ISLAND HILL HOUSE MUSICIAN IN RESIDENCE JO WILLIAMSON PLAYING AT THE SEED STUDIO GALLERY IN ELK RAPIDS
THURSDAY MAY 26th, 2011
On a ten acre plot of land just outside of Bellaire, Michigan an ISLAND has risen. An ISLAND shaped by the winds of recognition that community is created by arts and ecology.
Started in May of 2005, the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art & Natural Design (ISLAND) is a non-profit arts and ecology center dedicated to supporting artists, restoring and developing skills and traditions of community self-reliance, and creating and sharing tools for ecological living.
ISLAND was born from Amanda and Brad Kik’s collective commitment and shared vision to connect people with nature, art and community. Although native Michiganders (Brad grew up in Haslett, Amanda in Birmingham), each traveled their own unique path to Northern Michigan and a meeting of hearts and minds.
Amanda spent both her undergraduate and graduate years at California Institute of the Arts where she became an active participant in the Los Angeles’ arts community. But regular visits to her parent’s cottage on Torch Lake created a draw that was irresistible. “Every time I visited, I fell more and more in love with the small town feel of the area.” In 2001 she arrived in Northern Michigan with a strong desire to contribute to the cultural community and promote the development of new work.
Brad left Northern Michigan for a job in New Zealand as a Volunteer Coordinator at a nature sanctuary. But after seven months, he realized the work he was doing was also very much needed back “home.” Brad returned to Northern Michigan where a meeting on the fourth of July in 2004 introduced him to his future wife. Their shared belief that the arts and sustainable living are intertwined, led to the founding of ISLAND.
The ISLAND Artist’s Residency is just one of the ways that they advance their mission of supporting artists. “The residency is designed to propel artists in their work,” said Amanda. The Hill House Residency provides artists with the dedicated space, time and resources to create new work. Emerging songwriters, writers at all stages of their career and non-studio artists can opt for a two, three or four week stay in a semi-secluded, two-story log cabin. When fully developed the residency program will house up to 12 residents at a time.
“We want to bring in artists from around the world,” said Amanda. The idea is to create opportunities for artistic exchange between the artist and the community, whether it’s hanging out at a pub talking with the locals or giving a presentation at the Jordan River Arts Council. According to Amanda, the community engagement piece is very important for the artists. Resident musicians have given performances at several local venues including Shorts Brewing Company and Seed Studio Gallery in Elk Rapids.
“People think culture happens in cities, but we push against that idea,” said Amanda. “Culture is very important in rural communities. Art is a way to help our community understand its own culture. Through their work within our community, the residency also helps artists understand their own communities better when they go back home.”
Workshops and community events give fire to another facet of ISLAND’s core work – developing skills of community self-reliance. According to Amanda everything they do has a hands-on component. Workshops focus on DIY and skill-building activities. “We’re also insane book lovers,” said Amanda. “We have a library of over 3000 books on sustainable living and art. But we realized that we have a big gap between the information in those books and the actual hands-on knowledge.”
Amanda described ISLAND’s 2011 Plan featuring over sixty events including workshops on Cordwood Masonry and Beekeeping Basics. “Most of our reach is in the ten-county area of Northwest Lower Michigan, from 1-75 west, but for some of our workshops with big name presenters, we’re attracting people from throughout the Midwest.”
Although art classes and art fairs are important to a community, according to Amanda, that’s not what they do. “Our role is to partner with and support the groups who do that.” ISLAND recently teamed up with Parkside Arts Council, a non-profit supporting arts in Antrim County, on an Art, Film and Philosophy series showcasing writers presenting and discussing their latest works.
Another ISLAND partnership with Porterhouse Productions has birthed a creative new way to fund artists. Called Sunday Soup, this mini-granting model first started with InCUBATE in Chicago, a research group dedicated to exploring new approaches to arts administration and arts funding. The concept quickly spread across the globe. Sunday Soup events are regularly held in Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Detroit.
Here’s how it will work in Traverse City. Artists of any age, any discipline and living anywhere in the ten-county Northwest Michigan region may submit applications. The applications are collected and juried by ISLAND with the best projects selected to present at Sunday Soup.
Then, once a month, folks gather at Porterhouse Productions’ The Good Work Collective, an arts gallery and community space. For a $5 to $20 donation, folks receive a delicious meal of local soup, salad and bread, while the selected artists give a short presentation explaining their proposed project. After the presentations, the community votes for their favorite project by dropping their spoon in the bucket for their favorite project. All proceeds for the event go to the artist with the most spoons in his or her bucket.
According to Amanda, “A lot of what we do has a focus on making changes that will attract young people to the community.”And they do this by working with a triangle of ecology, art, and place. “Ecology and art work together to help us better understand place. ISLAND is here to help us explore this triangle.”
Straight from ISLAND’s website, the description of their philosophy on art describes this triangle and an artistic movement in the making in Northwest Lower Michigan. “The production of art is more than taking brush to canvas, pen to paper, back of hand to forehead, or bow to string. Given the time and space, art will bubble up from depths in the earth, and forms pools that benefit us all.”