Back On the Residency Game: Kimmel Harding Nelson (2017)

The last time I had a formal residency, one in which I applied for, was in 2013. The road to getting one has been rough. I had one year where I applied to 18--totaling over $400 in application fees--and got not a one, though I was a finalist for a 6-week residency with a stipend. That was a blow to the system, I have to say. Particularly the fees and some sense of expectation on my end. I didn't apply again for a year after that. There's a lot that goes into being considered for a residency as well as attaining one and then making use of said time when received. 

What I did learn was that every year residencies become more and more popular. Word spreads and the competition gets stronger. Also there's the fact that you cannot predict subjectivity. One part of your application can be super strong and another somewhat weak depending on the eyes looking at it. In fact, this is what I heard about an application last year: my portfolio was rated very high but my community project was rated in the middle. Unfortunately, I was given no further emphasis on what I could do for one area of my application as the ratings were purely numerical. 

By applying for less residencies I (1) was less stressed and less expectant and (2) was able to better plan how to do my applications and which ones I needed to tailor portions if I was working on the same project. 

Last fall I applied for 4 residencies, in winter I applied for 3. I was waitlisted for one and received another. I am on the last few days of the residency I did receive in Nebraska City, Nebraska at Kimmel Harding Nelson Center. 

For the past two years I had been doing makeshift residencies thanks to friends generosity in San Jose, California for 2.5 weeks and then Portland, Oregon for 2 weeks. So getting back into a formal residency with rules and staff rather than someone's home was pleasant to get back in the groove of. I found I missed it. I got a good amount done at my friends' places on the west coast, but there's something about being in a space specifically classified as an "artists zone" with people you've never met that can help you thrive in ways. 

Kimmel Harding Nelson (KHN) Center is a smaller residency in a small town of 7,000 people. Nebraska City, as I learned, is known for it's farming and ethanol production (yay corn!) as well as for creating Arbor Day. A time I was lucky enough to be on residency for during celebrations, though Mother Nature didn't seem to care and rain, wind, cold would prevail.

At KHN five residents reside in the same building though a composer, or visual artist, will get a studio space downstairs, and a writer and visual artist will bunk up on apartments on the first and second floors. Writer's studios are within the apartment with windows facing the main street in front of the center. The composer's studio is in the gallery on the main floor, and visual artists have studios in the renovated garages outside. Don't worry, as my roommate told me, they are insulated for warmth in the colder months. You receive a $100 weekly stipend for groceries or whatever your needs are while in town and the director and assistant director, Holly and Pat will take you shopping soon after you arrive. 

I have to say I really dig this space. My roommate and I got along really well. (She made pancakes my first full day here! If that's not the way to someone's heart I dunno what is.) Each apartment is equipped with a kitchen, dining area, living room, and my roommate and I have our own bathrooms. The apartments are spacious and quiet, though us being on the first floor we could hear every step those above us made. The visual artist's studios are also not soundproof (as they warn). You get a kitchen stocked with utensils, plates, cups and pots along with whatever previous residents have left. You receive washed towels, bedsheets, comforters ready. You have to clean up after yourself during your stay, maid service only comes in for departing residents in prep of new occupants. There's a washer/dryer downstairs and an area to watch basic cable television or DVDs in the basement near the laundry where the composer's studio apartment is also nearby. 

The town itself is small and you can get to a lot in walking distance. Compared to NYC the city blocks are super short. So you'd probably feel like you made a lot more progress than I do when I'm walking up/down Manhattan blocks. There's a lovely place I got to work on a rainy, blustery Sunday called The Keeping Room two blocks away. (I highly suggest The Keeping Room for service and sweets alone.) There's a decent Mexican spot in a pink shack two blocks away. There are thrift stores and antique shops up and down Central Avenue, the main street in this area. Walgreens, BBQ, a place called Runza which is a big deal to some Nebraskans but merely okay as me and fellow residents determined are also very close. You're not in the boonies so to speak and if there's something farther away Holly and Pat may be able to take you. Oh, and there's a newly curated Lewis and Clark museum as you enter town, which Pat's husband helped create. There are parks and kick ass apple cider doughnuts.

I came in on Monday and will be leaving on a Friday. Those are the designated days of arrival and departure. So technically two weeks is really 11-12 days depending how you time it. Though you can request as long as 6 weeks here and as short as the 2 I did. I think one of the ideal timings of an artist residency are 3-4 weeks, but I'm already losing one week of wages being here since I don't have enough vacation time. Totally worth it though. The quiet, time away, community, and free headspace have been fantastic. 

I pushed myself to do a few things before my arrival: No social media (though I was admittedly on for a few minutes over the course of several days). No work for anyone else during this time (I declined 3 freelance gigs I was contacted about right before and during my time away). I also turned my phone off/set it on airplane mode so I wouldn't hear from anyone (the primary way to get in touch with me is email). I reserved one day and one day alone to do emails and will aim to be on email as little as possible my last couple days here. 

Essentially, my goal was not to be stressed about anything that wasn't my own work or that I'm not contracted to do since I had a short period of time. I also didn't want to be rushed back into other agreed upon responsibilities as soon as I stepped off the plane--many of those freelance projects were rush, so I'd be starting on them right after I got back or had to start them while I was away. I announced on social media before I left that people should not expect to hear from me. And as always set my out of office on my email accounts. I began every email I did respond to with "Hi from Nebraska, I'm on residency but..." to let people know: Leave. Me. Alone until I get back. Lemme tell you 'No' is a freeing word. 

At previous residencies I didn't totally log off. And when I did the makeshift residencies at friends' places I was still working, people continued to contact me as though me saying "residency" meant vacation where I could still be reached. For some reason people didn't respect the time away when I made it myself versus when I said I was awarded one. Go figure on that, but I also let those things seep into my time and that's my own fault. 

When you propose a residency you have an aim and hopefully, depending on timing, you'll still be working on and interested in the project proposed. For me I worked on what I proposed as well as short fiction. My goals were to provide final edits to the latest batch of contributors for the anthology I'm editing, work on my nonfiction project, revise short fiction, reading, exercise, and sleep. The problem for me is I'm always working on more than one thing and these 11 days were time when I was able to actually work on those things separately, dedicating hours to each with no regrets or nothing else tugging at me to take my focus away besides eating and sleep. It's great! While I would love another week if not another 3 days here I'm leaving with more off my To Do list than what I came in with and can look at my first weekend back home hammering out a couple things and getting right back to my own stuff.

Essentially, this is my long-winded way of saying I thoroughly enjoyed my time at KHN and I'd really recommend it for anyone who wants that space and time away without feeling like you're extracted from the rest of the world. You have options here and if you have a car even better, but walking isn't hazardous or arduous. And if you come by for Arbor Day be prepared for a lot of celebration since it's a big thing here. Big Thanks to those at KHN for granting me this time and also to Holly and Pat for availing themselves at every turn. This space means a lot to those of us who have the opportunity to be granted this time and this support.