Prairie Ronde Artist-in-Residence: It’s in a Huge Factory
Self-Directed Artists Haven
Prairie Ronde Artist-in-Residence
Application Due Dates:
Have you heard of Prairie Ronde Residency? If not, you should, but you’ll be forgiven if it’s not on your radar yet since it only started in 2019.
But for me, this was one of the stunning and productive artist residencies I’ve ever attended.
What makes this a stunning place for an artist?
It’s set in a 460,000 square foot disused factory.
Oh, and it pays a $2,000 stipend, gives a $500 travel reimbursement and you get your own house and a car. But more on that later.
So enthusiastic I am about this somewhat odd retreat set in seemingly humble Upper Midwestern small-town-ville that it could beat out other stunning locales such as Ucross, Wyoming, Yaddo, and a nineteenth century castle in Canet-en-Roussillon, France, near the Spanish border.
Because the former one hundred year-old Lee paper Mill in Vicksburg, Michigan, is in reality a giant slow-motion construction site set on 70+ acres, this was a very grounding site for making art.
Could you imagine starting the day’s routine donning a hard-hat and one of those day-glow construction vests (which you need by law), driving two blocks to the factory gate, and saying “hi” to the site foreman, carpenters, and EPA contractors?
I found this dichotomy–that of the literal heavy lifting made by workers juxtaposed next to my creative exploration of the expansive place–made for a perfect place for art creation. Crucially this usual setting kept me from getting too much “in my head”, a trap that I can fall into at other residencies. There is nothing like walking by a guy grouting bricks or building a new wall to shift my attention away from pondering how to craft my artistic vision.
There were many dozens of rooms and places to work in or be inspired by in the Mill. They range from semi-intact office-like rooms to convoluted abandoned basement paths with eerie ghost-like sections filled with pipes and machinery.
But if a renovated factory is not your thing, there are acres of grounds with streams, woods, a barn and a marshy pond area that are peacefully intriguing.
For musicians, there is your own building in downtown Vicksburg. Amazing, right?
Or, you can just work at home. You get your own quaint mid-sized 50’s style house complete with large yard, deck, garage workspace, study room, piano, full kitchen and upstairs bedroom, all of which are located about two blocks from the Mill.
Amazingly, a car comes with the residency. The town of three thousand people is just ten blocks away, but larger supermarkets and health food stores are a swift twenty minute drive through corn fields, and Kalamazoo with a good local museum, is just a bit further.
As I mentioned too, Prairie Ronde pays.
You get a $2,000 stipend for your stay (for about a month, but it could be longer), for food, expenses and to be “paid” as an artist. There is also $500 to cover travel. I flew into Detroit and then took a three hour Amtrak train ride to Kalamazoo where I was picked up by John, who runs the residency. Or you can fly into and out of the Kalamazoo airport.
The Prairie Ronde residency seems to gently permeate the town, and is mini-industry in itself, since they own several other buildings, which too are in various states of repair. In fact, the sites are in constant but gentile flux. This is no Marfa, thankfully, but there is a slight funky feel to the town. Eventually, the mill complex will be transformed into “whitebox” performance and residency spaces, but I like the raw version.
Everyone there was so nice. If you feel stir-crazy, you can meet with John, his wife or Alysse to connect, or just work everyday and take quick meal breaks like me. It’s up to you. If you are self directed and thrive working alone, this is the place with the right balance.
The application should focus on the paper factory in some way, either directly, indirectly or as a source of inspiration. For example, I found the history of the town and area extremely interesting since it was actually an early sustainable mill that recycled old cotton rags which enlisted Polish immigrants, some of whom are still left in the area. This and other history could be of interest to some residents.
Also, you need to engage with the community in some way. I had an exhibition (again, in one of their buildings downtown), and gave a presentation in one of the buildings in town, which was was a satisfying way to conclude the residency.
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