Rebecca Mitchell Kelada is from a family of artists–painters, sculptors, photographers, and writers–and she holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of Washington. In 2011, after her mother, Surel Mitchell passed away, Kelada founded Surel’s Place, converting her mother’s modern live-work space in Garden City, Idaho, near downtown Boise into the state’s only non-profit artist-in-residence program.
Carrie: Welcome to Artist Strong Becky, tell us about your art.
Thanks for inviting me, Carrie. Though I am a poet at heart, right now I’m a full-time arts administrator and parent, so my own art has fallen off a bit. That said, I am deeply dedicated to helping other artists make art, as I believe that artists should be treated like the valuable professionals that they are.
Carrie: What is Surel’s Place? How did you get the idea to create it?
Surel’s Place is a non-profit arts organization that hosts 10 artist-in-residence per year (national and international). In addition, we work for local artists by providing professionally supported art events that feature their work, including Flash Shows, Readings, and Performances. In exchange for living and travel stipends, free rent and utilities, free tickets to other art events, and professionally supported events, our residents offer 2 free or low cost events each month, one of the events being a workshop.
Carrie: What does Surel’s Place look like? How did you decide upon its location?
Surel’s Place was my mom’s house. She was a very accomplished artist, and she was also a civic force who sat on our cities’ government Planning and Zoning Commissions and Arts Commissions and helped make changes to encourage creativity. For example, her neighborhood, now named the Surel Mitchell Live-Work-Create District, has special zoning to encourage artists and artisans to move in, and they are.
Her house, which she built in 1996, is a modern live-work space that is still full of art and antiques; it is still very much a home, and our artists report that it is a perfect place to make art and live. It’s my honor to share what my mother created for herself with other artists, to show them that living spaces and one’s days can indeed be centered around creativity and art making.
Carrie: What was an obstacle you faced while creating Surel’s Place? How did you overcome it?
Funding remains the biggest obstacle. Though all of our events are filled to capacity, it takes time to court large donors and grant-making organizations, and it’s very difficult to convert visitors to donors. I also think it’s hard to convince people we need donations when our work product is so high and the house is so fabulous, but we have operating expenses and one part time staff person who needs to get paid a fair wage.
As ED, I receive a very small monthly stipend, but we hope to hire a full-time paid ED, which is one of the reasons we have to start seeking larger gifts. Now, in our 5th successful year, I believe we’re poised to start applying for and receiving the kind of support we need to persist and grow.
Carrie: How do you make time for your work with Surel’s Place and your own creativity?
Honestly, Surel’s Place is my creativity. I do all sorts of writing and design for my work, and I get to interact with artists of many disciplines–composers, choreographers, visual artists, filmmakers, writers. My job requires very creative output, and I enjoy a lot of creative input, so, for now, as I’m also raising two wee ones, I’m sated.
Carrie: How do artists and the surrounding community benefit from Surel’s Place?
Boise has a surprisingly sophisticated arts community, but it’s relatively small. Having people come from all over the world with their fresh ideas and processes is energizing and builds community. Our workshops, for example, will have established artists and art novices alike and 10 year-olds sitting next to 75 year-olds making art. In addition, we are considered by elected officials and the arts community in general as the anchor for the revitalization of the Live-Work-Create District. Since we opened, a winery opened a block away, a glass blowing studio opened, and a furniture maker/designer has rehabbed an old building and moved in.
Carrie: Can you please share a story of a resident artist and their community project?
David Titterington—our May Artist-in-Residence for 2016—is the perfect example, not only of how we’re meeting our mission, but also why our mission is so important. From Kansas City, Tittertington came to Surel’s Place with a clear, thoughtful proposal, generous spirit, and what appeared to be unlimited skill and talent.
While in residence, Titterington researched and recorded tragic sites in Idaho, including the Bear River Massacre, the Teton Damn disaster, the SL-1 incident, The Minidoka War Relocation Center, and the “Gate of Death” at Massacre Rocks State Park. He then returned to the studio where he created a series of skillfully crafted paintings depicting his interpretations of these landscapes and hints of what transpired there. The resulting work “disturbed conventional distinctions between what is sacred and what is shameful,” and “honored these tragic lands as holy lands.”
