—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 arts.gov/news.
While a city logo provides a face for the local government and marketing campaigns work to attract outsiders, a flag gives the community itself a symbol to rally behind and a tangible way to show civic pride. Green River has had banners and flag proposals in the past, but no community flag has ever existed until now.
Frontier Fellow Ashley Ross and AmeriCorps VISTA Jarod Hamm worked together with the community to create a flag for Green River. They began by surveying residents and researching town history, learning what symbols, colors, and shapes were representative of Green River’s past, present, and future. With this information in mind they sketched, refined, sketched some more, and presented 20 rough options to community members at a design workshop for the city’s downtown plan.
From the community feedback, three finalists were designed and a voting booth was created to determine the winner during the week of Melon Days, an over 100-year festival celebrating the melon harvest. One option was the overwhelming favorite among Green River locals and visitors to Melon Days with over 60% of the vote.
Also in September, Jarod visited two of Mrs. Suarez’ Green River High School sewing classes to teach about flag symbolism, design, and history. Students designed flags to represent each of their respective families based on the principles outlined in class. They then made the flags by hand as an introduction to basic sewing, and displayed them next to the voting booth at Melon Days.
When consulting with the community, it was very clear that their flag should include watermelon which has a longstanding tradition in Green River’s agricultural history, and the Book Cliffs that define the town landscape. The flag begins with a meandering green stripe to represent the titular river and also pay homage to the famous Green River melons. It flows below a dusty red-orange silhouette of the iconic Book Cliffs. When we look above, big blue skies are represent not only Green River’s climate, but also its outlook. The star is split by the crossroads of river, rail, and road, referencing the town’s identity as a waypoint, and the sections radiating from the center also give tribute the missile base of the past. It is rotated at an 18.83° angle for the year that “Greenriver” got its name.
This is just the beginning of the journey for our flag, and we hope that residents of Green River will be proud to fly it high.
To order a flag: Fill out this form or stop by Epicenter. To decrease cost, there will be one large order once enough individual orders have been submitted. We will contact you to collect the payment.
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.
—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.
“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
—Maria Sykes – Epicenter Principal of Arts & Culture
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.
—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.
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).
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.
We are excited to announce the completion of Epicenter’s new shop! Epicenter staff designed and built a new 340 SF shop on the back of the Epicenter property over the summer, led by our intern Daniel Richards. This new space securely and efficiently stores all of Epicenter’s and Habitat for Humanity’s tools (all 403 of them!) and provides interior space for pre-fabrication and craft work. When applicable, Frontier Fellows will also have access to the space and tool library.
We’re thrilled to have the tools out of the basement, which is only accessed through a door in the floor inside the office; the basement is once again a usable space for storage and work space for Frontier Fellows. In the new shop, the knolled wall of hand tools assures everything has a place and everything is in its place. The six-foot-wide garage door on the shop allows for trucks to be loaded right where the tools are kept. A new tool library check-out system keeps all the tools organized and tracked. And, for the first time, a 220-volt outlet will allow for the use of our Miller Thunderbolt AC stick welder for fabrication of steel projects.
Project: Epicenter Shop (340 SF interior, unconditioned, slab on grade, wood frame, reflective metal R-panel roof, fiber-cement board siding, painted plywood interior finish)
Construction team: Daniel Richards (Designer and Project Manager), Jack Forinash, Steph Crabtree, Armando Rios, Katie Anderson, Bryan Brooks
Concrete flatwork by High Desert Excavating (Green River) and electrical work by P&L Electrical Services LLC (Helper, UT).
