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


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


“This Is Green River” Call for Participants

Help us tell the untold stories of our town using your personal objects and memories.

Have a look around your home or workplace. Where did all that stuff come from? Why is that picture hanging there? Where did that vase come from? Who bought this kitchen chair and why do I keep it when it’s falling apart?

Objects are bought, borrowed, stolen, lost, found, but most all, kept and treasured. Every object has a story: about the person who owned it, the place it came from, or a specific moment in time. We find it hard to throw things away because we become attached to them; sentimentality is usually stronger than logic.

We’re looking for stories about Green River, each one connected to a single object that we can borrow and exhibit at the John Wesley Powell River History Museum from June through November. Objects can be large or small. The objects can be random and strange or very common and normal: a coin dug up in the back yard as a child, grandpa’s favorite chair, an old baseball shirt, or a glass stolen from a local tavern (now closed) after a long night with friends.

How to submit your object and story:
1. Write down your story (1-2 pages typed or handwritten).
2. Photograph your object.
3. Contact Maria Sykes for further instructions (564-3330) before Friday, May 15.

Important dates for this project:
Friday, May 15, 2015: Objects/stories are due to Maria Sykes
Saturday, June 20, 2015: “This Is Green River” grand opening
Jun 20 – Nov 1: “This Is Green River” open to the public

This project is made possible through support from the Utah Division of Arts & Museums, Emery County Travel Board, United Way of Eastern Utah, Epicenter, the John Wesley Powell River History Museum, and Sincerely Interested.

Spread the word via Facebook.

Monday, April 6th, 2015


Frontier Fellowship Call for Applicants

Photo by Jordan Topiel Paul, Epicenter’s August 2014 Frontier Fellow.

The Frontier Fellowship is now accepting proposals for 2015-17.

The Frontier Fellowship provides creative professionals the opportunity to live and work in Green River, Utah (pop. 953), for two to eight weeks. From this rural place, and in the context of the frontier, Fellows have the opportunity to generate new work that is informed by the residents of Green River and the surrounding desert landscape. Epicenter, a design studio instigating positive change through community-based projects and programs, facilitates Fellowships throughout the year. Epicenter encourages applications regardless of one’s background, focus, or specialty.

Epicenter is a non-profit organization located in a historic building in downtown Green River. It houses an office space, small basement workshop, outdoor workspace, and five full-time employees. While in residence, Fellows spend half of their time working on personal projects and half of their time contributing to a project initiated by Epicenter. Fellows are given access to Epicenter’s vast network of partners, all the tools you need to build a house, and workspace within the office and workshop. The Fellowship requires a $400 residency fee and is unpaid. Travel, living, and materials stipends are available on a limited basis.

To apply for the Frontier Fellowship:

1. Visit and to decide if this community-based residency is aligned with your practice.

2. Send a one-page cover letter, your curriculum vitæ, a completed application*, and a piece** that exemplifies the concept of “frontier” to:

Frontier Fellowship
c/o Epicenter
P.O. Box 444
Green River, UT 84525-0444

3. Project proposals are accepted, but are not required. We encourage Fellows to explore the community before fully determining their project(s). Please limit proposals to one page.

Applications are due in hand Friday, January 9, 2015 at 5pm MST.

*Email Maria for the most recent version of the Frontier Fellowship application.
**This work must be an original work of your creation. There are no size restrictions or medium preferences. Please provide us with a written URL if the work is housed on the Internet.

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014


Frontier Fellowship Report: Spence Kroll

When I think of Green River, I think of an incredible silence. The highway can barely make a dent in the profound quiet that pervades this landscape…it is wonderful. I think of all the space and light, distant textures and incredible scales – the vast openness of the surrounding high desert and the soaring heights of the book cliffs. I think of people. I remember a group of passionate and wonderful individuals that work incredibly hard and relentlessly. I think of a small town filled with western lore, melon traditions, perfect donuts and lost ghosts.

I work as an architectural designer for a design / build company in Portland, Oregon. I am interested in pragmatic space, useful furniture and outdoor living – this influences the way that I think about design, architecture and life. I love the work that I do now and the freelance projects I have been able to execute. Someday though, I hope to establish or join a practice / collaborative / studio, etc. that focuses on quality and affordable design, construction and adaptive reuse; this is in response to shifting living, commerce and production dynamics within our communities.

In light of these interests, I had to apply to the Frontier Fellowship. When I arrived in Green River in early October, I had a general idea of the project that I would be working on – designing and building a portable display system for the work of the Epicenter and other participating fellows. These units would live in a vacant storefront across from the popular tourist joint, ‘Ray’s Tavern’. I truly enjoy this type of project – the creation of something that is adaptable, easily moveable, straight- forward in function but also elegant as an end to itself. Simplicity. Ease of use.

