Interview with Stephanie Rogers and Cynthia Weitzel
10/27/2020 10:00:17 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 2.
Cynthia: Each of the three DAR cohorts so far have been very much alike yet so very different!
’14 JUNE FIVE: The pressure of being the “experiment” —no idea what to expect and all eyes on them was both exciting and very emotional. And from this was an endless stream of dialogue, curiosity, perspective and creativity. This was probably the most diverse group thus far—diverse in talent, culture, age, gender, geography, experiences...— and they surpassed all expectations as far as the Center’s goals and objectives for DAR how well it would be received and succeed!
’16 AC DAMES: It ended up this group was all women, all strong achievers, and all having much in common and wanting to take advantage of every last minute of their stay, so on top of their own projects they decided to add mini-workshops to the agenda. Every few days each resident took a turn teaching on a topic or skill relating to their area of expertise. So much unexpected learning and fun. This group also had a strong affinity for the Center’s turtles, even naming them after well-known dames (who are artists themselves) and still asking about them.
’18 DANDELIONS: Residents predominantly from the east and west coasts to which the commonalities and differences were so clear so we capitalized on that. Several of the residents were amazing cooks and bakers so there was always plenty of delicious healthy food being shared. For some residents it was a time of many firsts: first time having such a private and spacious work environment; first time having complete control of the clay firing process; first time having deep meaningful dialogue about their work with other Deaf artists and writers; etc...
The one challenge with this group though was half staying for the full month while the other half were only able to stay for half the month. That changeover at mid-month was difficult on everyone and something we try our best to avoid. Although, for many, a full month is not doable due to family or their job, so having learned from that experience, will do our best to make that transition smoother in the future.
The challenges and rewards of the “interdisciplinary” nature of this residency has been pretty consistent throughout each group. And each group also has their own fun kept secrets that I can’t share because what happens here stays here (grins).
Stephanie: I’m grateful that they’ve continued to advocate for the program and to interact with each other and the Anderson Center online.
Cynthia: I agree with Stephanie and in addition to that, I’ve seen where the local communities, especially Deaf communities (in person or online), that residents return to are also benefiting from the sharing of their experiences or the progress of their work(s). And it is mostly from past residents that newly interested candidates learned about DAR and are wanting that same opportunity. Also, there have been quite a few project collaborations that have developed among various DAR alumni since their time here.
Stephanie: My favorite thing about any residency group is when people form connections across differences and those connections have a positive impact on the creative work. Getting to hear (through an interpreter) Delora Bertsch talk about how she and Anderson Center year-round studio artist Angela Foley bonded over firing ceramics and being strong women was a highlight. And I’m personally grateful to have been introduced to the rich field of ASL poetry through this program.
Cynthia: It is impossible for me to pick a favorite memory; there are so many! Probably the most meaningful experience thus far is seeing the gratitude and strong commitment each resident has shown toward making the most of their experience. And the camaraderie and level of support DAR residents have for one another and their work. It’s genuine, authentic and appreciated… coming from a place of shared life experience, language and culture that can’t easily be found anywhere else.
Stephanie: The call goes out in the fall of odd-numbered years, with a mid-February application deadline. The panel, which is made up of Deaf artists and scholars, looks at work samples, the work plan (basically an answer to the question, “what do you want to do and how will you use this residency time?”) and an artistic resume.
Cynthia: The application process is now online and very streamlined through “Submittable.” DAR is only offered the month of June every other year. We’re hoping soon that will change to every year. We put great emphasis on making sure the review panel is made up of not only all Deaf members, but that each discipline is represented by experienced leaders from within each for a review process that is balanced and fair. Applicants should also keep in mind that once the first group of strongest candidates are selected, we then look at selecting finalists (many of whom are tied) that will make for the most diverse, balanced group in terms of age or level of experience, geographic location, focus of work, race, gender, and more. So if an interested candidate isn’t selected the first time around, they might be the next time around. It all depends on the collective body of applications in any given year and how competitive the body of applications are that year. Also, after two years time, DAR alumni are eligible to apply again.
Stephanie: We’ve spent time thinking big about what could come next; to be honest, I think that the pandemic has temporarily paused some of that. I’m committed to maintaining the program and continuing to seek out ways for it to be sustained and expanded. In the future, I hope that the Anderson Center can do more to support the goal of contributing to a national network of Deaf Artists and Culture Creators.
Cynthia: Building on what Stephanie said above, with our primary focus being the continued growth and strength of DAR so that it becomes and remains a vital part of the overall arts ecology, but specifically the Deaf arts ecology. For some, the residency offers a place for respite from isolation so that rejuvenation may happen. While for others, the residency enables them to experiment or complete projects. And yet for others the residency becomes a launching pad for true trajectory in their artistic careers. Regular residency experiences, in general, play a crucial role in the development of most artistic careers. So having more opportunities that are fully accessible would no question help to create and support a more diverse, thriving Deaf arts field.
As DAR continues to build and grow, so too does the network of alumni. Growing organically and becoming natural feeders to the any national network of Deaf Artists and Culture Creators that develops down the road.
Stephanie: This program would be difficult to, if not impossible, to replicate without Cynthia’s leadership. As a general philosophy for doing administrative work supporting marginalized groups, I think it’s important for me and other staff to educate ourselves, to trust and support the vision that came from a member of the marginalized community, and then to really focus on getting the mundane paperwork and such done so Cynthia can focus on vision and community building.
Cynthia: The beauty of DAR is that it has overwhelming support from the Anderson Center which has the infrastructure, trusted reputation, solid relationships, perfect setting, and history based on 25 years of experience. The staff throughout this process have been incredibly open-minded, committed, and supportive. And DAR is structured in such a way that it can easily be replicated in other parts of the country or world as long as there are Deaf artists, writers or scholars with the same passion and vision able to find the right residency program in their area to partner. Likewise, there are residency programs around the country that have already expressed interest in doing such, if they can find the right person to coordinate. They understand the benefits to a culturally-specific program and that providing ASL interpreters with the goal of inclusion is not always feasible or sometimes counter productive, so they’re very open to figuring out what works and what doesn’t while letting those of the Deaf community be their guide. And because each residency program is different, the broader range of opportunities for Deaf artists, writers and scholars the better!
Cynthia: Circling back to the mention of DAR looking at additional opportunities toward becoming self-sustaining... The NEA has been our strongest supporter and cheerleader from day one; they believe in what we are doing in the way of culturally-specific solutions for meaningful, barrier-free residency experiences. Likewise, Gallaudet University has now partnered with Anderson Center-DAR to offer the GU Residency Fellowship that will cover the costs of one residency position to be filled by GU Faculty or Alumni. It is our hope that RIT/NTID and other universities will also be interested in partnering. Or Deaf organizations based in, or in support of, the arts or scholarship.
Another area of need that’s been discussed is the fact that artists, writers and scholars who are CODAs or family of Deaf or ASL interpreters are in the same situation when it comes to seeking residency opportunities with others’ whose artistic or scholarly work focuses on their relationship and experience with ASL and/or Deaf Culture. We’ve had quite a few asking for help to find such an opportunity so that they too can discuss their work, get feedback or just be themselves with others of similar background. So I can easily see DAR expanding with there being a demand for more than one or two months a year by Deaf artists, writers and scholars then also a month designated for CODAs, a month designated for family of Deaf, and a month designated for ASL interpreters (i.e. those specializing in Shakespeare or other theatre interpreting).
Contact info for more info about the AC and the DAR program.
Deaf Artists Residency Program
163 Tower View Drive
PO Box 406
Red Wing, MN 55066
Executive & Artistic Director
Artist & Deaf Artists Residency Coordinator