The visual artist Sonja Hinrichsen writes about her experiences with the AiR program in Wyoming, USA.
Ucross Foundation offers artist residencies for artists of all disciplines, including writers and music composers. The residencies are open to artists at any point of their career. Ucross Foundation encourages applicants from all over the world. Presently, most resident artists come from urban areas within the United States. However, the foundation intents to attract more international applicants.
Ucross Foundation usually hosts 8-9 artists at a time, making it a relatively small artist residency (compared to some of the larger programs in the United States). A group of 8 residents typically consists of 4 visual artists and 4 writers, sometimes there will be a composer as well. (Ucross has 2 composer studios). Artists can apply for sessions from 2 to 8 weeks. Since residents stay for different lengths of times, the community changes on a rolling basis, with people leaving and arriving every 2 weeks. However, I experienced a very strong sense of community since the participants share communal dinners 5 days a week; during which they can exchange ideas, discuss art and other related subject matters. In addition, the foundation offers tours of their extensive grounds and occasional trips to special events in the nearby towns of Buffalo and Sheridan. I found it very easy to get in touch with other artists. I experienced my fellow residents to be open-minded, interesting and interested people. As a visual artist I also found it exciting to share ideas and opinions with people who work in completely different creative genres, such as writers and musicians.
What does the foundation offer to the artists? / How does it all work?
Accommodation and Food:
All residents are housed in one of two historic buildings of a former cattle ranch. The buildings are completely renovated and are air-conditioned in summer and heated in winter. Each resident is given a private bedroom, bathrooms are shared. There is one full bathroom for every 2 participants. One of the 2 buildings has a large common space, with a living room where you can find books, maps, magazines etc; and a dining room. This is where dinners are served 5 days of the week. Ucross Foundation has an excellent chef and puts a lot of emphasis on very good, high-quality food. Most ingredients are organic. There is a vegetarian option during every meal. Your lunch is delivered to your studio, usually consisting of rich sandwiches, salads or leftovers from dinner, fruit and home-made cookies. The chef prepares each lunch individually and accommodates food restrictions and preferences. Breakfast is prepared individually by the residents. Breakfast foods are provided. During the weekends there are no prepared dinners, the artists are welcome to eat leftovers from the week, or cook their own dishes. Food is provided. Sometimes groups get together and cook communally. The kitchen is always stocked up very well and any ingredients can be used anytime.
Except for 2 writers’ studios, which are in the main buildings, all studios are located within a 5-10 minute walk from the 2 main buildings. There are also bicycles, which can be used to get back and forth between living space and studio. The studio buildings are scattered, but within sight of each other. The 4 studios for visual artists are in a rather new complex called the “Rock Studios”. They are large, modern, clean spaces with good daylight and wide doors opening directly to the outside for artists who work outdoors. If it gets too late and you are too tired to go back, you can sleep in your studio, as there is a bed in there as well. I loved to wake up there, since it felt like being in the middle of nowhere, just the sound of a close-by creek and birds. One of the studios is set up as a print-making studio, including an elephant printing press. The three other studios have no equipment other than tables and chairs. You need to bring your own equipment and materials. There are no art supply stores near Ucross. However, it is very easy (and a common practice in the US) to mail-order materials from online art supply stores and electronic stores (for digital media, CDs, video tapes etc.). This is usually very convenient and cheaper than buying materials in actual stores. Some materials can be bought in an office supply store in one of the 2 towns nearby.
What else is there?
Ucross Foundation also runs an art gallery and conference / lecture center; and there is a library in the office building, which is accessible to the residents during office hours. There is also a small separate building (Buck’s Cabin) with TV / DVD / VHS equipment for watching movies, and a computer with internet access. If you bring your own computer there is wireless internet access also in several other buildings.
Expectations towards the artists
Ucross Foundation does not have any particular expectations towards you. It’s the foundation’s mission to provide artists with a supportive environment where they can focus on their creative work undisturbed by the distractions of everyday life. A lot of Ucross residents have received major awards, published bestseller books and participated in important art exhibitions. In many cases these successes happen years later. Ucross Foundation hopes to support people who will have some sort of impact at some point in their life. This impact could take any shape.
The foundation does not require you to present your work. However, sometimes the resident community arranges informal lecture events or open studios where the artists show their work to each other. Participation is of course voluntary.
