It’s difficult to overstate how important it is to have a community of artists around me. This is something I realize now, having been part of Mount Gretna for just 4 weeks. A recent graduate from college, I found myself in an awkward place that I assume many artists can appreciate – not knowing exactly what to do or how to get where I want to be. This past year I felt isolated, alone in a studio, and I had come to a point that I was convinced that this solitude was the only way to learn and to make art. Following that logic, I originally planned to use the summer to isolate myself even further – just try to make as many things as possible and learn through brute force. Late in the spring however I had a change of heart and applied to Mount Gretna. The following experience (not yet finished) and the communities associated have been irreplaceable.
Many people relate to the need for a community of artists that ultimately brought me to Mount Gretna. However, this school has proven to be far more than even that. These artists, students and instructors alike, are embedded in an even larger community of people, interested in what they are doing and supportive of the school and its vision. I have personally experienced this on many occasions.
After spending one day painting by the Tabernacle, I decided to settle in on a longer painting. This is a piece I plan to return to both on location and in the studio for the remainder of my time here, and have already spent multiple days on. Set near a row of cottages, painting in the afternoon, I have not escaped the notice of nearby residents as they sit on their porches. They are all respectful, understanding that I am there to make a painting and to focus on that, but they also have an involved interest. I am comfortable talking while I work, as long as it’s not about the painting and everyone knows that the painting comes first for me. Knowing this, one man takes it upon himself to come down from his porch to check on me multiple times each day – grumbling each time – always committed to supporting me if just with his presence. On hot days, the residents offer me water and on days when there are band performances in the evenings, they tell me who is playing. When they see me around walking, they recognize me, ask when I’ll be back and say how they look forward to seeing how the painting is going.
The effect of these little things is a community of support around the artists here. We are a community inside of a community. The students are welcomed to paint where we want to paint and work and learn throughout the world of Mount Gretna without being treated like intruders. Immediately upon arrival, it was expected of me that I would set up and make art, whether viewed by others on porches or not. This culture of work and creation – of learning with multiple voices teaching and creating every day – is a product of the community. As a student here, I have felt welcomed as well as pushed, and I am not alone here. We are all working together to make the best art, learn the most about the visual world, and grow as artists. This dedication and drive is something I could not have found elsewhere.