I’ve been invited to reside in Neskaupstaður (pop. 1400), Iceland, for one month as a designer-in-residence working alongside locals, other visiting designers/artists, and regional Austurland (East Iceland) partners. This residency is the continuation of a partnership I’ve been fostering since my initial visit to Iceland in 2013 to present at Iceland's annual national design conference ("DesignMarch") on behalf of Epicenter.
Why does East Iceland matter to rural Utah?
Many rural communities in the American West and East Iceland have been challenged with population decline, mitigating destination development, and an uncertain economic future. Though these regions share these and other dilemmas, both are rich in culture, mythology, history, wilderness... and all the reasons we love rural places! I’m excited to continue my ongoing research and to better connect Green River and rural towns in Austurland. Neskaupstaður is ready to be Green River's sister city!
While I'm there (Jul 17 - Aug 18)
During my residency I will share and document lessons learned, best practices, and more through a series of conversations, community meetings, workshops, and various cultural exchanges (eg. Pie & Beer Day, bonfires & s'mores, pennant flag making, jumping into the freezing cold fjord, early morning meetings at the town pool, etc.). I will document my activities through this blog. Please follow along if you're interested. Comments and questions are always welcome.
Once I'm back
To extend this rural-to-rural exchange beyond my one-month visit, I hope to identify East Iceland residents and/or partners to visit Green River in the near future. When I get back, I'll produce a report and prepare a presentation for Epicenter staff, board, and Green Riverites. I plan to broadcast the presentation on the web for those of you not in Green River.
Outcomes desired and expected:
- Experience the “other side” of a month-long residency. I’ve co-founded a residency (The Frontier Fellowship) and facilitated 60+ month-long residencies for Epicenter, but I have never been a visiting designer for more than one week. I expect to get many ideas for Epicenter through this experience.
- Improvement of industry knowledge (creative rural community development, remote artist residencies, etc.).
- Improvement of creative rural community project facilitation and presentation skills (especially since English is Iceland’s second language!).
- Improvement of ability to work with remote partners/contractors. Improvement of ability to make better use of technology to plan, communicate, and collaborate virtually with partners, Fellows, resources, grantors, etc.
- Learn more about the East Iceland regional and local creative economic develop efforts of Austurbru (eg. best practices, resources, lessons learned) and bring this information back to Green River.
- Improvement of strategic thinking through interacting with other designers, artists, and rural development professionals.
- Reduction of “home blindness”: After eight years at Epicenter, I’m becoming partially “home blind,” the inability to see the organization or the town with the perspective of an outsider (a very valuable skill!). I hope one month away from Green River and Epicenter will rejuvenate my strategic thinking abilities to better serve my home.
- Improvement of change leadership. Be more of a change catalyst and a champion of change. Learn to better implement and sustain change in Green River and at Epicenter. I’m am already a certified “Change Leader” through the Utah Division of Arts & Museums and I want to expand on this knowledge.
- Expand and make official the exchange program between Green River (Epicenter) and East Iceland. Idea A: Invite Icelanders and their partners to be Frontier Fellows. Idea B: Pursue a rural-to-rural youth exchange.
- Learn more about the operations of Austurland’s regional economic development efforts. This would be particularly applicable if Epicenter pursues becoming a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) next year as laid out by our technical assistance provider RCAC.
- Learn more about the operations of the design store (Hus Handana) and workshop in Egilsstaðir as inspiration for the potential for Epicenter to expand our earned income opportunities and better support local artisans.
- Meet with leaders in towns in East Iceland specifically Seyðisfjörður, a town that is similar to Green River because of influx of visitors via the mainland Europe ferry. They have a thriving tourist economy and rich local culture that we can learn from.