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Ucross Helps Advance Careers of Native American Visual Artists

Art by Ucross Native honorees is featured at an exhibition the year following their residency. “The exposure I will receive from this show through museum visitors and media coverage will assist me in gaining future shows, residencies, grants and other opportunities,” said Syndey Pursel (Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska). (Photo courtesy Pursel and Ucross Foundation)

For more than 35 years, deeply committed creatives have participated in the Ucross artist in residency program. Provided the unique gift of uninterrupted time, along with work space and living accommodations, artists travel to the stay on the 20,000-acre working cattle ranch in northeastern Wyoming to explore their crafts and dive into projects.

Ucross observed their open application process wasn’t drawing many applications from Native American visual artists. “So we thought, let’s focus on that,” Ucross President Sharon Dynak told Native Business Magazine. “We’ve seen some of the work by contemporary Native American artists and it is absolutely extraordinary. That was the genesis of the fellowship.”

The Ucross Fellowship for Native American Visual Artists, implemented in 2017, is given to two artists annually, and provides artists with a one-month residency, a stipend, and inclusion in an exhibition in the Ucross Art Gallery. The first exhibit takes place this year. Art by the program’s first two Native American honorees, Sydney Pursel (Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska) and Brenda Mallory (Cherokee Nation), will be featured in the exhibition Intricate Form at the Museum of Art in Fort Collins, Colorado, from January 18-March 17, 2019, and at the Ucross Art Gallery from June 3-September 28, 2019.

Ucross recently announced the recipient of the Spring 2019 Fellowship will be Heidi Brandow, a multi-disciplinary artist with an active painting, printmaking, and social-engagement practice who hails from a long line of Native Hawaiian singers, musicians and dancers on her mother’s side, and Diné (Navajo) storytellers and medicine people on her father’s side.

The next application deadline for the fall 2019 Ucross Fellowship for Native American Visual Artists is March 1, 2019.

Dynak shared more insight about the Ucross experience on a recent call with Native Business Magazine. Ucross houses 10 artists at a time of varying disciplines—“four visual artists, four writers and two composers. Sometimes that mix changes slightly when we bring in a dancer/choreographer.” (With support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, the fellowship for Native American visual artists is open to disciplines that include but are not limited to painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, video, performance art, installation, ceramics, and collaborative projects involving multiple disciplines.)

“What we’ve been hearing—aside from the value of the uninterrupted time, which is becoming more and more rare with each passing year—is that the experience of being together with all of these people from various disciplines is a profoundly life-changing experience, and the words we most often hear are ‘transformative’ and ‘magical,’” Dynak told Native Business.

Artists can choose to interact or take solitude at their preference. “Occasionally we hear that residents meet at Ucross and begin collaborating down the road,” Dynak added.   

Tracey Kikut, Residency Manager, added: “I think that fact that the residency is fairly small really amplifies the experience. In the evenings, they are served a wonderful family-style, buffet meal at which they all sit down and talk about all kinds of things. We often hear from them that sharing a meal together is something that is very powerful.”

Sydney Pursel, the first Ucross Native American fellow, candidly described the depth of her interactions with the artist community at Ucross last year:

“The community of artists at Ucross created an open and inviting space. We organized group activities, hikes, artist talks, poetry readings, concerts, sock dance parties, and game nights. We shared intimate and intense experiences openly knowing we were in respectful company. Because of this, we were comfortable enough disagreeing with one another, too. I was lucky enough to be in a group of such a wide age variety. Making connections across generations is something so invaluable to me. As an emerging artist and one of the youngest artists in my group, I was able to make connections with artists further along in their careers. Many of the artists had not pursued academia and it was refreshing to see how these artists supported their work and enlightening to learn about the many paths that influenced each artist’s career, art, and life,” Pursel wrote in an email to Native Business Magazine.  

As Brenda Mallory, the second Ucross Native American fellow, put it: “I had a most profound sense of both rest and stimulation while there.”

Brenda Mallory, a member of the Cherokee Nation and resident of Portland, Oregon, creates work that ranges from individual wall-hangings and sculptures to large-scale installations. (Courtesy Mallory)

Applying for the Fellowship

Ucross fellowship artists receive a stipend of $2,000 monthly, and their needs—private bedroom, private studio and meals—are provided through the residency. There is no charge to the artist, but they do have to get themselves here to Northern Wyoming, which is not always easy. Once they’re here, they receive a private bedroom and a private studio and food,” Dynak said.  

Kikut continued:We take care of everything; we take care of the linens; we take care of it all.” And the exceptional chef is reportedly the most beloved person on the Ucross staff, she added.

Through a jury selection process, an external committee of 10 experts in various fields select the Ucross fellows. “We’ve made sure to have a Native American voice on our visual arts committee,” Dynak said.  

 Pursel can attest to the influence Ucross has had on her exposure as an artist-entrepreneur.

“Breaking into the art world is one of the hardest things for an artist to do, especially one based in the middle of Missouri. Ucross actively sent out press releases to local newspapers and media outlets in my area, and places I showed or performed. Because of these efforts I have been featured in local magazine and newspapers, and invited to talk on a local radio program. Local media exposure granted me opportunities to show my work within the community. A local arts organization included my installation at Art in the Park and I partnered with the pubic library on some programming that went along with the book, Killers of the Flower Moon,” Pursel said. “I was also awarded a show at a Museum through Ucross which is any artist’s dream! And this early in my career, is really something.”

Discover more about Sydney Pursel at sydneypursel.com. Pursel is available for speaking engagements and performances and can be reached via email at sydneypursel@gmail.com.

Explore Brenda Mallory’s stunning work at www.brendamallory.com. Her work is also on display at: Upfor Gallery in Portland (https://upforgallery.com), Julie Nester Gallery in Park City, Utah (http://www.julienestergallery.com/), and at the Patricia Rovzar Gallery in Seattle (https://www.rovzargallery.com/artistlist/).

“The landscape is spectacular. The air so fresh,” said Sydney Pursel (Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska), the first Ucross Native American Fellow, of the scenery at Ucross in northeastern Wyoming. (Bill Megalos)

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