Oregon’s Sitka Center for Art and Ecology expanded this week, with the acquisition of a Lincoln County property called Grass Mountain.
The Sitka Center, located near the town of Otis, has offered artist residencies and workshops in bookbinding, fiber arts and more since 1970. Director Ben Shockey says that the original campus is currently operating at full capacity, hosting up to 20 artists-in-residence and serving about 1,000 workshop participants each year.
The new property, 80 acres of open fields, forested roads and a pond, will be a space to expand the ecology side of the center’s mission through projects that invite artists and scientists work together.
“We’re always talking about integrating,” Shockey said. “Our focus is not purely on art or purely on ecology, but how does art help people understand ecology and the natural world? And how can an understanding of the natural world inform people's art?”
The Sitka Center’s main campus already hosts scientists for residencies focused specifically on ecological research. But Grass Mountain will provide much-needed physical space — and a serene atmosphere — for new workshops and living spaces that encourage ecological engagement in tandem with creative practice.
“People always say they feel so peaceful and separated from urban life when they're here at the Sitka Center,” Shockey said. “But when you get up to Grass Mountain it's a whole new level of seclusion. We think there'll be great inspiration for people to work up there and just really pay attention to the land.”
Plus, Shockey said, the property’s remote location means that the Center will be able to offer courses in techniques that are a little too loud for the original campus.
“Right away we think we'll be able to offer some workshops we haven't been able to offer: woodworking and metalwork," he said. "Up at Grass Mountain we can really spread out, and we don't have to worry about our neighbors as much.”
The Grass Mountain property was first acquired by Sitka Center founders Frank and Jane Boyden in 2011, and it has already been the site of some collaboration between artists and scientists: In 2015, paleontologist Kirk Johnson and illustrator Ray Troll took up residency there to research West Coast fossils. Next up, salmon biologist Dan Bottom plans to lodge at Grass Mountain in the fall. The Sitka Center will operate more formal programs at the new property starting this summer.