The Frontier Fellowship

As a part of Epicenter and in collaboration with Charlotte XC Sullivan, Maria Sykes co-Founded the Frontier Fellowship, an artist-in-residence program. The Frontier Fellowship provides creative professionals the opportunity to live and work with Epicenter in Green River, Utah (pop. 952), for two to eight weeks. From this rural place and in the context of the frontier, Fellows generate new work that is informed by the residents of Green River and the surrounding desert landscape. Sykes has facilitated over 60 residents through the Frontier Fellowship.

 
  Frontier Fellows and Epicenter staff at Goblin Valley

Frontier Fellows and Epicenter staff at Goblin Valley

a call to place

The first five years of the Frontier Fellowship were celebrated through A Call to Place, an exhibition and publication created in collaboration with former Epicenter Citizen Designer Bryan Brooks and former Frontier Fellows Corbin LaMont, Nicole Lavelle, Charlotte XC Sullivan, Miles Mattison, and Cyrus Smith.

  Eliza Fernand with her community quilt

Eliza Fernand with her community quilt

with community

Often it takes a visitor to discern the beauty and value of things local residents may find mundane or insignificant. Fellows immerse themselves fully in this community during their time in Green River---having a meaningful conversation with a farmer, going on a boat ride down the river with a city councilman, teaching an art workshop in the high school, producing a community-based publication, or taking riding lessons at the local stable. Fellows learn as much from the community as the community earns from them. Much of the work Fellows generate in Green River is truly with and of this community.

  Photo of Epicenter's Summer Summit event in 2013 featuring many returning Frontier Fellows

Photo of Epicenter's Summer Summit event in 2013 featuring many returning Frontier Fellows

A Micro-culture

From the American-flag-waiving welcome to summer Sundays spent on the river beach to the family-style farewell diner, Fellows are completely immersed in the culture of Epicenter. The close-knit nature of Epicenter and the intimate nature of the work creates a unique and intense environment that quickly makes the newcomer an invested collaborator. And after their residency, Fellows rarely disappear for good. They stay connected, recruit colleagues as Fellows, provide design expertise from afar, and often return to town for projects. This culture of connection has created an international web of people who care about and invest in Green River and rural places long after they've said goodbye.

  Detail of Andrew Hamblin's "Book Cliff" installation

Detail of Andrew Hamblin's "Book Cliff" installation

on landscape

At 4078 feet above sea level, Green River is a high desert town surrounded by the glories of the Utah landscape. The natural forces that shaped the land are made visible in all directions: the dramatic Book Cliffs to the north, the orther-worldly San Rafael Swell to the west, the deep canyonlands to the south, the towering La Sal and Henry Mountains to the southeast and southwest respectively, and of course, the rushing Green River bifurcating the town itself. This is a harsh land of biting and lonely winter, the squalls of spring, and an oppressive summer, but it draws in pioneers and visitors with its enigmatic qualities and brilliant sunsets. To create and sustain anything in the place requires confronting the unforgiving harshness and contradictory beauty of the desert.

  "Navajo Nation" embroidery by Shawn Creeden

"Navajo Nation" embroidery by Shawn Creeden

in response

The American West both as a place and a concept remains rich and contradictory. The effects of Manifest Destiny and temporary industries are found in the abandoned sites of uranium mining and the Green River Launch Complex, vacant commercial lots on Broadway, a deteriorating housing stock throughout town, and the astonishing existence of a town isolated in a harsh high desert. Responding to this place through empathetic and respectful art works is complicated but essential.