The works Titterington produced (11 in total) were stunning reflections of both the physical landscape and his sense that the places themselves had witnessed these tragedies. The oil paintings are skillful combinations of realism and abstraction, with sections of the canvas devoted to traditional landscape representation and other parts devoted to more abstract work including color fields, close-ups of organic shapes and movement, and ethereal atmosphere, all working to communicate the cultural, historical and, indeed, emotional importance of these places. These paintings possess great visual appeal and deep conceptual value, as they somehow manage to lay bare and honor these tragedies without being judgmental.
Titterington’s events were very well received. He hosted a drawing workshop that began with physical exercises that research has shown to activate both sides of the brain. The exercises were meant to ensure that things are seen and expressed more wholly. Participants reported it was indeed an interesting way to “reset” their perspective. His final event, State Gems,” was standing room only. The exhibition was impressive, and Titterington’s Art Talk was well-conceived and delivered with curiosity and well-articulated research. The Q &A that followed was a lively and interesting exchange, and at least half of the audience members were new to Surel’s Place.
David Titterington sold three pieces at his final event, each selling for $3,500. This is worthy of mention because, at Surel’s Place, we firmly believe that art-making is a valuable profession. Similarly, we believe in the importance of sustaining the arts through the purchase of artworks and that such exchanges are critical for the artist, patron and the community itself.
An added bonus is that, like all of the out-of-state artists we serve, Titterington found our community to be welcoming and engaging, and our art scene to be surprisingly sophisticated. As a result of his experience at Surel’s Place, David Titterington has become yet another ambassador for Idaho, eager to spread the word about Surel’s Place and this great state to his friends and colleagues. I have one his residency paintings–I won it at our last art auction fundraiser, and it is a stunning painting on its own, made even more significant by its story.
Surel’s Place.Hear about our programming from our artists and patrons by clicking on this video. Thank you to David Thomspson, filmmaker, for his work on this project and thank you to the artists and community members who participated. Woot!
Posted by Surel’s Place on Monday, June 27, 2016
Carrie: What are you looking for in artists that apply for residency at Surel’s Place?
Professional artists who make good* art and want to share their work and processes with the public. That’s it. Oh, and they need to be non-smokers who are 25 or older. We support emerging, mid-career and established artists of many disciplines (see above). In addition to being skilled artists, our artists are generally interested in interaction with the public and most all of our artists have had a generosity of spirit that our patrons appreciate. Lastly, because artists get to live in Surel’s Place, filled with art and antiques, we ask for housing references and a deposit, which we have always refunded completely.
*Good as determined by our review panels which include established local artists, Boise State art faculty, and community members. My direction to them is that we only want beautiful art, but that doesn’t mean pretty, necessarily. It must have an attractive quality–it must attract people to it without explanation. Though we prize conceptual value, as well, we are not terribly interested in works that require explanation to even invite people toward it.
Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
I am inspired by true artists–people who can’t help but make art. My mom was like that. She wasn’t dedicated to her work; she needed it. The president of our board, Karen Bubb, is also an inspiration. She is Boise’s Public Arts Manager, instructs at Boise State, serves on national boards, works miracles for Surel’s Place, and, always and forever, finds and makes time to make her art.
Lastly, and though this may seem merely sentimental, it’s not . . . my almost 5 year-old daughter, Nettie, is a prolific creator. Watching her paint, sculpt and dance with abandon, without self-judgement and so freely is an inspiration. She is all about the process and rarely worries about the product, which, of course, is something we, as adults, can often forget.
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
Making. I don’t think it has to include self-expression, but it can. I like writing careful poems, but I also find making lines of watercolor paints on paper very satisfying, so it can be tight or it can be loose. In the end, it is the process of making something new come out of yourself and finding satisfaction in that moment.
Recently, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns delivered the commencement speech at Stanford University during which he implored the graduates to support the arts, saying, “Insist that we support science and the arts, especially the arts. They have nothing to do with the actual defense of our country – they just make our country worth defending.” He also said, “Believe, as Arthur Miller told me in an interview for my very first film on the Brooklyn Bridge, ‘believe, that maybe you too could add something that would last and be beautiful.’” Amen!
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