MITCH Collective[uds-billboard name=”mitch”]
How is the project operated?
MITCH Collective is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization run by volunteers.The mission statement is: Enriching the community through an ongoing dialogue between locals and visiting artists interested in promoting sustainability and creativity.
How long has it been in existence?
MITCH Collective incorporated in June 2011 and set out to rehab every room in the house. Phase 2 started in May 2012 by opening the multipurpose workshop spaces and printing studios as well as gallery shows. 2013 should bring artist residencies and additional programming into full swing.
What was your motivation?
The house built in 1907 where MITCH Collective (Mastering Innovation, Technology & Creativity House) is based is a family home of one of the founders. Back when the idea for the project was in its infancy, the house was in dire disrepair. The house itself was the main crux of opportunity: it was a blank albeit uninhabitable slate and it happened to be located in Martins Ferry, Ohio–a very interesting and beautiful place in the Ohio Valley with lots of history and potential. As the vision developed around the assets at hand, it was clear that the main purpose of MITCH Collective should be making art accessible to people who might otherwise not get exposed to printmaking, screen printing, and other media. The ideas kept bubbling out during the fall of 2010 as three art students put their heads together. It was not just an opportunity to develop renovation skills, but also to start an art organization in a rust belt area that has a lot of growth potential when it comes to the arts. By tying sustainability into the mission statement, MITCH Collective digs deeper than just talking about art and covers more ground in an effort to be relevant to people in the area.
Number of organizers/responsible persons of the project.
There are about ten people at the core of the organization. The Board of Directors oversees operations and the Executive Director works with interns and volunteers to network with other organizations and plan events. The Executive Director is the full-time resident of the house, so she is oversees all activities the collective engages in.
How are programs funded?
Our initial fundraising campaign through Kickstarter.com procured two printing presses, a paper guillotine and other equipment and supplies. Two small grants funded our first artist residency, a month of free programming to the community, and start-up of a community garden. In addition to accepting tax deductible donations, we have a membership program, gift certificates, and printed goods sold online and in local shops to bring money into the organization. Two local universities, Wheeling Jesuit and West Liberty, provide interns for support. As we build more partnerships with organizations that share our vision and we will seek grants and sponsorships to support larger projects. We also offer studio rentals and memberships to help cover operating costs so we can keep the cost of programming low for the residents in this economically depressed region. General operating funds for the house are generated by the Executive Director who works an hourly job at a local company and is an adjunct art instructor at West Liberty University in Wheeling, WV.
Who is responsible for the programming?
MITCH Collective is unique in that it is a community resource, so we encourage ideas from not only local residents, but also artists from anywhere who want to make a difference in this Appalachian area of the Ohio Valley. The Executive Director is very involved with developing programming and works with volunteers, interns, and board members to incorporate new ideas into programming as well as partnering with city officials, schools and organizations for grants and projects.
Number and average duration of exhibitions/events per year.
Since May 2012, we have offered over 20 workshops, held two open houses, three gallery shows, and several outdoor art events. The gallery shows stay up for four weeks. Workshops last about two hours. We are starting to offer multi-week classes that would meet for a few hours over 4-6 weeks. We are open to doing weekend events to draw participants from a wider area. The next residency is in April and we’re working out details for a service-based residency program to start next summer. This will be targeted toward recent grads that want a hands-on experience with teaching.
What kind of events are usually organized?
Community workshops, classes, gallery shows, and open houses that cover art topics such as pottery, stained glass, and sewing as well as sustainability such as making homemade natural cleaners and home brewing beer. It’s really up to people in the community and our visiting artists who want to lead a workshop and share their knowledge. Our mission statement is a big wide welcoming umbrella so lots of people can contribute to the conversation.
How is your programming determined?
Our programming has developed organically from survey ideas, trying several things and seeing what people respond to. Sometimes an idea is presented by someone looking for a type of meetup that doesn’t exist yet in the area and we make it happen in our space. An on-line survey was offered to gather input from local residents and artists as the house renovations were going on. So far we have started a community garden and crafting circle and have heard interest in starting a meetup for writers. Our equipment is for visual art, textiles, and bookbinding, but our mission incorporates all artists and it just takes someone to propose an idea for us to try something out.
Do you accept proposals/submissions?
Yes! We accept proposals for teaching workshops, meetups, fellowships (1-2 week projects), artist residencies (approximately 4 weeks), and gallery shows.
What is your artistic/curatorial approach?
