Most of the stories that we share focus primarily on direct-to-audience organizations. Today, we wanted to highlight an example of how a residency created to serve artists became a platform for engaging the whole community.
I caught up recently with Molly Rideout of Grin City Collective, an artistic collective in Grinnell, Iowa that recently announced they were closing their doors. In the wake of this news, we wanted to make space for reflection: how did Grin City’s work evolve over its twelve years? How do they perceive the impact they made on this small community as well as the broader Iowa region?
We started at the beginning
Grin City began as a retreat for young artists to make art during the summer on a family farm. Over the years, the organization shifted to specialize in public art installations, workshops, potluck gatherings, pop-up art shows, and literary projects that focused on the role of contemporary art, storytelling, music, and creativity in the rural Midwestern identity.
Why the shift?
“We needed to be relevant to our community,” according to Rideout who also cited the economic challenges many retreat style rural artist residencies face.
What made Grin City unique according to Rideout was the focus on collaboration. This collaboration was evident in participatory programming that spoke to the breadth of their community while offering resources to residents. Rideout’s advice to others doing similar work is to focus on creating opportunities where multiple people can contribute and claim ownership, “There was never a project where someone was doing something alone.”
In that same spirit of collaboration, the board decided to wrap up the project at the end of 2018 and donate the remaining funds to The Stew, a new art space in downtown Grinnell that offers a place for future creative collaborations to flourish. According to Rideout, the space is already a roaring success: “The only complaint about the space so far is that it is too busy. It is a space that is clearly being used by all sorts of different community members.”
Although Grin City has closed, it’s clear the network of people involved in their work remain committed to developing new places to gather and creating opportunities for even more people to collaborate.
Remind yourself how little you know about a place
Molly Rideout’s parting advice for others pursuing social practice work:
”You need to spend an extensive amount of time getting to know a community. Continue to remind yourself how little you know about a place… The more you know, the more you realize how little you actually know. I am learning so much and that is really exciting but I still know just a sliver of what those around me know… As artists our job is often to produce something but we should always be checking in with community members to make sure it is doing the right thing.”
Images courtesy of Grin City Collective and The Grinnell Area Arts Council