Friday, December 11, 2015

Laredo, the Birth of a Writing Residency

When you read the words Laredo, Texas, what do you think? Dusty cattle ranches? Lawless border town? Vacqueros? Mexican drug cartels? Or perhaps something else? Maybe graceful architecture, verdant spaces, warm people, vibrant arts scene, and incredible cuisine?

The media has not been kind to Laredo. Once a Spanish colonial city with beautiful architecture and rich heritage, you'd never guess it from portrayals in the "Streets of Laredo" television series that depicted a Western town that looks more like it ought to have existed in Nevada than the more sophisticated Laredo. Recent media hasn't been much better. Sensationalizing the drug violence south of the border, various television and print media have reported that the crime and violence are just as high north of the border. A misdemeanor maijuana bust for possession of a joint that no one would bat an eye at in Cleveland, OH, becomes a harrowing story of drugs, corruption, and violence for Laredo. They don't tell you that Laredo stacks up as far more safe than most U.S. cities. Nor do they mention that the drug-running across the border extends throughout the U.S., into Canada, and around the world. That Mexican and other crime syndicates operate in every city.

So when I consulted for the Texas Historical Commission in Laredo, I was saddened to realize most people will never know what a cultural treasure the city is. Blasita Lopez, Director of the Laredo Convention and Visitors' Bureau faces overcoming these misconceptions every day. "What would you think," I said to Blasita, "of hosting a group of writers for an artist residency here, so they can experience Laredo for themselves?" And presumably write about it. Blasita loved the idea, and the Artsmith Laredo Writing Residency was born.

Travel writer and founder of Modern Day Nomads, Tiffany Owens, helped get the word out so writers could apply for the residency. Travel photographer (and brother extraordinaire) Bob Johnson agreed to join the residency and take photos for the writers to use, if they choose. From the applications, five writers, one photographer, and one videographer were selected from across the U.S. and Mexico. We met December 3, and for the next two and a half days went on a whirlwind, behind-the-scenes look at Laredo, including cooking classes, meeting celebrated ballgown designer Linda Leyendecker-Gutierrez, bird-watching, and meeting with the Laredo Bridge Manager and Homeland Security's Customs Border Protection Regional Manger. We went on Laredo's new CaminArte art walk and Streets of Laredo Artisan Bazaar, to see the works of local artists, makers, and craftspeople. We heard Mariachi music and ate incredible border cuisine.

We gained new friends, a few pounds, and a greater appreciation for a city that deserves recognition. Laredo reminds me of San Antonio twenty years ago. You'll find historic Spanish colonial to arts and crafts buildings and homes, some of which have been neglected due to a wounded economy. You'll also find restored architectural treasures due to the improving economy. In the short time we were there, one of the first homes along the Plaza de San Agustin and also the former headquarters of the Republic of the Rio Grande were undergoing restorations. One of the city's early grocery stores and residences has been remodeled into the restaurant Siete Banderas, which opens later this month and is bound to be the hot new downtown dining destination. Local architects are working on plans to restore the Plaza Theater, and new construction is planned along the riverfront.

I mention all this not to get you to invest in downtown Laredo real estate, but to share with you the beginnings of a new writing residency whose mission, loosely, is to support the people who write about place, and also a city whose heritage needs and deserves preservation. I'm not sure how the residency will evolve from here. Those who experienced it are just beginning to share their feedback. Blasita Lopez has indicated they would be willing to host again, and she and I will chat next week about when we might do another residency. If you'd like to be kept up to date on when the next Laredo writing residency will take place, and also when the application period will open, as well as information about our Orcas Island residency, sign up for our mailing list. Until then, safe travels!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

2016 Artsmith Artist Residency Fellows Announced

The results for the 2016 Artsmith Artist Residency on Orcas Island are in. Please join us in congratulating the following artists who have been selected for the 2016 residency. In alphabetical order by last name:

1.    Rachel Clark—Writing: Fiction
2.    Chauna Craig—Writing: Nonfiction
3.    Corinne Duchesne—Visual Art: Painting
4.    Yvonne Garrett—Writing: Poetry
5.    Garrett Hope: Music: Composition
6.    Holly Hughes—Writing: Nonfiction, Poetry
7.    Susan Kim Campbell—Writing: Fiction
8.    Jason Kirk—Writing: Poetry
9.    Jill Kolongowski—Writing: Nonfiction
10.  Nancy Lord—Writing: Fiction
11.  Caitlin Scarano—Writing: Poetry
12.  Cerese Vaden: Visual Art: Printmaking and Sculpture (Artsmith's 2015 Artist of the Year)

The Artsmith Peer Review Panel all commented on the amazing quality of this year's applications, making their jobs both more enjoyable and more difficult. We look forward to hosting the selected fellows who will spend anywhere from one to four weeks in residence. Congratulations to the selected fellows, and many thanks to all of the applicants.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Musings on Home and Heritage