Our goal is to create an accessible artistic dialogue so locals see the talent of people in their community in the context of other artists and become intrigued to learn something new. We host gallery shows with local and visiting artists to give them support and a platform to share their work. The acronym of MITCH Collective stands for Mastering Innovation, Technology & Creativity House so crossing between and betwixt art, technology and sustainability in innovative and engaging ways is right up our alley.
In February, we will display the multimedia ME/TO/YOU Print Exchange where participants created a relief block depicting their earliest object memory and left a voicemail describing the image. All participants received a complete edition and additional prints were mailed out to randomly generated addresses with directions to visit the online archive. It will also be featured as a themed portfolio at the SGCI Conference this March in Milwaukee.
Thanks to the Sprout Spark Award grant, we’re planning an interactive outdoor printing event for June 2013 called Insta-tangram, which will put a spin on steamroller printing since participants will be able to rearrange the large woodcut tangram pieces into different formations to be printed. With the base costs covered, we have the chance to engage additional artists who can cover incremental costs and are looking for an opportunity to do a big print in a public forum. Artists doing a residency May and June will be able to work directly on the Insta-tangram project.
What’s working? What’s not working?
The response to our activities has been tremendously positive to those people who we have reached. The void of artistic activities that we are filling is seen by many as a miracle in the industrial small town we are serving. Unfortunately, it is harder to reach most people than we thought it would be. Because of the unique nature and location of our programs, attracting people not actively seeking us out has been difficult. Basically, “to know us is to love us”, but knowing us is an uphill climb. Literally, we are on top of a steep hill road that some people have trouble managing to walk up.
We have collaborated with arts organizations in West Virginia such as the Children’s Museum of the Ohio Valley, The Wheeling Artisan Center, the Stifel Center of Fine Arts, and West Liberty University. Building up Ohio connections is definitely on our list of goals along with adding members on the board of directors and advisory board.
Trying out programming ideas to see what people respond to and being open to modify our approaches works well. Meeting people in the area that are excited about what MITCH Collective is doing is a great motivator. We try to get as much input from people that attend programming to make sure we’re meeting their interests and needs. It’s tricky navigating the economic reality of the area since we don’t want to exclude people but also need to bring in money to sustain the organization. It’s also a lot for one person to manage with part time jobs on the table, too. Not having set hours in a conventional storefront is a challenge, but we’re working with shops on both sides of the river interested in selling our original screen printed and letterpress items.
One really successful event was when a local potter approached us about doing a ceramics workshop. We don’t have a kiln, but he and his wife had built an Anagama wood kiln nearby. Through a community workshop at MITCH Collective, he worked with a group of 18 kids and adults and after they created hand built pieces there was a follow-up trip to visit the kiln in action. It’s only fired 1-2 times a year because each firing can hold 300 pieces and takes 60+ of loading wood into it every five minutes. It was a great opportunity to show more people about the exciting art resources in the Ohio Valley and was part of our month-long programming funded in part by the Ohio River Border Initiative, which supports collaborations across the Ohio River.
What kind of role do you hope to play in your local art scene or community?
MITCH Collective acts as a facilitator for talented locals to share their knowledge with the community through public workshops and innovative programming. We hope to be a magnet for creative activities and connect people interested in the arts, learning new things and uncover the hidden talents of local residents. We want to be an accessible outlet to the arts for the city of Martins Ferry and the surrounding area that develops into a cultural hub for Southeastern Ohio. We also strive to invite visiting artists to the explore great potential of the Ohio Valley and give them a hands-on experience at the heart of the nonprofit.
What idea are you most excited about for the future?
The first stage of MITCH Collective has been very well received by local artists and non-artists. In the future, the expanding influence of MITCH programs should reach even more locals, people in the region, and hopefully attract artists from across the nation. The new service-based residency program starting summer 2013 is an exciting mash-up of AmeriCorps and a traditional artist residency. It’s an opportunity to respond artistically to the beauty and curiosities of this area mixed with a unique hands-on experience for people not sure if they want to go back to school, pursue a studio practice, or go into teaching.
As we meet new people, more and more community members are getting involved, which is really exciting since people from the area are the engine that propels the project forward. We envision more community involvement and interaction from activities such as downtown decorations and murals, to high school students involvement in gardens and art projects. Also, connections to the larger art community in the Ohio Valley region from Steubenville, OH to Marietta, OH, to Paducah, KY is possible, as well as the whole state of Ohio (Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati) and other major Appalachian cities (Pittsburgh, PA, Charlestown, WV). These connections will strengthen the appreciation of art and artists in the hometown of MITCH Collective as well as build a supportive arts network.
Images courtesy of MITCH Collective unless otherwise noted.