No Boundaries International Art Colony celebrates 20 years on Bald Head Island. A dozen alumni artists from half a dozen countries have worked and lived together for the past 2 weeks; an exhibit of their work opens Saturday, November 18 at CFCC's Wilma Daniels Gallery.
More than 20 years ago, artist Pam Toll visited an art colony in Macedonia. She convinced 2 other Wilmington artists to experience the magic there as well, and the rest is history. Listen to Pam and No Boundaries Board President Beth Crookham talk about the colony above; read an extended transcript below. Photos of art below are not from this year's colony.
Gina: What is No Boundaries?
Beth: Our focus is really about building bridges between cultures through the arts.
It’s a two week artist colony experience where artists come together on Bald Head Island to share, both in the creation of their art and just share about who they are and in a very open environment- magical, open environment. And at its core it's really about the people coming together and sharing who they are and being open to accepting one another. And the art in some ways almost becomes secondary, in my opinion.
Pam: I agree with that.
Pam: I think the the real flood of creating comes after the colony.
Pam: I think you're stowing things up. You're talking to people and you're stowing things up.
Beth: For the non-artist out there listening to this, I think that it's akin to you know, an engineer going away to a conference to really look at research and development, and really getting that time away from the daily grind to learn about innovation or open up through conversation with other engineers. Or lawyers or whoever it might be. This is that kind of an experience for artists. And so the real magic often, as Pam said, happens after you leave and you've had that seeps into your work afterwards.
Gina: And this has been going on for 20 years now?
Beth: Yeah. Pam and two of her colleagues, Dick Roberts and Gayle Tustin, started it back in 1998, but its roots are in Macedonia.
Pam: We all met and in fact, four of the internationals coming this year, I met in Macedonia. Serge in 1994. I believe Gerlinda met Dick there one year, I don't know what year. Ganul in 1996 and Luke Marelli in 1995. So there was this ferver in this monastery in a mountain near the Bulgarian border in Macedonia that we all went to. I was the first person to go over there because I have a friend who is a singer who had a Fulbright over there. So she told me about these work colonies. And it was a magical experience because it was during the Serbian war. So this was this landlocked country that was trying to keep peace, keep the peace. And and we just were treated so wonderfully. There was a magic to the environment, a magic to all the people that were gathered from all over.
There were many, many countries. And just it was a life changing experience. And then Gayle went and then Dick went and we wanted to do something like that here. So we started making plans pretty quickly after being there. Because in retrospect, it was four years later. Which seemed like a lot of time to me when I was thinking about the idea.
Beth: But 20 years later…
Pam: Four years after our first experience to put it together was pretty good.
Gina: And then you said, we can do this here and somehow you- who did you have to work with to make that happen?
Pam: Well I was actually sort of challenged by three Macedonians to come back here and be an ambassador. And one was an artist, one was the colony director and one was a curator at the National Gallery in Skopje. And so I took that to heart and I actually even wrote the President. Got a really nice reply from the State Department and got encouragement. That's a great idea to do that would be the most diplomatic thing you could possibly do. And there was no ambassador in Macedonia for the US at that time.
So I said, Serge, we're going to bring. I want to bring you to America. And he thought, Yeah sure. But we did. You know, then it was sort of this team effort with Gayle and Dick and I, that we had this passion for this place and we knew we wanted to always align ourselves with that Eastern European part of the world, which we brought a lot of people from there. And then knew about Bald Head through various experiences there and thought, well that's kind of an idyllic setting like that mountain that we went to in Macedonia.
And then it's just really been a community effort. You know, nobody could have done it alone. It just took a community to do it.
Beth: And I will add to that that our location has been the same all 20 years, it's Captain Charlie's Station on Bald Head Island, which is owned by the Mitchell family who created Bald Head Island Limited, that is largely responsible for developing Bald Head Island. And Kent Mitchell is the representative of the family that Pam worked with most closely at the beginning. You know, those three cottages sitting there at that, you know, on the south end of Bald Head Island right there on the water. Every time I'm out there I always say, this is either the end of the earth or the beginning of the Earth. Or maybe both. But it is just this magical, magical place to be. And I think it would be hard to separate No Boundaries International Art Colony from Captain Charlie's. Like the two are just sort of synonymous.
Pam: Right. I met him in a swim in the YMCA swimming pool. Great friend.
Gina: And Pam, tell me, just so that we can get an idea of what it's like there, what are the rules?
Pam: What are the boundaries?
Gina: I literally almost said that. Did you see that almost coming out of my mouth?
Beth: Actually what's really funny, one of my favorite things Pam ever said to me when I started getting more involved in the leadership of the organization was, No Boundaries taught me that I do actually have boundaries.