Coming home to the Northwest after a trip to Texas leading heritage tourism workshops, I was delighted to take a float plane from Lake Union to the San Juan Islands. Having grown up on the coast, it's always a thrill to come home and see the mountains and water that feel somehow part of not just the landscape, but what I call home and who I am. As we lifted off from the water and away from the city, this perspective of Gas Works Park came into view. Gas Works is the first park where I was finally able to get a kite to take flight. The park is named for the only coal gasification plant left in the U.S. It operated in the first half of the twentieth century, and was opened to the public as a park in 1975. Seattle landscape architect Richard Haag was awarded the American Society of Landscape Architects Presidents Award of Design Excellence for his design. I didn't know any of this the first time I went to the park. It was an oddity, the old plant that some still consider an eyesore, but fascinating to see, especially with the backdrop of downtown Seattle and the Space Needle. The park became special to me, though, because it became part of my personal history. A history that's insignificant to anyone else, but similar perhaps to memories thousands others have formed at that site.

In 2013, Gas Works was added to the National Register of Historic Places. For whatever reason, the designation was not granted for more than ten years after the park had been nominated. Does it make Gas Works any more special? Does it give the park some degree of significance or street cred in the eyes of historians and cultural heritage gurus? Maybe so. Or maybe it brings attention to a past technology, and therefore the past that technology belonged in and was linked to. Certainly, flying over the park triggered memories of a past I rarely think about but still hold dear.

Judith Kitchen wrote that she was interested in (and interested in writing about) her own life more than anything else. Whatever we decide is significant to us, connects ultimately to our own experience. That is, our experiences inform what we decide is important. Those decisions are subjective, personal, and unique. No doubt some people would still say the gasification plant should be dismantled. Others might advocate for that land--prime real estate in Seattle--to be used for other purposes. Maybe condos or office buildings to attract more people and businesses to the city. Personally, I think it should be used for flying kites. A place of lift-off. Where a child's hopes and efforts can soar. Where a middle-age woman can indulge in sentimental memories. Where rock once became energy (and, albeit, pollution). Where we can remind ourselves how far we've come, and to cherish the ineffable  Home.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

April 1 Reading and Reception with Carolyne Wright to Kickoff Poetry Month

Mark your calendars for a special Poetry Month kickoff event with Carolyne Wright and the premiere reading of the anthology Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace (Lost Horse Press, 2015), edited by Wright along with fellow poets Eugenia Toledo, and M. L. Lyons. The anthology is in response to the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and brings together voices of women poets in the workspaces they occupy: from cotton rows to corner suites, trawlers to typing pools, nursing stations to space stations, factory floors to faculty offices. These voices bear witness to women’s workplace lives, and act to re-envision and refigure the world of work for women.

Poet Carolyn Forché dsecribes the book as a compilation of “the heavy-lifters, night-shifters, line and piece workers, writing with grace and often with humor: poets who punch clocks, woman the phones and decks, weave, weld and can, cotton-pick and cold call, thread-spin, typeset and teach. They sex-work, they ship-build, plaster and preach, butcher and drive the bus. This is anthology as page-turner, as fist in the air, as do-it-yourself manual against despair.”

The reading, part of the 2014-2015 Artsmith Salon Series, takes place at Darvill's Bookstore at 1 Main Street in Eastsound, Washington on Wednesday, April 1, 6:00 pm. The reading will be followed by a Q and A with the author, reception with hors d'oeuvres, and book-signing.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Art at the Airport

Have you been through SeaTac Airport lately? I always enjoy the glass and other visual arts there (especially the blown glass installation made to look like bones from an archeologist's dig), but the latest addition is my favorite: live, acoustic music in the terminals. The constant noise of gate announcements, TVs blaring, cell phones ringing, babies crying, and the usual din of conversations wear me out, so it seems odd that another sound source added to the mix would have the opposite effect. Whatever the reason, hearing a live guitar and melodic voice while I wait for my flight completely transforms the experience. If you need to fly in or out of SeaTac in the near future, look for the live performers who might be found near the gate or in the food court area. Oh, and drop them a tip of appreciation. Artists need our support ... but that's another topic entirely.

Monday, March 9, 2015

How Many Languages Do You Speak

At Artsmith's Spring 2015 Writer Island, writer Ira Sukrungruang asked participants, "How many languages do you speak?" Japanese, Italian, French. Then he asked how many languages "as a writer." What character languages can you speak? Ira speaks Southside Chicagoan, for example. What about BC Canadian? Nor'easter? West Texan? What about languages that aren't defined solely by geography? Teenage gamer. LDS Missionary. Retired auto mechanic. "Make a list," he advised, "of the languages you speak." Write in those languages. Listen. Add more.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Opening skyward

On our daily, mid-January now, walks to North Beach, the trees lift long, bare fingers to the sky. All but one cherry blooming early. It brings to mind the artists and writers who gather the courage to send their works out into the world, sometimes a harsh and unwelcoming world. And yet, those works, like these flowers, give the rest of us hope. So thank you to those of you who take the risk and share your art. You can't know who will be inspired by the glimpses of life you share, but please know we are.