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Process over product at Willowtail Springs

Artists talk value of residency at library panel

It’s all about the process, not the product, at Willowtail Springs.

A panel of artists who have taken part in the Willowtail art residency spoke about their experiences at the Mancos Public Library Thursday night. They touched on the value of a residency to the artistic process – and on the interrelation of art and space.

“To practice process over final product, that is not a thing that is honored much in our world right now,” said Peggy Cloy, who directs the residencies program. “It is something I have always believed in.”

Willowtail Springs is a nonprofit, located along County Road 39, that has hosted residencies in the arts and ecology since 2012.

An important component of the residency is removing life from the equation, which can be difficult practically to do.

“There’s always something that comes up when you’re in your own life that disrupts your art in some way,” said panelist Lorena Williams. “The beauty of a residency for me has always been that you’re escaping that.”

A wildland firefighter and a writer, Williams initially took part in the residency when she moved to Southwest Colorado. The first year she participated, she didn’t come up with a solid final product, but the experience allowed her to “center” herself in her new home, and establish an artists’ community – something that can be difficult as a writer.

“You write alone,” Williams said. “And there’s nothing to put on the wall at the end of it. And so people may know your name, but there’s nothing to show physically for it.”

The following year, Williams ended up writing a few essays that were published in High Country News, along with collaborating with artist-scientist Suze Woolf, on a project on burnt trees.

They spoke too about the practical dimension of art. Making a living as an artist can be an all-encompassing endeavor, involving self-promotion and distribution, collaboration – and oftentimes multiple jobs.

Visual artist Ann Salviazul spoke about the constant tension between art and holding a job. She worked as a kitchen designer for Home Depot for many years, before jumping into art full-time.

“We’re all familiar with that fight, about how the job takes so much of your energy, that then you don’t have it to put into your work,” Salviazul said.

The residency gave her the time and space to structure her day, and to work on an art project on homelessness – inspired by a family member and her own time both volunteering and being served at Manna Soup Kitchen in Durango.

And as the name might suggest, a key component of Willowtail is the landscape, a nature preserve with swaths of meadows, piñon-juniper forests, a lake, and gardens. Environment affects art, Cloy said, regardless of whether it is in the center of a city, a war zone, or a serene property like Willowtail.

“One of the important elements when you’re exploring the impact of a residency, is the artist and nature, and how do those two play off each other?” Cloy said. “Because they always do.”

She hopes that Willowtail Springs can be “quietly inspirational.”

For more information on the Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve and Education Center, visit the organization’s website.


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