The Great Escape

The Great EscapeDiverse Artists Settle in at Seaside for Month-Long Residency

By Christy Kearney

Each January, eight uniquely talented artists from around the world converge upon the charming streets of Seaside for “Escape to Create,” an intensive, month-long artist-in-residency program. Unlike most Seaside visitors who are drawn by the beach, the artists make their way to the coast not for a vacation but for the opportunity to focus on their craft in an inspiring environment.

A Community with a Vision
Formed in 1993 by The Seaside Institute, “Escape to Create” was designed to be a reciprocal relationship between the Seaside community and visiting artists. The artists are housed in Seaside’s iconic cottages and are provided with a safe, pleasant, stimulating environment to dig deep creatively. The community benefits, meanwhile, from the cultural diversity the artists bring through their daily interactions with the public, as well as through a series of events that showcase the artists’ distinctive work.

The development of cultural arts programs such as “Escape to Create” is key to carrying out The Seaside Institute’s vision of “promoting the building of community in cities and towns through design, education and the arts.” Seaside was set up as a “living laboratory” in 1982 and now serves as an example to communities around the globe. Establishing arts programs and providing a backdrop for cultural experiences strengthens the community’s sense of place.

“With this and other community-sponsored events, Seaside has earned its genuine distinction as the cultural center of the 30A corridor,” said Marsha Dowler, who has coordinated “Escape to Create” since 1998.

Naturally parallel to the values of Seaside itself, the goals of “Escape to Create” are to nurture the creation of the art that teaches and inspires; to provide artists with an
environment that fosters their creativity and furthers their residency goals; and to advance the experience of art and culture as an integral value of the community.

According to Dowler, the fact that the program is community-driven is the very reason it provides such a unique experience for the artists.

A Colorful Palette of Players
Of the nearly 30 individuals who apply each year, only eight gifted artists are chosen to make this great escape.
Each artist submits a comprehensive application package with a proposal for a specific project to be focused on during the residency, as well as ideas on how to share his or her artistic point of view with the Seaside community.

A variety of artistic disciplines are represented during the program, including literary arts, fine arts, musical composition, crafts, photography and film.

“The Institute worked tirelessly to attract promising artists early in their careers, and many have gone on to distinguish themselves in their fields,” Dowler said. “Today’s
applicants are perhaps more advanced in their careers or demonstrate a pattern of creative achievement or unmistakable promise.”

This year, the residency takes place Jan. 6 through Feb. 3 and will provide a creative cocoon for artists from as far away as Turkey. The artists bring accomplished, diverse backgrounds to the program, which they will draw on as they work on their individual residency projects. MaryBeth Thielhelm of New York City, Kenn Kotara of Asheville, N.C., and Hendrik Wittkopf of London will focus on distinctive approaches to visual arts, while historical novelist Peter Donahue of Birmingham, Ala., and environmental writer Nancy Lord of Homer, Alaska, will concentrate on their respective literary compositions. Jay Shoots, the lone photographer of the group, from Atlantic Beach, Fla., will produce a portfolio of “photographic light paintings” using a mid-19th-century process. Two composers – Nihan Yesil, a native of Turkey, and Matthew Whittall, a Canadian currently living in Helsinki, Finland – round out the group.

The creativity explored, fine-tuned and presented during “Escape to Create” will take on an international life as these talented professionals leave the refuge of the residency with books to publish, art and photography to show, and music to perform in venues across the globe.

Dowler shared her pride in the accomplishments of “Escape to Create” alumni: “To date, well over 100 artists have participated in the program, and over time it has earned a level of recognition within the arts world as a unique and valuable residency.”

Art Meets the Streets of Seaside
A vital part of the residency is sharing the artists’ musical, visual and literary art with the community. Dowler collaborates with each artist to plan a series of programs showcasing his or her residency project, and the artist’s craft in general.

“These artists seek to share,” Dowler said. “They want to give back to the community that has created this opportunity for them. They want to share their creative vision.”

While the community programs do have an entertainment value, the focus truly is the elevation of the community’s cultural experience, and the education and exposure to new creative perspectives. Both directly and indirectly, the entire community is receptively affected by “Escape to Create.”

The collaboration with the Seaside Neighborhood School is a significant example of the program’s positive impact on the community.

“These artists become powerful mentors as people, not just as artists,” Dowler said. “The most compelling evidence of this powerful gift is to literally see the eyes and minds of the kids fly right open.”

Dowler not only coordinates the logistical details of the residency, but she also gets great joy from the cultural experiences she is exposed to personally.

“I love to sit in the back of the room during the presentations and watch the audience open its mind and its heart to the artist,” she said. “That is pure magic and can only happen in Seaside.

“There is no better setting in which to enjoy a rare and intimate glimpse into the innovative work of exceptional artists,” Dowler said. “‘Escape to Create’ truly is a celebration of art, life and community.”