without a definite route

the stumbler

on November 30, 2010

about 2-years ago, i applied for and received a fellowship through the arts council of indianapolis creative renewal arts fellowship (CRAF) program. it has been a true journey, alternating frequently between motivating, inspiring, frustrating, stressful and hopeful. my proposed project was to share family stories through photography and writing. in doing so, improving my technical skills as a photographer and writer. but reality is a bit of a bitch and what i thought i was going to do turned around topsy-turvy and instead became even more of a personal journey about someone stumbling blindly towards her creativity.

my goal was to share stories and images throughout the whole process. unfortunately, i got caught up in how wrong everything was going with my creative renewal journey rather acknowledging the journey i was actually experiencing. i’ll share those stories soon, but right now, i want to start at the beginning.

my proposal from january 2009:

 Uncertain and anxious about the future and trying to flee a broken heart, I bought a one-way ticket to New Orleans the summer after I graduated from college. I hoped to escape life until I figured it all out. The next six months were a magical adventure. I worked several interesting and somewhat questionable jobs – barker for a rat-infested alligator-themed restaurant, cocktail waitress at a gentlemen’s club – all for tips and under-the-table pay. I made short films, wrote poetry and screenplays and took photographs. I was off the radar and I loved it. It was wild time, filled with energy, hope, adventure and creativity. Returning to Indiana for what I thought would be a pit stop, I got nabbed by love with a writer/musician and decided to stay for a while, putting my dreams of working on Big Serious Movies on hold. That was sixteen years, two kids, a historical home rehab and a happy-eyed pooch named Erl ago.

 When I started working in film, I found a way in through the production department. Taking care of schedules, vendors, actors and the crew came naturally to me. That led to working on concerts and events and ultimately to planning arts and cultural festivals for the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. Each step offered more security and stability – what my father refers to as “growing up and having a real job.” This “real work” suits me. I meet incredible people, see beautiful art, witness talent and creativity and help it grow. I shuffle the line between creative outsider and insider. I belong and don’t belong. I take care of the clutter so creative people can be free of it. Instead of creating things myself, I manage the little things that get in the way. I encourage. I cheer. I nag. Professionally and personally, that’s the role I’ve chosen. It’s a good fit. I’m good at the details. I feel pride in playing my part, but it isn’t who I’ve always been. I once thought of myself as one of the creative people, but over time I fell into the security of what came easy rather than risking something, and I chose safety over adventure.

 My work at the Eiteljorg is very satisfying, but not conducive to my own creative needs. I feed my creative side scraps, photographing my children or writing my blog. It isn’t enough. The multi-faceted, adventurous and interesting person I thought I was has morphed into someone else unfamiliar. I am disconnected with parts of myself, holding steady in the safety of “real work” while suppressing a need for creativity. As my own disconnectedness deepens, I put up barriers with my artists and even my partner. As job demands have grown and I’ve had to choose what to do myself and what to assign to assistants, I delegate those tasks that once gave me closer contact with artists. Subsequently, I have become less engaged with the artists whose work and friendships I cherish, which affects how effective I am at my job as well as the relationships that make it fulfilling and fun.

 This disconnectedness is a chasm of who I am and who I would like to be. I need balance, yet the simple act of acknowledging my creative side is difficult for me. I am hard on myself. If I say I’m a writer, where’s the manuscript? If I say I’m a photographer, where’s the portfolio? I need to risk something or stagnate. I need to choose adventure and creativity. For me, that means reconnecting with my love of photography and writing.

 Capturing a moment in someone’s life is to freeze a piece of their story: a smile, a laugh, a sparkle in the eyes, a shared instant between two people. At once singular and timeless. In photography and writing, personal perspective is a good thing. I have always been an avid writer for myself, filling dozens of journals and keeping a blog. After the birth of my son, as is the case for many new mothers, I found myself with my camera always in hand. Soon, I wanted to photograph all of the children I knew. With my portraits, I want to create a range of images that captures the essence of the subject in that moment; thoughtful or playful, still or in motion. It is time to take a risk and merge photography and writing into a single story.

 Perhaps because I come from a large, close-knit family – my great grandparents married in 1897 and 112 years later there are more than 1,600 people directly descended from them, many of whom still live in my tiny hometown in South Dakota – I feel a need to connect with people. I want to tell their story – the connection between generations that is guided by family folklore and pictures, some contemporary and vibrant, some faded and tattered. And, through my portraits of them, I want to rediscover, nurture and share my sense of adventure and my creativity. I want to tell my story through the story of my family.  

 With that in mind, I will use the Creative Renewal Arts Fellowship to improve my writing and photography skills through workshops in New Orleans as well as taking the time to practice; to upgrade my equipment and software; and to travel to South Dakota to photograph and interview family members, young and old, to try to capture stories before they are lost. I will also go through boxes of family photographs rescued from farmhouse attics, closets and basements and scan these images before they crumble away. With these images and stories, within the format of an online photoblog, I will create a family “portrait,” creating a connection between past and present, perspective and reality, intimate and far away. I will use the opportunity to reconnect with my family history to strengthen my skills as a writer and photographer as well as learn new skills in post production and archiving old photographs.

 Reconnecting with my family history will provide a stronger connection to the Native American artists that I work with. So much of their cultures is family oriented, and their work and worldviews are unapologetically personal. Even professional relationships are intimate. No conversation is simple. Nothing is ever just, “when is the deadline?” or “how does my work fit within these guidelines?” There is always a story, and, if you’re lucky, sometimes two or three. If you are open to artists and their work and use your resources for their benefit, you are welcomed as family.

 Reconnecting with my creative side – finding my balance and learning to straddle the chasm of “real work” and creativity – will help me reestablish the relationships with the artists that are necessary to performing my job and to being an artist advocate. Reigniting my creative side will open me to the highly personal level of communication needed for my work. Opening up to the adventure of creativity will reenergize me and help me see myself not as outside of the world of my artists, but as an important participant in the creative world.

 With this Creative Renewal Arts Fellowship, I want to change my outlook, my energy, my perspective. I want to see myself in a new way by remembering and reinventing my sense of adventure and creativity. I want to accept my creative side as a valid part of me. I want to renew the balance found in reconnecting with myself and to the artists I work with. I will be a better advocate for artists because I have recognized that if I don’t fill my own tank, I’m no good to anyone else. I’ve always intellectually understood that theory, but have been too afraid to act upon it. The opportunity to take a leap of faith in myself will awaken a long-buried side of me that will make me a better artist advocate, a better partner, a better role model for my children.


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