Interview with Stephanie Rogers and Cynthia Weitzel
10/22/2020 11:46:11 AM
A two-part interview with Stephanie Rogers, Executive & Artistic Director of the Anderson Center at Tower View in Red Wing, Minnesota; and Cynthia Weitzel, Studio Artist & Coordinator for the Deaf Artists Residency (DAR) program. Interviewed by Kaitlyn Mielke. Part 1.
Stephanie: The Anderson Center was founded in 1995 by Robert and Carolyn Hedin and a founding committee of Red Wing Community members who were focused on the arts and education. Robert is an accomplished poet who had participated in residencies in other places. He's also the grandson of A.P. Anderson, who built Tower View between 1915 and 1922. Robert's vision was that his family's estate would become a place to support the creative process and encourage the exchange of ideas. We continue to do that work today. Our mission statement is: The Anderson Center, in its unique and historic setting of Tower View, offers residencies in the arts, sciences, and humanities; provides a dynamic environment for the exchange of ideas; encourages the pursuit of creative and scholarly endeavors; and serves as a forum for significant contributions to society.
Then the Deaf Artists Residency (DAR) program started with the 2014 cohort, consisting of five artists from all over the United States. Tell us a bit of how the AC became the home of the DAR program.
Cynthia: The process for how the DAR program came to be, was very organic, based on right people, right place, right time. Back in 2011, when I was first invited by the Anderson Center to join their community of year-round studio artists, I had no knowledge or understanding of their interdisciplinary residency program or of the artist residency experience in general for that matter. So in my first few years of studio practice at the Center, I had the luxury of being exposed to this first hand. Through meeting and developing relationships with many of these visiting artists from all over the world, I had the unique opportunity to observe and witness the fundamental impact and career enhancing value that residencies provided these artists of all disciplines; as well as the bonds formed that led to meaningful discussions about their individual projects or relevant issues. It didn’t take me long to realize how much I needed and wanted this type of experience for myself. And in talking with other Deaf artists, I realized this was something we all hungered for and needed.
To my knowledge, this type of residency opportunity did not exist within the Deaf arts world, at least not in the U.S., so I did a search within the Alliance for Artist Communities (AAC) database to see if I could find any that were ASL accessible and Deaf-friendly. Imagine my surprise to learn that there were over 500 different types of artist residency programs in the U.S. and over 1,500 worldwide! Only one identified itself as being Deaf-friendly and accessible, that was Siena Art Institute in Italy. I shared this fact with Anderson Center’s then Director, Robert Hedin, while we happened to be in conversation about residency programs in general. Then simultaneously we both asked each other “why not here?” And so the DAR program journey began.
Right people, right place, right time… I happened to already be a part of this magnificent artist community and residency center, so I was able to lend my support and expertise as liaison guiding the process. Anderson Center was strongly committed to creating a barrier-free, culturally-specific Deaf artists residency opportunity within its existing programming. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was willing to invest in this idea by accepting our initial grant proposal to get DAR started in 2014. Then the Alliance of Artist Communities helped us get the word out as well as my doing within Deaf arts circles. Since then, the Center, the NEA, and AAC have all been champions in support of DAR and its future.
Stephanie: Participants really focus on their creative projects. Many people say that they accomplish as much in a month at the Center as they would in 6 months or a year elsewhere, with other distractions and responsibilities! The other aspect is that the residents share meals and exchange feedback with each other. Most of the artist cohorts become close and develop meaningful friendships that continue on after their time at the Center. This is even more true of the Deaf Artist Residency Cohorts.
Cynthia: Not all residency programs are alike. The Anderson Center offers an intimate retreat-style residency within a historic and creative setting. While living in the historic residence, each having their own private room, Residents set their own work schedule focused on their own individual projects. Visual artists work privately in their assigned studio, while others have a range of work spaces to choose from within the house or common areas throughout the Center’s campus. The designated time and space free from distractions from the outside world for an entire month really sets the stage for artists, writers, performers, and scholars to be incredibly productive in their work. Though equally valuable is the downtime Residents have to either spend alone for quiet introspection or together as a group for hard-earned fun outings while exploring the area—Red Wing and Mississippi River Valley with occasional trips to the Twin Cities. DAR Residents typically spend most of their downtime together (most often in the kitchen) in marathon discussions about each other’s work or different topics relevant to each of our fields (Deaf or ASL arts, literature, theatre, poetry…). This is especially true during and after the shared ritual each evening of a chef-prepared meal. Great food and meaningful dialogue in our own language—free to be ourselves and grow from our time together.
In exchange for this gift of residency, the Center asks that each Resident give back to the community during the stay. This can be in the way of giving an art talk or facilitating a workshop. In the case of DAR, we typically do a group presentation towards the end of their stay that is open to the public with each Resident sharing about their project and residency experience.
Cynthia: The first thing the Center noticed in 2014 was how quickly the DAR participants bond after first arriving. It was almost immediate and has been that way each time. Those participating in the hearing residencies typically don’t fully bond until after one or two weeks into their stay. The other noticeable difference is the fact that most participants within the hearing residencies seem to have already completed other residencies in the course of their career so they immediately know what to do once they’ve settled in; whereas most DAR participants are still very new to the whole residency experience with no strong point of reference. That’s changing though now that there is greater awareness about DAR and what it has to offer. Prior to DAR opening, the term “Residency” or “Artist-in-Residence'' was most often associated with schools for the deaf that would invite or hire a single Deaf artist to work with students in the school setting for a period of time (week, month, semester or year) focused on teaching or hands-on learning instead of the artist being able to focus on their own work.
For DAR residents who otherwise are scattered throughout the U.S. working in isolation, the whole concept of sharing time, space, ideas and support among peers within our shared creative fields for an entire month was completely unimaginable just a short time ago. So it comes as no surprise that their time together engaged in humor, meaningful dialogue and sharing of ideas is equally important as their individual project work—a level of information sharing, empathy, understanding, and connectedness that can only be achieved through native language and culture rich in its many layers of intersectionality.
Stephanie: The biggest thing that I notice is for Deaf Artists, it really is a unique program. During our open call for residents, we often get people who regularly benefit from the residency experience in their creative practice. For the Deaf artists, it’s a more singular experience. It also seems like they form stronger bonds as a group than most open call cohorts.
Stephanie: All staff go through a training on Deaf Culture and learn some basic ASL, but the most important thing that we do is to contract with Cynthia so that the program is Deaf-lead and Residents have a native speaker of ASL as a liaison.
Cynthia: In addition to what Stephanie shared, the most important thing we do is simply “open the door” for DAR residents to be able to claim the space and “sense of place” for themselves for the entire month. As with all of the Center’s residency programs, there’s very little interaction with staff or the outside world except for simple interactions at check-in/check-out or with the Chef for food planning in which case notes or texting is minimal. It’s as if the Residents are on their own little island for the month. The house is equipped with emergency alerting equipment and everyone has emergency weather alert apps active in their smartphones. And ASL/voice and ProTactile interpreters are arranged for the community service event towards the end of each DAR residency which is open to the public.
Watch for part 2!