As another presidential election cycle ramps up, stump speeches and talking points begin to permeate national media yet again. But do those speeches actually address rural communities? Often, it seems, rural concerns are brushed off as unimportant. Designer and community organizer Katie Blanchard understands this disconnect, having grown up “in a small, rural, agricultural community, where public debates about the new design of the Main Street medians were as significant as zoning disagreements and electoral campaigns.” Luckily for Houston County, Blanchard will be spending a week highlighting how rural communities can (and do) organize, to make sure their stories are heard — and not just turned into another talking point. Blanchard is the first citizen-artist kicking off the 2019 season of the Crystal Creek Citizen-Artist Residency (CAIR) program this month.
The residency, based just outside Houston in Mound Prairie, and which is continuing its partnership with the Houston Arts Resource Council (HARC) for the third year, has hosted a musician, radio producer, podcaster, geographer, food artist, poet, and architectural designer over its first two seasons. This year’s CAIRs include an ecomusicologist, an environmental sound artist, and a community documentarian, in addition to Blanchard.
Katie Blanchard grew up in rural Northern Michigan, where the immediacy of small-town politics gave her an early interest in grassroots organizing and creative community-building. “I grew up where one of the longest-ever nurses strikes took place, along with many other impressive grassroots efforts for strengthening our community — but they aren’t things that get on the cover of the New York Times or the top of the nightly news,” she stated.
Blanchard noticed that rural organizing and union history are often overlooked or dismissed as unimportant. Her work aims to bring those stories of leadership and community action into the spotlight, “to ensure the stories of people-power are accessible and broadly shared, especially so that young people understand them and can be inspired by them.”
During her residency, Blanchard will work on illustrating and fleshing out her current work-in-progress, an ABC book about unions and rural community organizing. “The book is most intended for people like me or folks in the driftless — children of places like the rural Midwest, who live in communities with vibrant civic engagement and organizations, but whose stories of community transformation are far less often told,” Blanchard explained.
Blanchard is looking forward to hearing stories of leadership and community organizing in Houston County, past and present. Ultimately, her goal in both her book and the residency, is “to lift up stories about work, the meaning and power found in all of our workplaces and communities, and the possibility for transformation when we use that community power together in our shared future.”
Blanchard will be in Houston County from June 16 until June 22, 2019. She is hosting a meet and greet on Tuesday, June 18, at 6 p.m., at Mainspring (404 East Main Street, Caledonia), and a community workshop on Thursday, June 20, at 5:30 p.m., at KARST (111 Cedar Street, Houston). At the workshop, Blanchard will lead participants through a collaborative poster project, creating colorful Works Project Administration-style posters uplifting Houston County’s history of leadership and community care. No artistic experience is required! Both events are free and open to the public; pre-registration is required for the workshop. To register, or to help support the Crystal Creek Artist Residency program with a donation, please contact residency coordinator Erin Dorbin at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.crystalcreekcitizenartist.com.
About Crystal Creek Citizen-Artist Residency:
The Crystal Creek Citizen-Artist Residency invites creative professionals from various disciplines to discover Minnesota’s driftless region and to connect with the people and places of Houston County. The selected Citizen-Artists in Residence (CAIRs) will respectively spend seven days producing new works inspired by, and in conversation with the region. CAIRS will also share their skills with the community in a series of hands-on workshops.
Residency one: June 16-22, Katie Blanchard (Minneapolis, Minn.); meet and greet: June 18; workshop: June 20
Residency two: August 4-10, James Spartz (Unity, Maine); and Nick Byron Campbell (Los Angeles, Calif.); meet and greet: August 6; workshop: August 9
An ecomusicologist and environmental communications scholar, James Spartz, Ph.D., is a driftless Minnesota native now teaching at Unity College in Maine as an assistant professor of environmental communication.
Nick Byron Campbell is an experimental environmental musician based in Los Angeles, Calif. Frustrated by the limitations of traditional recording and performing, Campbell now experiments in sound art, creating sound art installations across the United States.
Residency three: September 15-21, Nik Nerburn (Duluth, Minn.); meet and greet: September 17; workshop: September 19
Nik Nerburn is an artist in Duluth who makes films, books, photos, and ‘zines. While working as an educator and exhibiting artist, he also develops long-term documentary projects that tell stories about communities and enlarge the common life.
About Houston Arts Resource Council
HARC is a 507 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, established to promote the arts, artists, and artisans of the Houston area.