Text and photos by Zach Kobrinsky
Public outreach, pickled fawns, costume-craving electricians and full frontal nudity. What do these phrases have in common? Well, they are all necessary ingredients in creating an artist collective.
Midwest Mud (213 NP Ave N) has been around for about a year now, serving as a physical space for artists to create, as well as a community to encourage creativity and public outreach in visual arts.
Amber Parsons is the sole proprietor of the physical space, as well as the founder of the artist collective that resides there. According to Parsons, she created this space out of artistic necessity.
- Amber Parsons demonstrates what melted ceramics look like.
Inception of a community
“I needed a space to work after I graduated, and I found this building. I just graduated two months prior to opening this space,” Parsons said.
Parsons believes that Fargo-Moorhead has very few outlets that encourage artistic output outside of the academic arena. You graduate with an art degree from one of our local universities… then what?
“(Creating the space), it was really quick,” Parsons said. “Everybody was shocked. I kept saying I was going to do it, and then all of a sudden I just did it.”
Parsons personally funded the physical space. After that, it was just a matter of finding artists to occupy it for a nominal fee — both to create a necessary outlet for upcoming artists as well as to recoup some of her own financial investment, although she said she prefers not to think about it as a financial endeavor. Creating a collective was and still remains the primary objective.
The creative value of nude modeling
Nude portraiture has become a standard learning experience for an artist’s education. According to Parsons, not only do the observer/artists gain insight, but the model can gain insight during the process as well.
“I spend a lot of time modeling for the school (NDSU),” she said, “so I’d spend that time kind of organizing my thoughts… either thinking about how I was going to organize it (the collective) or what I wanted to do with it.”
Now the tradition of nude portraiture is being taken to a new level at Midwest Mud. According to Parsons, your typical art classroom nude modeling setup is quite plain and boring. So, the Collective hosts nude modeling sessions involving more elaborate and intriguing staging.
Improving the artists’ network
The ultimate goal of Midwest Mud is improve the F-M art scene at large. There will be another art collective opening up in the near future called The Station. Are these two collectives bitter competitors? Absolutely not. According to Parsons, she has been assisting The Station in the process of establishing itself.
“We’re going to start something called The Artnership,” Parsons said, “and we’re going to try and unite all the studios, like even the Roberts Street Studio. For one, for communicating with one another. Like if I want to do a class here, so we’re not offering the same classes at the same time to give more opportunities to people….
“I actually feel like this place is more about networking for artists. It’s people doing art and stuff, but learning how to use your networking skills is what this place is about really.”
Andrew Hanson, an art student from the area said, “These kind of co-ops are nothing but good news for our community. It gives us a place and a medium to learn to make better art and also provides a chance for us to meet and network with other artists.”
Working with trade
In the spirit of the collective, a lot of what exists within its walls comes from collaboration — from trade, more specifically.
The electrician who did a lot of work on the space, for example, was paid in a roundabout trade.
“I threw my first show for Christy Bakke,” Parsons said. “She helps run Revolver. She’s a fashion major and she didn’t get a senior show, so I threw her a senior show here in trade that she would… my electrician who does all my electrical work — he likes costumes. So I made her trade him for… I kind of made her make him a costume. So I paid him with a costume….”
In addition to the electric upkeep of the space, one of the more notable points of interest Parsons acquired through trade. The pickled fawn pictured above was the result of such a deal. A friend of Parsons, knowing that she had experience as a taxidermist and that she had an interest in such trinkets, gave her the fawn-in-a-jar in exchange for some of her ceramic works.
The graphic designer, Andy Bissonette, who created the Midwest Mud logo was hired through trade as well.
“Almost everything I have here I’ve gotten through trade,” Parsons said. “When you’re an artist, you don’t have a lot of money.” She then laughed at that sentiment.
Giving art to the masses
Another goal of Midwest Mud and the artists involved with it is to create more public works. As of right now, the only real public art we see around F-M are the buffaloes sporadically scattered about town.
“The buffaloes aren’t really that satisfying,” Parsons said. “To me, personally, they’re barely a public… they’re weird and they just… they made all these buffaloes, and because they didn’t want anyone touching them, they put them inside of buildings. Stratero has like four of the buffalos… I don’t know, I just feel like public art is meant to be more inviting. You’re supposed to interact with it. That’s something the artist should’ve thought through when they created them I guess.”
In response to the notion that more accessible public art is subject to vandalism, Parsons replied, “When someone’s vandalizing artwork like that, they’re like kids in a China store. Because they haven’t experienced it, they haven’t developed a respect for it. Like my mom, when I take her to gallery openings, she touches everything. But now that she’s been to a few of them she doesn’t pick up the pieces of art (anymore).”
Parsons couldn’t help but chuckle as she reminisced over her mother’s handling of art. “So it’s kind of like training your society to appreciate it a little more,” she continued, “by allowing people to interact with it.”
Keeping artists focused
In addition to providing space for artists, Midwest Mud and the collective at large also provides motivation for artists.
According to Parsons, “We do critiques here of people’s work. Also I try to have them write contracts for me saying that they’re going to produce this work within this amount of time. Because that’s what you do naturally in a college setting to get motivation, and I find that people really lose that motivation. Self motivation, they have to learn how to do that themselves, but if you give them some sort of structure they’re setting their own goals.”
The contracts Parsons implements are not as severe as they may initially sound. Realistically, the only consequence for defaulting on your agreement is guilt. But according to Parsons, that’s enough to keep a number of artists motivated. The artists involved with the collective also have regular group critiques and meetings to discuss their work.
Current artists utilizing Midwest Mud space:
- Sara Schawn
- Mike Weiss
- Mike Nelson
- Nichole Lamb
- Tess Peckly
- Amber Parsons