I had done some similar work this summer for a friend that does letterpress in Portland, and it was hard to divorce my headspace from that specific project. I spent the first few days in the basement of the Epicenter drawing up basically the same thing I had done previously, slightly overwhelmed by a deadline and all that comes with being in a new place. Like all design processes, you need to get out the initial ideas first, think about what is crappy about it and then go outside and not think about it for a day or so.

I went on a day trip, talked to Maria, looked at some fences. Googled wagons. Climbed into a canyon, smelled some pinyon, drank some beer. I Looked at the desert, got really dusty, listened to birds, saw deer tracks. I thought about cliff walls, pictographs, lazy tourists, The Spanish Trail, The Oregon Trail, wagons, stiles, caravans. Portability. Ropes, knots, setting up camp. Fires, cans of beans, Boy Scout memories, camp chairs and roadkill. Cactus, juniper, sagebrush, scrub pines, cottonwood. Desert sunsets.

The final form of the project is inspired by the portability of the desert caravan. Each system is comprised of two objects; the large, trestle leg ‘rack’ and the display ‘frame’.


The trestle rack has pointed, steel reinforced feet, designed to be deployed on uneven, sandy terrain.

The display frame of the system is suspended from ropes on the rack and anchored by integral cleats.

Each frame has a removable homasote back for the display of flat and graphic media as well as four removable shelves for the display of smaller objects. The large rack is painted white to reflect the light of the surrounding landscape. The frames have been left natural to draw attention to the suspended unit and the media on display.

Total immersion into the desert produced this project and the outdoor shop that I worked in was paramount in its creation. The deeply cold mornings, warm afternoons, swarms of gnats and wonderful, utter silence of locale and mind. I am thankful for this opportunity to think and produce with this clarity.

With my interests and pursuits that led me to the Epicenter, I feel that my time here has shown me so much about the possibilities of inspiration, production, living and community. I have had an chance to do the things that I love and gain invaluable insight in a beautiful place.

While, like most academic experiences, it is expected to sum up your thoughts and learned moments into a clean statement, but this place warrants so much more than just a blanket thesis. When I head back to Oregon, I will think about what the Epicenter and Green River are for a long time…though the feeling is full, warm, composed and right.

Some things that have been further reinforced or I have learned while here:
-Community, dialogue and commitment is key for our future.
-Share meals and care for others.
-Be intimidated, scared and respectful of your landscape.
-Take no relationship or resource for granted.
-Turn off and tune in.
-Learn by doing. Build, build, build.

Epicenter and Green River, thank you for everything. -Spencer Kroll

Windows on Broadway are made possible by a Utah Division of Arts & Museum‘s Random Act of Art grant.

Monday, December 8th, 2014


Another Fix It First Project Is Complete

Epicenter’s Fix it First program recently completed another project in Green River for a local family. The home was in need of gutters and downspouts to direct water away from the foundation, preventing the need for costly structural repairs in the future. Approximately 60’ of gutter were added to the residence. The family also added two new screen doors through Fix It First. This family prefers to cool their home naturally in the summer; these new screens will keep a comfortable breeze flowing through their living room and keep their energy costs down. In the winter, storm doors provide the doorways first defense against cold winter winds, providing year round energy savings.

About Fix It First
Epicenter’s Fix it First program developed in response to the City of Green River’s 2012 Housing Plan that identified 46% of the housing stock is in need of critical repairs. Without these repairs, homeowners are living in substandard, inadequate, and/or unhealthy homes. Fix it First helps the moderate- to low-income and elderly homeowners in Green River keep their homes safe and healthy by providing the up-front cost and labor for small, but critical, home repair projects.Funding for this revolving loan program is provided through private grants and in-kind support. Income from home improvements is used to fund more Fix It First projects. Project performed include: siding repair, handrail installation, grab bar installation, accessibility ramps, small roof repairs, window repair/replacement and other energy efficiency improvements.

For more information on Fix It First, please call 435.564.3330 or visit Epicenter at 180 S. Broadway, Green River, Utah.

Monday, July 14th, 2014


Epicenter á Íslandi

Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon at sunset.

