The gazebo on VCCA's grounds, Kate Kern

By: Kate Kern

The windows and skylight of my temporary studio faced east. Opening the door in the morning I was greeted by light flooding in across the work table and onto the floor.

By the beginning of my second week at the Virginia Center for Creative  Arts, I came closer to a working rhythm that did not feel forced.

I looked forward to the walk between the residence building and the studios, about 8 am, taking the pea gravel path past the domain of stately mature shade trees, past the perennial garden (lingering home to one exquisite peachy pink peony blossom during my first week) surrounding an azure ceilinged gazebo and out on to the rough gravel path, lined with barbed wire fence. Horses on the left and a blue bird in scrubby crabapple tree on the right. This walk was my transition between work and non-work, studio and not studio.

The adjustment to this easy morning commute and waking to the luxury of a civilized breakfast prepared and presented by someone else, often complete with several other fellows as dining companions, was not difficult.

My frugal side had always won out when I considered applying for an artist’s residency such as this. Why do I need to travel to another place to do my work, when I already have a studio and time to work in it?

Since renting my first studio in the Bricktown area of Detroit in 1982 my usual routine revolves around time spent working alone in my studio. Sometimes I know exactly what I am doing, the process, the materials, the idea, all come together at the same time. Often, what I am doing has not reached this conscious point of articulation. Getting to that point, when the work starts talking back, starts connecting and overlapping, requires patience with a long period of not knowing, punctuated with trying things out and realizing its not quite the right (or sometimes recognizing how terribly wrong it is).

Last year, in the midst of a creative slump, I decided “why not?” perhaps working in another setting would bring relief, or at least distraction.

The Virginia Center for Creative Arts (VCCA), located in Amherst, Virgina, is within driving distance and offered the side benefit of being close to my sister’s home in Lynchburg, VA. The information on their website,, was clear about living and working conditions. The images and information described fellows as having a range of ages,coming from a variety of places and the natural setting seemed inviting. I applied for a two-week residency in May to work on expanding a series of drawings with text called The Night is Dark and the House is Dark.

Since this was my first experience attending an artist residency, I was not sure what to expect of the community living aspect. Tense scenes of social drama from Bravo’s Work of Art: The Next Great Artist series and long ago graduate school flickered through my mind. The competitive application process asks for letters of support that address not only the high quality of an applicant’s work but their ability to get along in a communal setting, so I hoped for the best.

My hopes of finding a hospitable atmosphere were rewarded. The house rules of respecting each other’s need for quiet uninterrupted time to work (and sleep!) did not seem to be disputed–although I heard rumors from other fellows that a hard partying group was active in the studios the week before my arrival.

Conversation over dinner provided a time to socialize with some of the approximately 20 other fellows representing a variety of disciplines including musical composition, poetry, fiction writing, and playwriting as well as visual art.

Fellows’ schedules ran independently of each other, with no set pattern to individual arrivals and departures. This timing makes for an odd emotional experience as the arc of friendships can be remarkably condensed and as I was just getting to know some of the artists it was time for them to leave and  later for me to leave. However, this ebb and flow helped to contribute to a feeling of social fluidity and prevented the gradual division of a stationary group into cliques.

We artists (inclusive of writers, composers,etc.) can be a prickly lot, surprising quick to judge and categorize, just as likely as non-artists to suffer from dizziness as the world seems to spin solely around us. Fortunately, among us there is likely to be a desire to connect on a basic level that brings relief from the isolation of working alone. I enjoyed getting to know other participants through conversation, as well as through hearing or seeing their work during evening readings and studio visits

Working in my VAAC studio, surrounded by other individuals engaged in similar tasks, I heard my own advice given about how to decide if a specific creative project is worth pursuing: “Its important if you decide its important.”The will, permission and endurance to do this work needs to come from within. Not hard when the work is going well, but arduous and desolate when the work is a struggle.

During my residency , the jellyfish in the sky image in my drawing series morphed into heavenly slide projectors, casting their light into velvety black space. I am not sure where they are going or why. I am convinced that this series is worth continuing and it would not have taken this turn without my two weeks at VAAC. .




















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