with my roommates and new friends over dinner or on day trips to Goblin Valley or Canyonlands, and in my tri-weekly coffee-fueled writing marathons at West Winds Restaurant.

The MMOAA at the Pirate’s Den Teen Center.

On my first day in Green River I pulled into town with my mobile museum and immediately headed to the Pirates Den Teen Center to set it up for their “Lights On” lantern lighting event. A few of the kids took a great interest in the mobile museum and took over as my docents and security guards.

I spent the first week of my Frontier Fellowship at Green River High School working with Mr. Gowans’s 11th and 12th grade Language Arts classes to explore creative writing and storytelling techniques and ideas. The workshop concluded with students writing fictional stories about objects in the Mobile Museum of Artifacts collection (all of which have come from real people somewhere around the country). On the final day, we read their fictional stories aloud alongside the real story, and the entire class voted upon which of the batch they believed to be true. Two-thirds of the time, students voted for one of their classmate’s stories as the most convincing, believable, well-told story. Students imagined people’s lives in other times and places, writing stories about the Cold War, about families in Illinois or New Orleans, stories taking place in the 1960s, the 18th century, or the present day. We talked about what makes the stories we tell convincing and what we expect in a story, or in a museum collection (something old, something special, something from a faraway place).

The MMOAA at Pyramid Youth Programs.

I also did a workshop with younger kids at Pyramid Youth Programs. They checked out the Mobile Museum of American Artifacts exhibit, and the next day created their own museum out of objects they brought from home and found around the classroom.

I spent my last week in the Green River Archives. Jo Anne, the archivist who has single-handedly built the town archive from the ground up, gave me a tour of the town and its entire history through the documents and objects she’s collected in the basement of the John Wesley Powell River History Museum. I ended up spending a day reading a transcription of an oral history recorded with Betty Smith, one of Green River’s greatest poets and rockhounds. Here, too, any small-town romanticism was squashed by the realization that everything in the Green River Archives is connected to a very real, very alive person in town. “Betty Smith’s son is coming in a few minutes to fix my computer! He’s our IT guy,” Jo Anne told me, excited that I may meet the man whose mother’s history I was reading. Later, I saw Jo Anne when I was getting lunch at West Winds: “the waitress is Betty Smith’s niece!” she told me on her way out. Here, history is not safely removed, mediated by a textbook or even an archive. History lives as a personal memory.

Monday, November 23rd, 2015