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Willowtail Springs preparing future artists through residencies

Program helps sharpen skills, get real-world experience

Six Durango High School students took part in Willowtail Springs’ first student artist-in-residence retreat Oct. 18-20.

The event gave students the chance to see what a working artist goes through on a daily basis.

Roxie Mitchell, DHS art instructor, said the residency program fits in with the school’s transition from a traditional art program to more technical career education.

“We’re linking them with the industry so they are ready to go into jobs,” Mitchell said. “Students need to deepen their practice just like artists do.”

The students applied for the residency like professional artists and wrote short essays detailing how the experience would help their careers and submitted images of past work and a resume. When faculty chose students to take part in the program, they looked for a variety of skills like sculpting, painting, photography and drawing.

Students attended the Mancos retreat at no cost with scholarship funding through the Durango Education Foundation - Michael Crane Memorial Art Fund and the Willowtail Springs Education Center and Nature Preserve.

Willowtail owner Peggy Cloy said the experience gave students the chance to use self-directive, problem-solving techniques.

Cloy, also a local artist, has operated Willowtail with her husband for 25 years as a 60-acre peaceful getaway for painters, playwrights, singers, poets, songwriters and other artists. She started the nonprofit side of Willowtail six years ago and said she is very excited to see more student residencies go through the program.

Cloy believes the whole body is involved in the process of developing art, and artists need time and space to feel inspired.

“If you’re going to be a professional artist, you have to get used to using the conscious and unconscious brain,” Cloy said. “It’s like speaking two languages, moving back and forth the whole time.”

DHS Senior Jessica Fiala took part in the residency and said she works in acrylic painting and loves to paint landscapes in the style of Bob Ross. She said the retreat allowed her to work for hours at a time versus the limited time during class.

“I have definitely grown as an artist since my stay there,” Fiala said. “I know what it’s like now to work full time in a studio as a professional artist and to work side-by-side with other artists.”

DHS plans to continue the residency program, and other schools in La Plata and Montezuma counties are considering adding it to art programs.