Art Farm’s mission is to support artistic vision, which may be impractical, obscure, and independent of commercial recognition—where failing is no less welcomed than succeeding. To offer artists, writers, performers, and others: studios, time, and resources for pursuing their range of expression, for experimenting, for developing projects, but most of all, for distilling the promise and potential of their creative enterprise, while working and living in a rural environment.
Before Terra Cultura had a name, we referred to it simply as the art farm. We suspected other Art Farms existed and wanted to reach out to them as potential collaborators. A google search for the term yielded the well-established Art Farm Nebraska that has offered artist and writer residencies since 1991. The more I delved into Art Farm Nebraska’s multi-tiered website, the more it became clear that I would have to visit and learn its ways. As an aspiring fiction writer with an arts background, as well as a new farmer, it seemed to be a good fit. So I applied and was really excited to be accepted for a month long writing residency. It is appropriate that this is our Valentine’s Day post–Art Farm Nebraska warrants a love letter.
Art Farm is on a beautiful semi-rural plot of land in Marquette, Nebraska where artists and writers may apply for a residency of varying lengths, generally from two weeks to several months. At any given time from spring to fall, ten to twenty artists and writers can be found living, working on various farm projects, and diligently pursuing their creative practices in and around the many unique structures to be found there.
If there are any rules or guidelines, they are mostly unspoken, and visitors may discover and carve their own gradual navigational course through a stay at Art Farm. This creates an atmosphere of almost hitherto unimaginable freedom. The resources available for art and connection-making are abounding and the sources of inspiring places and people are plentiful. The culture, an oral one passed down from one resident to the next, cultivates an organic resonation with reciprocity: “if you take something leave something”, a code widely honored and enacted.
In exchange for housing, studio space, resources and time to focus on one’s craft, residents contribute around 12 hours of labor per week on building renovation projects or other facilities and garden work. They also leave behind an artwork or other creative remnant or structure for the betterment of the farm and delight of future residents. Art Farm is therefore dappled to the brim with strange creations and nooks to discover. Residents provide their own food that, many evenings, tends to pool into improvised communal meals, supplemented by the vegetable garden, cooked in shared kitchens or over a campfire. Some nights an art farmer with a car might circulate the studios and residences shouting “don’t care!” which signals a car pool to the local bar Don’t Care for pool, foosball and burgers. Other nights residents might organize an open studio tour, poetry reading, workshop or yoga class. Once I got into the rhythm of it, I found the balance to be just right between structure and freedom, and between farm work, daydreaming, my own creative work and socializing. Considering how difficult this balance can be to find in the “real world”, what Art Farm offers is a generous gift.
Art Farm seems to attract a community of characters who cultivate intellectual and creative rigor infused with the free spiritedness of those who travel a lot and spend time outdoors. And you had better love the outdoors at Art Farm. Physical and metaphorical boundaries tend to be permeable at Art Farm, and critters, insects, plants and weather infiltrate every aspect of one’s waking and imagined life. The environment itself inevitably seeps into, and makes demands of one’s writing and art wonderfully, surprisingly and sometimes aggravatingly.
The structures are ingeniously constructed of reclaimed materials, and in some cases complete buildings slated for demolition have been relocated from elsewhere and restored. They are old, rustic, ramshackled, jerry-rigged, full of rodents, bugs and ghosts, and perfect. They beg to be climbed, and one stormy night found us on the roof of one of the relocated structures–a Victorian house circa 1890–when a dramatic lightning storm came too close on the heels of a meteor shower and had us scrambling down from a near miss. The weather can be thrilling, but mostly the atmosphere at Art Farm is remarkably gentle. Soft grasses pad each footfall, grasshoppers spring from the path like parting seas and rabbits blink just out of reach. The tallgrass prairies are surprisingly diverse in their population of wildflowers and edible weeds, and at dusk one can hardly distinguish fireflies from falling stars. A dip in the shallow, summer-warmed, silty Platte River, beer in hand, is more soothing than the spa. (Just ignore the thought of pesticide runoff from nearby cornfields.)
Art Farm is founded and run by the jack-of-all-trades, soft-spokenly witty Ed Dadey, who we are grateful to have as an advisor in these early stages of starting our own California art farm. Nothing is ever broken at Art Farm Nebraska. Ed can show you how to fix it, and he turns up with the most resourceful tools for the job. Though the scaffolding may be rickety and your power tools skills rusty, you can rest assured that Ed always has a calm eye on things. Ed was born on the land that now houses Art Farm, and his nephew farms the 60 acres of surrounding cornfields. When not at Art Farm, Ed renovates houses in New York City. It is an enjoyable pastime among art farmers to assemble what knowledge they have collected of Ed’s past. We do not know what is fiction and what is true. Some say he is an ex-ex-pat ceramicist turned machinist who makes furniture that’s more like sculpture and can code a computer better than any silicon valley whippersnapper. He brings residents 50 gallon bags full of popcorn. He’s also a clever and prescient writer.
What I come back to in my frequent reminisces of Art Farm Nebraska is how much growing, exploring, expanding, and creating a dedicated artist can accomplish in a supportive community when the only demands placed on her are her own. It’s a rare privilege. At Terra Cultura, we plan to offer artists, writers and scientists this unrestricted freedom to experiment and create. While Terra Cultura’s programming is more structured than Art Farm Nebraska’s, Terra Cultura hopes to capture the freedom, playfulness, creativity, community, collaboration and innate sense of reciprocity that Art Farm fosters so terrifically. If Art Farm Nebraska sounds right for you, you can apply for a residency at www.ArtFarmNebraska.Org. The deadline is March 1, 2017. And if you’re into Art Farm, you’d also definitely dig a residency at Terra Cultura (coming soon)!
“Art Farm Nebraska is: not like any other place. It’s better.”
Bill Liebeskind, painter and art farmer