Local Artists Are Looking to Inspire and Enliven Seaside
After 27 years, Escape to Create (E2C) has afforded over 150 creators an avenue to success.
Photo courtesy of Marsha Dowler
Jeanette Andrews developed her “Sensory Illusions” program during her 2014 Escape to Create residency in Seaside and performed at The REP Theatre there for two seasons.
Seaside, Florida, was founded in 1981 as a manifestation of New Urbanism — a city planning movement emphasizing accessibility, practical architecture and a distinct community center.
You’ll find the latter at Central Square, whose lush, green lawn is always ripe for village concerts and seasonal festivities.
Across the street, a shopping district brims with owner-occupied stores that serve residents and visitors from within walking distance.
For many, the New Urbanism of Seaside is a window on bygone times when condominiums didn’t dwarf the shore and waves roared louder than the traffic on Highway 30A.
It is a community whose culture, not its commercialism, is its defining characteristic.
The most visible product of that culture, quite simply, is art.
Now in its 27th season, Escape to Create (E2C) is Seaside’s month-long, multi-disciplinary artist residency program that has afforded over 150 creators an avenue to success.
According to Marsha Dowler, president of the executive board of Escape to Create, E2C began as one of the many start-up programs operating under the umbrella of the Seaside Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the sustainability of New Urbanism and art awareness.
“In the settlement era of 30A, homeowners were from New York, California and other far-flung areas,” said Dowler, she among them.
“So, they were bringing in arts-based education programs using school models from their hometowns. As early investors in Seaside, we were heavily devoted to the vision and recognized the unique opportunity to contribute culture as a fabric of community building.”
As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, E2C could not exist without community support.
While homeowners give artists placing to stay, cash donors allow the guests weekly stipends of $150. Local businesses pitch in, offering venue space and good things to eat.
“It’s intimate,” Dowler said of E2C. “You’re here in the off-season of Seaside, where a stranger has opened their home to you for a month because they and the whole community embrace your creative vision.”
Ten artists are evenly split between two residency sessions (January and February) and, while participants draw inspiration from Seaside’s serenity, the town also benefits.
“My philosophy has always been: Bring these artists in. They are seeking not just sanctuary, but a place in which they receive affirmation as artistic citizens,” Dowler said. “They are hungry to contribute where there is need.”
For Dowler, those contributions are the hidden gems of E2C.
To complete the residency, artists must satisfy an educational outreach prerequisite by performing for a school program or providing individual classroom presentations.
“Our goal there is to show that where there’s a will, there’s a way,” said Dowler.
“Through these artists, children see it’s possible to have the will, just recognize that there’s that gift inside you, and give it a voice. You will find your way.”
Dowler rejects the notion that the world seeks to smother the creative personality. E2C seeks instead to help artists flourish.
“I think of the composers who showed up as college-age kids and are now the leading American composers of their generation,” Dowler said.
“The contributions that E2C made at a critical point in that career, in that body of work — when we see what has spun off of that time here, and into the world, we’re reminded of why we do this.” ››
Photo courtesy Marsha Dowler
Members of The Escape Trio will escape to Seaside again in 2019 and share their knowledge of classical music and their passion for it at venues throughout Walton and Okaloosa counties. Cellist Sebastian Ortega, violinist Andrew Samarasekara and pianist Jacob Mason are students at the New England Conservatory of Music.
This year, E2C alum Jack E. Davis was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in history for his book, The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea. Davis was in Seaside for the book’s launch in 2017 and engaged in a live reading and signing at Sundog Books in Central Square.
Dowler recalls that, as an E2C artist in residence, Davis read from a biography he authored on Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
Alternatively, a painter may present an art exhibition, while a musician hosts community concerts.
Last year, E2C’s very first musician fellowship debuted with a focus on performance of classical music by the next generation of classical stars.
Child prodigies Sebastian Ortega, Andrew Samarasekara and Jacob Mason teamed up to form the Escape Trio, and presented live concertos at the Seaside Repertory Theatre (REP) and Seaside Chapel.
“Last year, they played every Sunday in January,” Dowler recalled.
“We had three young, international performers bringing rarely performed, renaissance music to the chapel, real baroque pieces that they researched and learned to play just for us.”
This isn’t the only fellowship E2C is known for. The Goody Fellowship collaborates with the REP to provide playwrights field experience through comprehensive workshops.
At its conclusion, actors performs live enactments from resident scripts.
The fellowship will have an even bigger impact in 2020, when E2C and the REP will dedicate the Goody Fellowship to commission a script for children’s theatre.
The completed script will go on to be produced into a genuine play for the thousands of families who will visit Seaside later that year.
It’s just another way E2C continues to give.
“In our introductory dinner, we always look these artists in the eye and tell them they’re here because of their work, but even more importantly, because our community believes in you,” Dowler said.
“We want you to get what you came here for, embrace the unknown world and know that it’s possible. Your being here is transformative for everyone involved.”