There are no fees for the residency. The program is entirely sponsored by the foundation. However, you do have to pay for your travel expenses. It might be worth looking into separate travel grants, either from your own country or international grants. A place to start is the Alliance of Artist Communities, which Ucross Foundation is a member of. They might have suggestions of organizations that provide travel grants.
Application Procedure and Selection Process
Visual artists, writers and composers of all media, directions and artistic interests can apply. Ucross Foundation does not have any particular preferences of artistic directions. The residency is certainly very interesting for artists who respond to new environments in their work; however, this is not a requirement in any way, nor are those artists given preference. I would like to point out that Ucross Foundation maintains one studio that is fully equipped for printmakers. This is definitely a great opportunity.
Ucross Foundation has 2 application deadlines each year:
March 1 for residencies during the fall of the same year; and October 1 for residencies in the spring of the following year. These are postmark deadlines.
The application form can be downloaded from the Ucross website. In addition to your own materials you will need to provide 3 letters of recommendation, written by people who are well familiar with your work. In terms of visual materials (work samples) do not hesitate to contact the foundation regarding acceptable media and formats. I found them to be very flexible. Your work sample is the most important component for a successful application and should therefore represent your work as effectively as possible.
Ucross Foundation receives about 200 applications for each application deadline; all genres combined. Approximately 35 artists are awarded a residency. The selection committee is composed of artists and professionals of the humanities. The committee changes every three residency seasons.
The application form asks for your preferred residency dates. It is a good idea to be as flexible as possible. The most competitive period is during academic summer break in the United States (mid-May to the end of August). This is the only period American artists involved in teaching can attend artist residencies.
More about Ucross Foundation and its location
The foundation was founded in 1981, taking into their responsibility the lands of an abandoned Cattle Ranch, the Pratt & Ferris Cattle Company. (This is also how the foundation got its name: the company branded their cattle with a “U” and a “cross”). Thus, Ucross Foundation holds a very unique position among artist residencies. Although the artist-in-residence program is their main focus, they also take on stewardship of the land. They work with the nature conservancy of Wyoming in order to improve the health of their land, which consists of 22,000 acres (89 square km). This includes, for instance, the planting of a total of 10,000 trees. They have cattle and sheep herds, which are held according to holistic farming methods. The foundation’s mission is a successful marriage of the arts and the environment. Particularly their gallery and conference space tie the two together, through arts exhibitions and public seminars that address local environmental issues. When I was at Ucross Foundation in 2006 they were preparing for a photography exhibition and symposium as a response to the development of coalbed methane pumping stations in their greater vicinity and on their grounds – a development that greatly concerns ranchers in the area, but is inevitable. According to law minerals have to be made available, even if they occur on private property. Ucross Foundation’s goal is to generate discussions between mineral companies, landowners and environmental organizations in order to find solutions for a minimum amount of environmental damage.
Ucross Foundation is located in the northern part of the state of Wyoming, in the high plains of the Rocky Mountains Region. The range of the massive Big Horn Mountains is within view of the foundation. The landscape is hilly and consists of arid grasslands. Technically this region is considered a desert, since it only gets a few inches of precipitation per year. It is not, however, a desert in the classical sense, but is very rich in flora and fauna. The climate is hot and dry in summer and can get extremely cold in winter. (When I was there in December we had temperatures as low as – 30º C). There is some snowfall, but it is mostly clear and sunny.
This region of the United States is dominated by endless, vast landscapes. Population density is the second lowest (after Alaska) of all the United States. Compared to European standards these lands appear almost completely empty. In terms of the artist residency this means: Ucross Foundation is remote. The community of Ucross merely consists of the artist residency and a few houses; there are no stores, bars, restaurants etc. within walking or biking distance. The two closest towns are Buffalo (27 km from Ucross), and Sheridan (43 km away). Buffalo is a small town of only 3,500 inhabitants; Sheridan has a population of 13,000. The Ucross staff offers town trips once a week, which artists can join, if they need to run errands. Artists who wish to travel around and explore in addition to that, will need to rent a car.
