New in town: Finding an artistic home through collaboration

New residents and artists-in-residency, Lowland Hum performs at a record release show on Saturday at The Haven. The performance will also feature an art installation and hand-bound lyric books designed by band member Lauren Goans (right). Publicity photo New residents and artists-in-residency, Lowland Hum performs at a record release show on Saturday at The Haven. The performance will also feature an art installation and hand-bound lyric books designed by band member Lauren Goans (right). Publicity photo

The word home means different things to different people: A physical place you share with family and friends. A feeling of love and security. A group of people who share encouragement and acceptance. At different points in life, we all struggle to find home. For touring musicians, this can be an even trickier task. However, the musicians of Lowland Hum have found a home in Charlottesville, thanks in part to a unique program hosted by New City Arts and The Haven.

Lauren and Daniel Goans, the foundation of the band, are from North Carolina and have spent the better part of the last two years touring to support their debut album, Native Air. The album garnered positive reviews and landed the band a spot on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series, as well as gigs in venues ranging from bars to barns. The tour made a stop in C’ville last year, and the Goans fell in love with the area, resolving to relocate here. Autumn came and the married couple made the move, settling into a small apartment in Belmont.

The Goans were fortunate to also have an entry point in the form of the New City Arts artist-in-residency (AIR), a competitive program offering free downtown studio space plus the opportunity to collaborate with other local artists as well as guests at The Haven’s day shelter over a 10-month period.

As a result, Lowland Hum recently released its second full-length album, filled with songs that were written and rehearsed during the residency. The new work demonstrates how the band’s music has grown from poetically sparse guitar and vocals to a fuller sound, complete with drum and bass guitar. In celebration of the album release, Lauren and Daniel will perform on April 25, backed by local musicians Sam Bush and Guion Pratt, at, where else, The Haven.

Since the AIR program launched in 2012, the collaboration between New City Arts and The Haven has provided a creative home to artists by offering studio space and collaborative opportunities. Thus far, nine artists have participated, ranging from printmakers to musicians. Each year, they’re selected by a panel based on excellence of craft but also “thoughtfulness towards arts-based programming within The Haven community,” according to New City Arts Executive Director, Maureen Brondyke. “For the first few months, we require artists to volunteer so they get to know Haven guests. This allows the artists to facilitate a creative program specific to the needs of The Haven, rather than based exclusively on their own practice.”

As a current participant in the residency program, multimedia artist Amanda Wagstaff said, “Volunteering there, becoming friends with some of the guests and working on an art project there has been personally rewarding as well as an inspiration for my own art practice.”

A past participant in the program, Mara Sprafkin experienced another benefit of her residency. “Even though I have moved my studio back to my home, I am much more active and connected to the creative community in Charlottesville than I was before,” she said.

Indeed, the residency strikes a unique balance between engaging artists and community members in creative projects and supporting the professional needs of emerging artists. Increasingly, artists have to act as small businesses, marketing their work, balancing the books and making sales. Programs like this help them do that, providing space, support and encouragement—essentially, a home.

AIR writer and illustrator Sean Rubin sees it as a doorway to collaboration. “Two of the biggest challenges I face involve finding studio space, and then usually working by myself, which is not my preference,” he said. “The AIR fills both these needs in a fantastic way.”

Currently, Rubin and his fellow AIR members are creating a quilt with guests at The Haven. “The quilt was originally a collaboration between Sean and myself,” said Wagstaff. “We created a ‘blank’ quilt. We, along with staff, volunteers and Haven guests, create individual pieces that get pinned onto the quilt until it’s covered with images, patterns and messages. It’s a Haven self-portrait of sorts.”

Lowland Hum contributes to the collaboration by asking guests to fill out a song request form, detailing memories of a specific tune. While Wagstaff and Rubin host weekly quilting sessions with Haven guests, the duo plays songs. “We are always delighted when a favorite song happens to play over the speakers at a grocery store,” said Lauren. “We wanted to introduce the possibility of that kind of surprise at The Haven.”

The familiar songs serve to open up the guests, and connect their past to the present. “Sounds simple enough, but a beautiful thing has resulted from it. The stories connected with the songs are really amazing.” Many of these stories will be included in the quilt, which will give a sense of comfort and home to many when it’s completed and hanging on the wall at The Haven.

For artists interested in applying to the artist-in-residency program, the new application will be posted in May at www.newcity arts.org.

Where do you feel at home in Charlottesville? Tell us in the comments.

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