Total cost: $17,454.90
– – Construction costs (materials and sub-contractors): $10,387.22
($6,661.49 [64%] spent in Green River, $2,009.65 [19%] spent in Carbon/Emery Counties other than Green River)
– – Payroll costs: $7,067.68
In-kind support from: P&D Ace Hardware
Funding generously provided by: The Wheeler Foundation and The Sorenson Legacy Foundation
—Phil Dagostino, Jordan Gulasky, and Emily Howe – 2015 Frontier Fellows
“And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” -Nietzsche
Under the moonless abyss of the desert night sky we lay as we stare at the stars. Streaks of sporadic space debris flash across as we hurtle through the universe. We are in Green River, Utah, where the fleeting insignificance of existence is all too apparent. Why here, and why now? “To build a float for the Melon Days parade,” I say. To whom? No matter. I have worn many hats, and the hat I wear here protects me from the scorching solar radiation—radiation not unlike that buried under the mysterious black pyramid on the edge of town. I have lost count of the many milkshakes I have drained from the Chow Hound. It is dry here, my mouth and skin attest. The river is cool and wet, an oasis of life. The train cries out as it passes through, stopping only long enough to pick up and drop off. “No time to smoke here,” says the conductor. “If you get off you stay off.”
YOU ARE HERE. The desert claims another soul.
Working in Green River for three weeks was as fun as it was hot as it was challenging as it was covered in melon juice. Melon Days felt like the best time of year to be there, with families pouring back into town and flyers for every kind of event you can think of in all the shops and diners. Seed spitting, speed sitting, parade floats, and floating the river—we tried to do it all (and won a couple of things while we were at it). Spending time as friends, putting your hands together to build something for the pure enjoyment of a community was a wonderful way to visit Green River, and I am grateful to have gotten a glimpse into the lives of the people of a place very different from my own.
I came back to Green River because I felt there was still work to be done—more desert-relationship to unpack. As a Frontier Fellow in 2012, I was fresh out of college and eager to understand what it meant to make work in the West. I came back almost exactly three years later (two years, eleven months, one week) asking the same question, this time with a stronger personal practice, and a new motivation fueled by my recent acquaintance to the world of the nine-to-five.
Here’s what I found: Green River was still there. The town is the same; I changed. I started to notice more, to understand what it means to be new in a place you are not from, to listen and to observe, to show up. Coming back with a defined project helped—gave me a place to direct my attention. Our melon float shepherded us into the community of Green River. The inherent nature of a community-based project is that it gets you out into the community. To walk in a parade, you walk with the community. Lined up after the marching band but before the Republican Party, we didn’t have candy to throw, but we were still greeted with delight. We built a float, walked in a parade—things that happen in small towns across America, but this was truly work I could not have made anywhere else. Headed south to Albuquerque in a car fragranced with melon, Green River took its official classification as ‘a place I come back to.’
May was my first time back to Green River since I stopped to get gas in the middle of the night in 2013. So, it is safe to say I knew nothing about the town. What little I knew I got from internet research and phone calls. I also knew that my Google-knowledge was going to be ineffective/useless once I got to town and had a direct, time intensive experience.
So, in preparation for my time in Green River I started asking myself a few questions:
-What does authentic engagement mean? What does it look like?
-How will I know if I successfully experienced the “true” Green River?
-What kind of meaningful relationships can be made in one month?
-What project could I conceive and execute that would add to the spirit and dialogue of the town in a deeply meaningful way?
And after all that preparation, when I actually got to Green River the first thing that caught me was all the fantastic clouds.
Talking about the weather is one of my favorite things. With such a short time to get to know the town of Green River and its residents (and those just passing through) the weather makes for a convenient way to start a conversation. Weather is always there, all around you, all the time.
At worst talking about the weather can be a boring conversation, at best it can be the pickup line that introduces you to your one true love! Most of the time it is just a quiet agreement between two people that you are both together in this same moment of time and space waiting for the rain to break so you can leave Melon Vine without your groceries getting soaked.
What I like about clouds is that they are named for a moment in time. To call a cloud a cumulus is to name it in a moment between what it was and what it will become. A cloud can be non existent and then become a cumulus and develop into stratocumulus and back again in a single sitting.
Much like clouds, to give words to my experience in Green River is to pin down one instance in a complex flow of moments, people, and circumstance that bloomed into a temporary form. I struggle with a desire to commit ephemera to a fixed state but also let things flow.
