"When you leave home, your ideas get bigger." That's what Gretchen Sagan found from her eight-week artist residency in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sagan describes the experience and what she took from it in this week's guest post by Jeremy Pataky.

This week’s guest post is by Jeremy Pataky, coordinator of Rasmuson Foundation’s Artist Residency Program.

Gretchen Sagan shows her SFAI studio to visitors during the beginning of her residency.

Gretchen Sagan shows her SFAI studio to visitors during the beginning of her residency.

Gretchen Sagan recently returned home from a two-month residency in Santa Fe, New Mexico, hosted by the Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI) in partnership with the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). The residency was part of the Rasmuson Foundation Artist Residency Program, which sends Alaska artists to organizations in the Lower 48 and brings Lower 48 artists to Alaska. Sagan was the first of this first Alaska cohort to complete her residency.

The other three Alaska artists serving residencies Outside this year are artist and educator Jimmy Riordan; playwright, poet and director Arlitia Jones; and textile artist Maria Shell. Riordan recently began his residency at Zygote Press, Cleveland, Ohio. Jones will serve her residency in the fall at Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Woodside, CA. Shell’s residency, also to begin in the fall, will be at McColl Center for Visual Art, Charlotte, NC.

The Artist Residency Program is one element of the Foundation’s Arts and Culture Initiative, a major commitment to the arts in Alaska. The initiative, started in 2003, is designed to strengthen cultural institutions across the state, encourage the development of new work by creative artists, and increase public access to and participation in cultural experiences.

The time in Santa Fe was productive in ways that Sagan both predicted and could not have foreseen. “When you leave home, your ideas get bigger,” she said. “When you’re in a residency environment, you are with other people who have big ideas. You’re encouraged to explore them, to fly. It opens up a lot of possibilities.”

This proved true for Sagan in both creative and professional ways, she said. She left Alaska primed “for two months of uninterrupted creative time and the desire to explore using new tools and new methods” in her work.

Not long after arriving in Santa Fe, Sagan’s ideas and practice focused quickly. Peggy Zask, a Los Angeles curator and gallery owner, invited Sagan, who is Inupiaq, to participate in a show featuring contemporary Native artists at South Bay Contemporary Gallery. Zask learned about Sagan’s work from poet Joan Kane. When she saw Sagan’s work, Zask asked her to be the exhibition’s featured artist.

Sagan painted early in the evenings until 2 a.m. at SFAI, eventually creating an entirely new body of work – more than enough for the solo show. She called the series of acrylics on birch panels “Coming Up for Air.” See more of the work on her website. Sagan spent days exploring town, connecting with other artists, or going out to the IAIA campus to build frames and panels, work with students, and document her paintings. She toured northern New Mexico with other resident artists and staff from SFAI and gave a presentation of her work.

Gretchen Sagan was invited by curator Peggy Zask to be the featured artist at South Bay Contemporary's show called NATIVE. Photo courtesy of Gretchen Sagan

Gretchen Sagan was invited by curator Peggy Zask to be the featured artist at South Bay Contemporary’s show called NATIVE. Photo courtesy of Gretchen Sagan

Upon leaving Santa Fe at the end of her residency, Sagan went to Los Angeles for the opening of her show. She returned to Anchorage just in time to participate in Alaska State Council on the Arts’ biannual conference, Latitude: 2014 Alaska Arts Convergence. Sagan gave a short presentation about her work and residency experience and took part in the Creative Capital professional development seminar.

Sagan attributes some of her successes – a copious body of new paintings, new connections, ideas, skills, and accomplishments – to the conscious decision she made to be open to new opportunities. “This is the year of just saying yes.”

Sagan’s experience affirms the value of this kind of support for individual artists. For more discussion on the value of professional artist residencies, see this video of a panel discussion taped at the launch of  Rasmuson Foundation’s Artist Residency Program.

Individual Artist Award winners are eligible to apply to the Rasmuson Foundation Artist Residency Program for a 2015 placement at one of the four residency locations in the Lower 48. Online applications will be available July 1.

Jeremy Pataky coordinates the Rasmuson Foundation Artist Residency Program and parts of Polar Lab, a project of the Anchorage Museum’s Northern Initiative. His first book of poetry, Overwinter, is forthcoming from University of Alaska Press.