Though it was another cloudy day, I was still ecstatic about today’s destination, even as someone who can’t quite ever wake-up without a bright sunrise. The clouds today made the glacial lagoon appear more mysterious than the crisp lagoon photos I’d been studying from afar for years. As I awkwardly slid down the black stone beach escarpment, the sun began to glow orange through the clouds and set on the distant volcanic mountains to the west. And as I reached the water’s edge, my heart skipped a beat as I noticed a pair of seals silently gliding across the lagoon heading towards the massive chunks of glacier crashing in with the tide. After the moment of impact, icebergs make these wonderful creaks and whines as they rub against one another. I hadn’t expected that, it’s not something the guidebooks tell you. I was so intrigued by the microscopic sounds of the ice that I had to get closer so I could make a recording. Before embarking on this trip, I had decided to take less photographs and record sound instead, an exercise in patient listening. The next thing I knew, I was falling into the icy waters. It happened so fast. I cut my hands on the ice as I scrambled to get out of the water. The salt-water burned my new cuts and I could already feel a bruise forming where my thigh had hit a sharp volcanic rock. During this very painful incident, I was fully present in the moment. This was the Iceland I’d been dreaming of, a place of both obvious and breathtaking beauty as well as a place of subtle allure that pulls you in (sometimes literally) and surprises you. Here the possibilities for moments of revelation and self-actualization were seemingly endless.

Me in North Iceland. This hike consisted of walking on over 5′ of ice and snow. Photo by Ryan Greaves.

Yes, you read that correctly: Iceland. Epicenter went to Iceland. More specifically, I was invited to co-create an exhibit and seminar/workshop called “Explore. Reflect. Respond: Designing for Small Communities” as part of DesignMarch. DesignMarch is Iceland’s most important annual design festival. Organized for the sixth time this year, it was be the largest and most significant yet, with over 100 events that transformed the most northerly capital in the world into one big venue for design. From fashion to furniture, architecture to food design, the festival showcases the best of the local design scene alongside exciting international names, opening with DesignTalks, a day of lectures by internationally acclaimed designers and the foremost local design thinkers. DesignMarch is organized by Iceland Design Centre, the promotion agency of Icelandic design and architecture. Epicenter’s exhibit and seminar was done in collaboration with a group of like-minded designers from around the world: Daniel Byström (Designers & Forests, Sweden), Lára Vilbergsdóttir (MAKE by Þorpið, Iceland), Pete Collard (Design Museum, UK), Karna Sigurðardóttir (MAKE by Þorpið, Iceland), and Jason Dilworth and Megan Urban (Designers & Forests, USA). In the event “Explore, Reflect, Respond” we shared our experiences using design as a tool for regional development. Our work is connected ideologically through our experience of community based design practices, and much of this group (Daniel, Pete, Lára, Megan, and Karna) originally got together during a traveling conference exploring the cultivation of a new creative community in East Iceland called “Make It Happen.” Out of the “Make It Happen” conference, two significant projects were formed: Designs From Nowhere and Designers & Forests.

Designs from Nowhere explores the possibilities for small-scale design and production in East Iceland, using locally sourced materials (e.g. stone, seaweed, reindeer horn) and skills (e.g. net making). The exhibited work was created following a series of workshops that took place in Autumn 2013 featuring the designers collaborating with local practitioners in Egilsstaðir, Djúpivogur, Eskifjörður and Norðfjörður. The products were presented for the first time at Spark Design Space during DesignMarch 2014.

Select work from the Designs from Nowhere exhibit at Spark Design Space: handbags and jumprope made with fishnet rope, stone blocks, seaweed lampshade, and reindeer horn toys.

Designers & Forests is a small group of interested individuals from the US and Sweden engaging in a conversation about design and forest environments. Designers & Forests visited Utah in the summer of 2013 to explore the forests and communities affected by beetle kill and aspen die-off. After Utah, they returned home to create products in their own studios: flooring, a stool, a lamp collection, longboards, storytelling iconography, and a wool blanket.

Select Designers & Forests work from the “Explore. Respond. Reflect: Designing for Small Communities exhibit”: Beetle Killed longboards, Hollow maps and Blue Stain flooring, Trio stool, and storytelling wool blanket.

The full “Explore. Respond. Reflect: Designing for Small Communities exhibit.” Epicenter’s work featured on the right.

The world of social designers is a small one. Since meeting back in 2010 through Rural Studio and Project M connections, Jason Dilworth (Designers & Forests) had continually told me that I had to visit East Iceland and see all that was happening with designers and artists working in rural communities. Specifically, he was speaking of the work of MAKE by Þorpið, a collective focused on making use of local materials and human resources of rural East Iceland enhanced by international perspectives. And, when Jason brought the Designers & Forests collaborative through Green River and it all clicked for me. Together, we recognized the connections in our work (including the similarities to East Iceland) and we wanted to bring it all together for discussion in Iceland. I didn’t need any excuses to visit the land of elves, Björk, Game of Thrones, and breathtaking landscapes. Iceland was a place I have been wanting to visit for over a decade. Six months later, we were all presenting our ideas in Iceland together at DesignMarch.

Select photos from the “Explore. Reflect. Respond: Designing for Small Communities” seminar and workshop.