Its that struggle that kept me aware of my fleeting time in Green River and how my experience is different from folks who lived there before my arrival and will continue to live there after I left. To aim for an honest response that would be respectful of a town I would never know as deeply as its residents.
My desire to make meaningful work was tempered against my desire to be cautious and respectful. This opened up a line of questions for me:
-How can a work be successful for many different audiences: residents, travelers, trained artists, people viewing the documentation of the work online, etc.?
-If most people will view my work through images on the internet, how can I design work that will be successful on that platform yet still be deeply rooted in site specificity?
-How could my work be part of a dialogue about complex histories without erasing or overshadowing that history?
-Given the short duration of my visit to Green River, how deep could I expect to get into any one topic and how will that affect the measures of success for work that demands complexity?
I spent my first week wandering the town and the surrounding desert hoping to uncover the answers I needed. I was hypnotized by the beautiful decay of the rocky landscape. The patterns of erosion and history that frame every view from town. I couldn’t help but find comfort in the fact that a damaged environment could illicit such joy and admiration, inspiring travelers to come from afar just to be amongst the broken rocks.
On the other hand, I was disappointed to witness travelers taking photos of decaying structures in town. Romanticizing the aesthetics of ruin. Creating contextless images to send out to people who would might never understand this town from a direct, visceral, and deeply personal perspective. I was concerned that when people do a Google search for Green River that the results would be a landslide of images showing a town in disrepair.
I took this as a cue to develop a project that capitalized on that impulse to photograph degradation. I chose a room in an abandoned missile test launch facility on the east side of town as my focus. I tracked down the paint color that was originally used in the 1960’s and got to work repainting the walls and the broken wall pieces that had been scattered across the floor after many incidences of vandalism. After cleaning the room of dirt and debris, I carefully reinstalled the painted, broken wall pieces on the floor as fresh objects. The arrangement mimics the original history of destruction but has been recodified as a space of intention, consideration and care.
This piece maintains the history or the building with the original paint color and its history of abandonment while redirecting the impulse to photograph decay. The hope is that it will interrupt the passive photograph by presenting a surreal combination of brand new and broken. Now that the room is cleaned and the objects are fresh will it still make a compelling photograph? Is the history of damage enough to generate interest in the image? Is there something inherently beautiful about the way things break?
Likewise, the other project I executed is in a deserted souvenir shop. I created 4 new souvenirs that were installed in the former store and available for adventurous visitors to take:
-4 postcards commemorating the weather at specific times and days during my residence
-A bumper sticker with a Wallace Stegner quote and the outline of the Book Cliffs
-A box of painted river rocks styled after late 60’s space-race design
-A box displaying “sold out” paperweights in the shape of leftover watermelon rinds
As I started asking myself how I would communicate my time in Green River, I began to question the nature of souvenirs and commemorative objects. I tried to reimagine the objects of a gift shop that could create authentic experience rather than just capitalize on the desire to prove attendance.
By leaving these objects unattended in the old gift shop I invite visitors to replace the paradigm of “paying money in exchange for objects that commemorate your experience” with one where the acquisition of the object is the experience itself. And because the intention of the objects is a bit opaque, they demand an extra amount of engagement to make them meaningful. To take one of my postcards and mail it necessitates a deeper explanation and connection than simply writing “wish you were here”. It dictates deeper involvement and specificity. These objects of tourism deny easily accessed tourism experiences and in its place offer opportunities for authentic engagement.
With these two projects I hope to create new awareness around what it means to visit a place, photograph it, commemorate it, and leave it with an eye toward authentic, respectful experience but also pathways for meaningful interactions.
On my last day in town, the clouds finally dissipated. It was a sunny day and folks were driving to the beach while I drove North back to Portland. We are all in constant motion, reconfiguring to become something again tomorrow. I’m grateful for my short time in Green River and all the ways that it will affect who I become tomorrow.