Friday, December 16, 2011

Coming Home, Coming Back To Your Senses

Film still of Emily Vortuba of The Elberta Alert community newspaper; Back To Your Senses

This week's look into the work of the emerging farmers at the Stone Barns Center For Food And Agriculture and the community architects of Studio H leads naturally to news of an artist and filmmaker who's proposing a television series to feature the stories of such folks who've managed to turn their work into their passion. 

In her Back To Your Senses project, Andrea Maio has also taken a leap of faith herself, leaving the confines of the academy, as well as the comforts of urban art scenes, to return back to her roots in northern Michigan. Ms. Maio has produced work for This American Life (the much-loved piece about a girl from small-town Michigan who was pen pals with Manuel Noriega) as well as her own documentaries which have been widely screened across the country: Burn This Boat (a journey with boat punks down the Mississippi River) and Sleeper Lake Fire (a film made of one night with "a philosophical crew leader on one of Michigan's largest wilderness fires"). 

Ms. Maio has turned to Mobcaster, a new crowd-funding source created especially for television projects, to both reach potential viewers and appeal for their support to help bring this series into the world:

Please travel to the Back To Your Senses site to learn more about the stories Ms. Maio will bring to light - and to find out how to help support this project. You'll also find there a blog that links the philosophies of BTYS to her experiences filming, and a series of regular updates on the project. For instance, in her most recent update, we learn of her shoots at Northern Latitudes Distillery and The Elberta Alert community newspaper, both headed by folks who came back to rural Michigan to live in a place that they loved, and make their work their life's work.

With Ms. Maio's permission, I'd also like to share a portion from our correspondence - as I feel that her situation is indicative of what many young artists are facing at this particular moment. As everyone from small towns to policy groups are working to reverse "the rural brain drain" and revitalize a sense of place, we find here a creative and inspired individual looking beyond the city and the university -- and wanting to find a way, much like her subjects, to do something she loves in a place that is meaningful to her. We need people like Andrea Maio in our communities.

"I kept lurching along, never managing to become financially stable or finish artistic projects. My parents shelled out tens of thousands of dollars for an arts education that exposed me to a lot of wonderful stuff and beautiful people, but didn't help a lick with the practicalities of being a professional independent artist during a time of economic uncertainty. The institutions that cared so much about me as a student, aren't in the position to care about me as a working adult. They've employed me part time, without benefits, they have asked me to sign contracts that protect them, but take away my rights, they've (I hope inadvertently, but I fear not) asked me to work for free, and often at my own expense to develop curriculum for their students, with little or no community support.

So, I, like the people I am trying to feature with this series, have lost trust in the ability of organizations and institutions to provide me sustenance, and I want to figure out how to provide that for myself. What are my primary needs? How can I meet them on a day to day basis without depending on a system that probably doesn't have my back? But without becoming a separatist whack-nut either? What does sustenance mean to me? I believe that paying attention to what really gives us pleasure (a kind of savoring a bite of the chocolate as opposed to eating the whole box, or really tasting the crisp early winter air on your walk instead of staying inside for days in front of your heater) can lead us to these sources of sustenance."