However, this region is extraordinarily interesting environmentally as well as historically. It is here in the Powder River Country where the Cheyenne and Sioux Indians desperately fought for their rights, trying to save their culture from extinction as the white man pushed into their country ruthlessly and forcefully, taking possession of the lands that had previously been granted to the tribes by treaty and for “as long as the sun will shine, grass will grow and rivers will flow.” The famous battleground of Little Bighorn is only an hour away from Ucross. Here the allied tribal nations triumphantly annihilated an entire regiment of the US army; after years of persecution. Other sites of the same era are closer. It is in Wyoming where greedy cattle barons claimed large masses of land and tried to rid themselves of family homesteads in the most corrupt and brutal ways. All of this happened only a little over a century ago. If you have seen Western movies such as “Shane”, “High Noon”, “Open Range”: this is the country where these old stories play. The country still looks the same as it did back then, only that nowadays you can go into a bar without being shot – if you can find one. There are even less people, less towns and settlements there nowadays, since the era of family farming and cattle ranching in a wild, dry country with freezing cold winters is over. (Other movies that show some of the countryside of Wyoming and its neighboring states: Broke Back Mountain, Laramie Project, Dances with Wolves, Boys Don’t Cry, Napoleon Dynamite).
In the 1800s Webster described Wyoming as follows: “…a region of savages, wild beasts, shifting sands, whirlwinds of dust, cactus and prairie dogs.” Except for the Native people and the wild buffalo, which unfortunately have since been wiped out, this is still a valid description. As for the wildlife: there is a lot of it, including a huge prairie dog town right next to the Foundation. During my visit I encountered a big wild cat, which was later identified as a bobcat, or possibly even a young mountain lion.
What to bring?
Clothing: If you plan to explore some of the country, I would recommend bringing a pair of good hiking shoes, as the country is very rough and there are barely any trails. Most other clothing depends on the season. In winter you will need to bring very warm clothing, cap, gloves etc. I was told that in summer it is possible to bathe in a creek that runs behind the artist residency, so it might be a good idea to bring a bathing suit.
Money: since the residency provides all meals, you will only need some money for personal needs and arts materials, if you are planning to buy them there. Credit cards are usually accepted in all stores. Alternatively it might be a good idea to bring international travelers checks issued in US $. I advise to bring a small sum of cash in US currency.
Health Insurance: You might want to inquire whether your health insurance company provides coverage during stays in the United States. Some European health insurance plans don’t. However, there are companies that offer very affordable short-term travel insurance plans. Some of those might be offered through banks in your home country. Usually they have to be purchased before departure.
The 2 closest major airports are Denver, Colorado and Billings, Montana. I would recommend checking for tickets to Billings. Often these are only slightly more expensive; however, Billings is much closer to Ucross Foundation. There is Greyhound bus service to Sheridan from both cities. The bus trip takes only 2 hours from Billings as opposed to approximately 12 hours from Denver. Since the Greyhound bus does not go very often, you might have to spend a night in Billings / Denver. Ask Ucross Foundation to assist you with accommodation.
A slightly more expensive option is Big Sky Airlines, which offer flights to Sheridan from both Denver and Billings. However, make sure to check their baggage restrictions, as those might be different from the allowance given on your international flight. I was not able to use Big Sky because I had too much luggage.
Ucross Foundation will pick you up in Sheridan.
My experience at Ucross Foundation
I spent 6 weeks at Ucross Foundation during Nov. / Dec. I loved every minute of it. It was truly amazing. It was definitely one of my best artist residencies ever. I had a very productive time with a lot of outdoor exploration, all on foot and by bike – in my case this is part of my artwork. I experienced the rapid change from a very warm fall to an icy cold winter. I met interesting people, both visual artists as well as artists of other disciplines. I found the residency staff extremely helpful and accommodating in every way. I highly recommend this artist residency to all artists who are looking for a quiet place to focus on their work, love the outdoors and are open to explore an environment that is substantially different from the one they live in. This might be a very great and exciting experience for you.
This is how one of my fellow residents described her residency:
“The log cabin composer´s studio was a very welcome surprise - adorned with every possible amenity that a composer might need, including several electronic keyboards and an acoustic piano, the studio was perfect for dreaming music - with a view onto the vast sky, wild canyons and the quiet river, there was a sense of being in the presence of something grand; mystical, gentle, awesome, terrifying, wondrous - changing weather created hugely different emotional spaces. I do not doubt that my music was influenced by all of this. I came away with the sense of being part of something very large, and felt incredibly grateful for the experience. And the food!!! The best!!!” (Andrea Clearfield, composer).
Sonja Hinrichsen, 2007 – 2011
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