The seminar and workshop took place in Reykjavík, and the audience, and workshop participants, consisted of a mix from designers and members of communities and municipalities from all around Iceland. It was an intimate gathering during which ideas were shared and new friendships were forged. We have hopes that new projects will be formed through the new partnerships forged at the gathering, much like the “Make It Happen” conference. Already since DesignMarch, I was invited to present in East Iceland and visit MAKE by Þorpið’s facilities.

Maria presenting in Egilsstadir and other adventures in East Iceland.

Visiting Iceland was significant for many reasons for me. Primarily, this trip granted me genuine connections with local Icelanders. For example, the Deputy Mayor of Ísafjarðarbær (Þórdís Sif Sigurðardóttir) in the West Fjords told me she was inspired by my presentation at DesignMarch to create a Frontier Fellowship of sorts in her community. And, Lára Vilbergsdóttir, the brains behind MAKE by Þorpið, introduced me to educators, artists, and designers in East Iceland, and she gave me a tour of their wood and reindeer antler workshop in Egilsstaðir. Through these connections I was able to learn about many of the challenges and strengths of rural Iceland, most of which reminded me of Green River. Somehow, Iceland isn’t so different from Utah. I’m hopeful for future conversations and collaborations with these like-minded Icelanders and Epicenter in the near future.

This trip allowed me to take a step back from the work we’re doing at Epicenter. It allowed me to see more clearly than ever that Epicenter is part of something bigger, a change of tone occurring in the design professions internationally. Designers are passionately realizing their responsibility to people and place as well as the advantages of working from within small communities. More than ever, creative people are connecting local resources, utilizing international ideas, and working together to improve the quality of life for small communities. This trip made me very hopeful about the future of design.

And, finally, yes… Iceland is as magical as the sagas we’ve read and photographs we’ve seen. In addition to the DesignMarch conference, I was fortunate enough to drive the circumference of the entire island nation and experience its dramatic landscapes and fascinating subcultures. I had adventure-packed two weeks of harbors, ocean-side villages, seafood, Icelandic hot dogs, hot springs, glaciers, scandinavian architecture and design, hidden folk, volcanoes, waterfalls, pizza, the northern lights, Brennivín, columnar basalt formations, glacial lagoons, black sand beaches, snowy fjords, fashion shows, Icelandic nightlife, reindeer, seals, ice cream, and geysers. All of these other-worldly experiences will inspire my work at Epicenter for months to come. Thank you, Iceland, for being everything I’d dreamed of and more.

Me falling in love with columnar basalt at Svartifoss in Vatnajökull National Park. Photo by Ryan Greaves.

A special thanks to Ryan Greaves of Cabin-Time, my travel partner and a great photographer who made the trip easy and full of explosive laughter.

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014


Summer Architectural Internships Available at Epicenter

2013 Summer Interns after a completed Fix It First project with volunteers.

We’re excited to announce the Epicenter’s Summer Internships: May through August 2014!!

The Epicenter, a non-profit organization embedded in Green River, Utah, is proud to offer 1-2 summer internship(s) for architectural or community planning students/recent graduates that will engage with and expand Epicenter’s community development initiatives.

Founded in 2009 by architectural graduates, Epicenter is a focused point of activity, a hub in part of a larger network, causing expansive upheaval in only the best of ways. As an as-it-actually-works model of public interest design, Epicenter exemplifies the power that citizen designers behold, while simultaneously pointing out the shortcomings of the traditional corporate architectural arena.

Various Fix It First projects from the summer of 2013.

In this position, you will not be a CAD monkey; you will earn much less than you are worth; you will live and breathe your work, ending each day exhausted but invigorated. However, the benefits of working at Epicenter emerge quickly. Inherent in each project is an ethic of social responsibility, of a belief in Green River, and the power of just doing it. Today, Epicenter capitalizes on its ingrained idealism, enthusiasm, and subversion to nurture community-led projects and programs that underscore Green River’s rural pride and pioneering spirit. The Epicenter is unique to this place and to this way of operating. If you are investigating or pursuing an alternative model of practice, the Epicenter stands as a distinctive example. Work and process will reveal and deconstruct abstractions of rural America, the role of architects and designers, of poverty.

As a five-person office, you should expect to receive personal attention daily. You will play an integral function within the Epicenter during your time here. Having a vocal and respected role in routine conversations regarding strategies, funding, and staffing is inherent to any Epicenter crew member, regardless of their title. If you want to see what it takes to instigate and create affordable housing and participate vigorously in community development, the Epicenter is able to provide that intensive perspective. Thank you for your interest.

Interested? Email Jack for a detailed an outline of what we may begin to expect of this position. More information on Epicenter and Green River: Epicenter’s website & Facebook, City of Green River, and Destination Green River.

Thursday, March 20th, 2014