By Meg Schmitt
Despite a slow start to the spring, Grin City Collective, an artist residency program located on a family farm just outside of Grinnell, is blossoming in preparation for its spring residency session. Grin City has undergone an expansion of its program and its facilities over the last year, adding new studios, new features and more available spots for artists.
Grin City has been operating since its founding by current Co-Director Joe Lacina in 2006, with the goal of providing an inspiring artist residency grounded in community connections and sustainable lifestyles.
In the past, Grin City has had less space and fewer resources for prolonged residences, offering a maximum of five spaces during the relatively short spring, fall and winter sessions. Recent changes, however, have seen a significant expansion of the program.
This upcoming spring residency season, which begins April 29, will feature a total of 13 artists who will complete residencies ranging from two to six weeks. These artists represent a wide range of artistic disciplines. Molly Rideout ’10, Grin City Co-Director and Grinnell Area Arts Council (GAAC) Arts and Residency Director, noted the artistic diversity of this year’s crop of artists.
“[This season] is very heavy in the visual arts, [but] we have one poet who’s coming. Within the visual arts, we have a sound artist with visual elements, we have standard painters, a metal sculpture artist. … There’s a lot of installation-type [artists] coming too, which I think is really trendy right now,” Rideout said.
Grin City itself has acquired an increasingly high profile in artist residency circles, with applications growing each season to match the expansion of the facilities. This season, the farm has several new features for artists to incorporate into their practice.
“The metal shop we just opened up … has a forge and everything, which will hopefully eventually run on recycled vegetable oil,” Rideout said.
Grin City has also entered in several partnerships with local residents in keeping with the program’s concomitant links to sustainable living and agricultural themes. Dr. David Coster has established Coz Lofts at Grin City, a pigeon aviary providing useful benefits for the farm and adding to the creative process for artists.
“I think [his] is an interesting approach and what we like to do [at Grin City] is take interesting approaches to art,” Rideout said. “Unique and strange things do good stuff for art, regardless of whether it’s art or not. To go and experience something different is inspiration.”
“Plus, pigeon droppings are great fertilizer for the gardens!” she added.
To fuel their inspiration, Grin City has teamed up with Grinnell alumnus Jordan Scheibel ’10 to expand the Middle Way Farm, a half-acre vegetable garden initiated and managed by Scheibel in cooperation with Grin City last summer. Scheibel, who worked with Grin City artists in 2012 helping them grow and harvest their own food, is vital in cultivating the artists’ sustainable living skills.
“Artists that come from large cities don’t really have a lot of experience with agriculture and when they come to Iowa, it’s because they want an experience with agriculture,” Rideout said. “That’s what people from the city know about Iowa.”
The additions to the Grin City experience are undoubtedly changing the program and Co-Directors Rideout and Lacina are hopeful that the new elements will continue to develop the residency’s creative atmosphere.
“The physical growth obviously allows us to have more artists, which allows the program to take a new form,” Rideout said. “[With] nine people, it has the potential to break into collaborations, smaller groups. I think it will allow for more spontaneous teaming up, which I think is really exciting.”
Grin City is far from done with its plans for improvements. With more artists come more ideas and this season’s artists are already bringing plenty with them. Among those selected for the spring session (lasting April 29-June 8) are a sound artist/printmaking professor, several paper installation artists and an artist-turkey-raiser.
Projected outreach plans include a pop-up gallery in collaboration with Prairie Canary and teaming up with GAAC’s Art Academy children’s summer program in designing a two-week customized curriculum, in addition to some of the long-running outreach programs Grin City artists have participated in over the years.
Both past and future projects continue to entice artists from across the country, regardless of their experience or art form.
“We provide something that not a lot of other residencies do,” Rideout said, noting Grin City’s Emergent Artist residency with subsidized housing aimed at making art residencies available for burgeoning as well as established artists.
Grin City and its spring artists can look forward to this season’s changes as well as continued growth in the future.
“[Grin City] is becoming more of a full-bodied program of its own,” Rideout said. “It has its own life, as well.”