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Northern Arts: Art Farm
Northern Arts: Art Farm Music in the garden at Art Farm Camp
Artists up north are heading back to the land for creative inspiration (2008-09-30) The Grand Traverse region is rich with farmland, woods, creeks and streams. All of which can provide artists with some ecological inspiration. For the final installment of her Northern Arts series, Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra introduces us to a couple places up north where kids and adults can commune creatively with nature:

Next time you find yourself in the woods…you might want to try a little something I picked up at Art Farm Camp. It's a nature awareness technique called Owl Vision:

"Looking straight ahead and finding a point that you stare at. Lifting your arms out, wiggling, and holding that peripheral vision as your observational space," explains Penny Krebiehl.

Since your field of vision is pretty limited with owl vision, it really gets you to focus on all the little details of that little tiny part of nature.

Once they're done with owl vision, Penny Krebiehl and her campers leave the woods and head up to the Barn for some nature-inspired art time.

"Our puppet show's going to be a musical review," says Krebiehl. "How about it has to do with being in the woods, being in the garden. Eva, when you were back there in the woods, what did you see? What did you hear?"

Welcome to ART FARM Camp. It's a week-long, outdoor classroom for kids. Kind of like a mini artist in residence program. There's no running water, no electricity, no working bathrooms. Just 54 acres of gardens, meadows, woods, and creeks.

Penny Krebiehl offers lots of programs like Art Farm Camp through Little Artshram, her non-profit based in Traverse City.

Krebiehl is trained as an illustrator and painter. And she's a huge fan of permaculture. At it's most basic – permaculture is a kind of agricultural design system that's based on patterns and shapes in nature.

"So you see different details like on a sunflower that resonate and work in a way," says Krebiehl. "Or the way the branches are shaped on a tree. And then you start thinking that that's how that river is layered out or that creek is laid out."

And once we start to notice all those intricate patterns and shapes and details in nature, Krebiehl says not only will it help us with our own creativity…it'll help us live creatively with nature.

" We see that a lot," says Caitlin Strokosh, "that there's this dual mission of ecology and the arts."

Caitlin Strokosh is the Executive Director of the Alliance of Artists Communities. She says there's a long tradition of artists going back to the land for inspiration. Especially when it comes to artist residencies.

"I think there's a natural synergy there," explains Strokosh, "between providing artists with an inspiring environment and supportive environment that is removed from daily distractions and this idea of honoring the land and protecting the ecology."

Brad and Amanda Kik couldn't agree more. That's why they founded ISLAND a couple years ago. Think of ISLAND as sort of the adult version of Art Farm Camp. It stands for the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art and Natural Design.

The Kiks recently bought 9 acres just outside of a little town up north called Bellaire. That's where they plan to build a homestead for the institute. All kinds of classes and workshops will be taught there – from organic gardening to how to build a cob oven.

The homestead will be off grid, completely sustainable, and it will also be home to an artist residency program.

"The MFAs graduating at the top of their class, or getting the write ups in the best art magazines, they want to go somewhere that's new and different from their grandpa's art residency program," says Brad Kik.

"Our goal," continues Amanda Kik, "is to be an incubator for artists. To give them the nice, warm comfy space so that they can create their best work. And the space we're creating for them to do that we believe strongly should be in a sustainable way."

Of course they don't expect their artists in residence to make art out of twigs and sticks from the barn, or writers to write a manual on how to make a cob oven…but they're confident that what they learn on the homestead will seep into the artist's work somehow.