This winter, Springboard for the Arts launched Artists Respond: Combating Social Isolation. With support from Springboard through funding from the Kresge Foundation and the Blandin Foundation, 89 artists from around Minnesota created projects that connect those most vulnerable in the pandemic. Minnesota Women’s Press spoke with four of these creatives about the inspiration behind their projects, and how they are hoping to transform a difficult situation with art and community.
I had a survey open where anyone could send in a letter as if they were writing it to a friend or stranger who is a rural queer person. I read through all those wonderful letters, created original art to accompany them, and put them together in a zine. People can request copies for free.
I identify as a lesbian and I also identify as nonbinary. I grew up in a really small town in rural Idaho and I was in high school before I met another person who was queer. I had this feeling of isolation, like I was the only person in 100 miles who was the way I was. When you watch movies and TV shows — now that there is starting to be more queer representation — they are still focused on this specific urban experience, which is not the whole picture.
I studied history in undergrad, and did research on rural queer communities and the way that loneliness and isolation can impact them in greater percentages than urban queer communities. My senior year of undergrad I discovered this book called “Boys of Boise,” about the persecution of gay men in Boise, Idaho, in the 1950s. I was shocked because I had never seen my state in any sort of queer history. Since then, I strive to bring forward the visibility of rural queer people.
Almost all of the letters in the zine have some instance of the phrase “you don’t know me, I don’t know you, but I love you”— this idea that you can care for someone and support someone without even knowing them. That is so important now in COVID-19 times when it is harder to connect with people.
Living in a rural area is not by nature conflicting with being queer. They do not have to be opposing forces and they are often not. I struggled with that isolation, but I also love being from a small town and I am really grateful for that.
During the uprisings, I found a lot of power in public art, protest art, and political art. This time has been unpredictable, and people are listening to a lot of different things because so much is happening. That has really opened up the opportunity for artists to make art about the world we can imagine. I never thought directly about combating social isolation before we were experiencing it on a global level. This focus on connectivity and imagining futures has changed my art and will continue to change it for years to come.