The Montana Artists Refuge, an art residency program in the small town of Basin, Montana held their last jazz brunch fundraiser and closed their doors yesterday.
Here’s a link to a story from the Helena Independent Record about the Refuge: http://helenair.com/entertainment/yourtime/bye-bye-basin/article_e605e194-ef0d-11e0-8d5a-001cc4c002e0.html
It was sad news for all of us who have spent time in Basin.
I drove into Basin in the fall of 1998 as a 28 year old recent MFA graduate. I arrived to spend the winter in an unknown town in an unknown state, without any real expectation of what I would find. I liked it so much that I went back again for another seven months the next winter, and again in the summer a few years later. Between the Refuge and what was possibly my best job ever (working at the Park Avenue Bakery in Helena) I had little cash but all the space I needed to make art and all the fresh bread I could eat.
Basin always surprised me. My studio was on the main street, in an old storefront building with huge windows, so I had a good view of everything (and everyone had a good view of me.) I was also right across from the post office, which in a town of 200 guarantees a show. Feral little girls on hairy ponies, various local characters, dogs and dog fights, hunters with dead animals in their trucks, and all sorts of mysterious and entertaining things passed by my windows. At Christmas, someone nailed a deer head to a telephone pole and strung it with lights. We celebrated the new millennium and the non-event of Y2K over cheap beer at the Silver Saddle Bar, and hiked around the hills to discover ghost towns and remnants of mining history. Basin was (and I’m sure still is) rough and real, and for me it was a relief to find a place where art does not equal pretension. I had a large and somewhat frightening barrel stove that kept my huge studio warm during the winter months, and when I think about Basin I smell pine smoke in cold air. I think that if I had not had Alaska in my sights I could have stayed there forever.
The best thing about being in Basin for those two years was the way it changed my idea of how an artist’s life could be structured. All my training up to that point had sort of groomed me for a university or college teaching job. In Basin, I got to see a very different model – find where you want to be, and do what you have to do to make art in that place. Nobody had much money – nothing to romanticize then or now – but it seemed to be worth the trade-off. I definitely see how my life now resembles the lives of my friends in Basin.
I will be back in Basin, Refuge or no Refuge, because the town will still be a great place to make art and make friends. I admire the hard work of everyone who made it happen for as long as it did. And I hope that somehow someone is able to fill the gap that the absence of this organization will leave.