The Ucross Foundation turns 40 and looks to the future
Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the Ucross Foundation hosted a few thousand artists, musicians, painters, playwrights, and many others from the artistic world to the Clear Creek Valley in southeast Sheridan County.
Part of a working 20,000 acre cattle ranch, the experience it offers residents is unlike many artist retreats elsewhere.
Sarah McKenzie is a painter from Boulder, Colorado. She is back for her third residency at Ucross and although she has participated in other artist residency programs she has said that Ucross is somewhat different.
âI think Ucross is quite unique for artist residency programs in that it’s completely free, which is often unusual,â she said. âMany residency programs charge a fee or ask you in exchange for residency time to do housework or some other type of work. “
Although his first two residences at Ucross were independent, McKenzie is back this time as the recipient of the award. Marion international scholarship. Named after Jesse and Cathy Marion, it offers recipients the opportunity to participate in residencies with The Circle Members, a group of institutions that have been supported by the Marions.
For his project, McKenzie combined the criminal justice system and architecture.
“My proposal for the Marion Fellowship was to carry out an art project exploring the architecture of American prisons,” she says.
McKenzie is also involved in an in-prison art program at his home in Colorado. His scholarship at Ucross will last for two weeks this summer.
Rob Melrose is the artistic director of Alley theater in Houston, Texas. He too is back for the third round at Ucross. The Alley Board of Directors offers the opportunity for several playwrights to come to Ucross and work on original plays or translate existing works for possible theater production.
Melrose said her two-week stay would be spent translating plays from foreign languages ââinto English.
âThere’s a play in Italian, a very meta-theatrical play, a famous meta-theatrical play called, Six Characters in Search of an Author. It’s a play where you walk into the theater and a rehearsal takes place. , so it doesn’t look like a finished set and there are comedians rehearsing and a director who works with comedians and all of a sudden these other six people come on stage “, a- he explained. “And it turns out they’re fictional characters and they’re just waiting for someone to write their story and try to tell their stories.”
On his own account, he can translate works into Italian, French, Swedish and German. He also learned several other languages, including Spanish, Japanese, Arabic and Latin.
While many Ucross Foundation residents are from out of state, local artists are also welcome.
One of these “premises” is David Brock, professor at Sheridan College. He teaches drawing, painting, art history and color theory. He is no stranger to Ucross, having visited several times, although this fall marks his first time as a resident. This gave him the opportunity to work on projects that often had to step aside in front of his other responsibilities.
âIt has been a long time since I had time to work on my own work since graduating from graduate school, and I left that in 2006,â he said. “So it’s been a while since I’ve been able to focus on work, which has been really cool and it’s been nice to give me this opportunity or this space.”
He works to hone some of his existing skills while also experimenting with new art forms at Ucross. A painter above all, landscapes have been one of his favorites, which he likes to infuse with color. In addition to teaching, he also organizes exhibitions to showcase his talents.
âI’m working on a few things, one of them is to build a body of work for a show I’m going to have in Eau Claire, Wisc.,â He said. “And the other is I’m just trying new media that I haven’t really worked with before.”
Sharon Dynak, Executive Director of the Ucross Foundation, has been at Ucross for more than half of its existence. A Wyoming transplant from New York marks 25th year at Ucross. While this fall didn’t see too much snow in northeastern Wyoming, it was a different story when she came in 1996 when a blizzard greeted her shortly after arriving.
Dynak has seen the program grow over the years and expand its offering for different types of artists.
âThe residency program started out small with four people at a time, and then we grew,â she said. âWe brought in the Clearmont rail depot and were able to accommodate up to eight artists, built the music studios, and were able to accommodate up to 10 artists – four visuals, four writings, two music. “
She said that’s a good number to have for a full class of residents in order to maintain a small community feel.
âWe kind of think 10 is a really good size,â she said. “It fits around our dining room table where they all meet, but it gives you the chance to have real conversations.”
As with much of the art world during the pandemic, the Foundation closed for several months in 2020. Now fully open again, Dynak believes places like Ucross are an integral part of artists.
âI really feel like programs like Ucross, which exist across the country, have become more important than less,â she said. “Being able to find that time when you don’t have external pressures on your mind doesn’t distract you, I think it’s becoming more and more valuable.”
Productivity and time are two big reasons artists seek out the types of opportunities that places like the Ucross Foundation offer. Whether by design or not, there is often no reliable mobile phone service out there. It really is a place far removed from the rest of the world.