People underestimate the power of art and how important it is for a successful society. Skowhegan is an idea, and through it we are all given a glimpse into what could be and what should be. – Maria Elena González, Chair, Skowhegan Board of Governors
IDSVA students and faculty, along with special guests Thelma and David Driskell, arrived on the legendary grounds of the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture to a sunny lawn bristling with generous dialogue. This year’s 65 artist participants - already six weeks into their nine-week program - welcomed us into their community. I must confess that prior to the IDSVA Dissertation Residency at Colby College, I had not heard of Skowhegan, therefore, I was unaware of the honor of this invitation to the Annual Board of Trustees and Governors Dinner. Listening to this chorus of artists, these citizens of the glimpse, I was immediately reminded of what Mikhail Bakhtin taught us about the unique power of artistic expression, which cannot exist by or for itself, but only makes meaning through dialogic relations. In this spirited lesson put to good use, the annual dinner successfully joined two distinct polyphonic immersions; one in philosophy and the other in studio art.
What exactly is Skowhegan? As a place, it is a Residency Program where, for over 70 years, artists and distinguished faculty and mentors have gathered to exchange ideas in a studio-based discourse whose fundamental priority is the presence of community as peer-driven critique. If you talk to those who are participating in it directly, they will tell you that Skowhegan is not a place or even a thing but is, instead, an idea risked between friends – an extraordinary conversation that continues around the clock and around our lives.
Perhaps the presence of this community dialogue can be most clearly heard in the indigenous Abenaki word, skowhegan, which directly translates as “watching place.” What exactly were the Abenaki people watching? Fish in the river. A watching place, however, is not only a location. Rather, if we remain attuned to the polyphonic of artist-philosophers Maria Elena González, Bakhtin, Participants, and the Abenaki in their presence, we can imagine what is necessary for seeing through the water. If David Driskell is right and “people are born with what we call art,” then perhaps we are also born with Skowhegan?