Pam: Or need them, anyway.
Beth: Well first of all, we try to put "here's the deal" upfront so that they there's no surprises. I think the colony has changed in some ways since in since the early days. And some of that I think is just we've all gotten a little older.
Pam: And wiser.
Beth: And wiser and we've learned along the way.
Beth: I would say, today what we say to people is- and this is true before- it is communal living. This is three houses with 12 to 13, if not 14 people, in them. And these are not big, gracious homes. These are small beach cottages. So we definitely put up front: this is communal living. Everyone pitches in to help out in terms of keeping things cleaned up, breakfast and lunch, you kind of make your own. We bring groceries over for everyone but you know, you're sort of doing what you do. So I think we put that up front pretty clearly because there are some people that that's just not going to work for them. And that it is an open environment. I think if you are self-aware enough to know that you fall into maybe the diva category, this maybe is not going to be your place.
Pam: That's always a good idea to lay your ego down on the shore of the mainland before you get on the ferry.
Beth: And then then there are you know part of the contract- because there is a contract that the artists sign- they don't pay anything to be there and we provide ground transportation once they're here in Wilmington, housing here on the mainland a few days before and after, and then everything over on the island that they need. For internationals, we're providing art materials and things like that. And so they're sort of payment for that is two completed works of art.
And I can remember an artist one year coming and he was so nervous because he doesn't work that fast normally. In real life in his studio, he's working on you know eight, nine, ten pieces at a time and they might take months to complete. And now he has to make sure he has two that he feels good about that he's done with in two weeks. And so, but that is part of it as well and that we put very much up front. And the sale of that art is what helps support our ongoing work.
Gina: I really like that sustainability model.
Pam: And one thing you're making me think of from different experiences I've had like that is that, that's part of the fun of it, is the limitations. That sets up the parameters of the problem. Maybe in Spain, you didn't have, or had to paint on a piece of cardboard because we ran out of canvases, you know. Then that makes things interesting. So you have to stretch yourself and you have to cooperate.
Beth: And then the only other stipulation that we really have on the island is dinner is at 7:00 p.m. and everyone sits down to have dinner together. So the rest of your 24 hours of your day are yours to do with as you choose. Be off on the island somewhere at the houses and you know, wherever you want to be. But at 7:00 p.m., dinner is served and everyone sits down together.
And we always have cooks come out for us. And one of the things that's happened in recent years is we've started getting more and more of some of the best chefs in the area coming out and cooking and from some of the best restaurants around here. And that's been kind of a fun culinary arts meet the visual arts and they've it's fun to watch those folks bounce off of each other. And the chefs who have come back multiple years kind of upping their game each year and saying, you know, I want to inspire the artists through how what I'm feeding them.
Pam: I think it's just a really great way to co-exist to learn about other people and to lay aside fears and dropping boundaries. And because there's all these different ideas and languages and ways of doing. We had a Chinese artist who coudln't speak a single word of English and we had a great time with them.
Beth: Our Cuban artist didn't speak much English when he was here- Lazarro- when he was here the first time.
Pam: And there's many ways to communicate.
Beth: Yeah there are many ways to communicate. And I think you know, I don't even begin to know. This would be an interesting thing to look into actually: is how many times has No Boundaries been somebody's first entry into the United States?
Pam: Several times for the Eastern Europeans.
Beth: Yeah. And I know Innocent from Rwanda. That was his first time in the United States. Yeah. So. So it's also you know, you're bringing people and introducing them to the United States and everything they know about us maybe from television or movies or in Lord knows what--that's not an accurate portrayal of us.
Gina: And you have you been at each one?
Pam: I went to everyone until about 2014. Yeah. And then..
Beth: You took a couple of years off.
Pam: I took a couple years off.
Gina: You needed a retreat from No Boundaries.
Pam: It was a lot of work. I mean my hat's off to Beth, she sort of stepped up some things like the food. It's a lot of work.
Beth: It is a lot of work. And one of the things that I'm really excited about this year is that- Dick Roberts, stepped away from the leadership of the organization much earlier than Pam and Gayle did. And I'm really excited for all three of them, but especially for Pam and Gayle to be able to come out and no they just get to be artists because we've got this new leadership of No Boundaries they don't need them to step in and help us and help pick up the pieces.
I'm really excited to give that gift to both of them this year, where they can really just kick back and be artists.
And one of the things we've we've shifted about it as well is first of all, we have a fourth house now and we refer to it as our cook's house. So, Seabreeze Rentals over on the island, they have another house that they give us. We do in trade for art, which is awesome. And that house is where our cooks stay when they're there so they don't have to sleep on sofas or floors or wherever. And it's also, we now have one of our board members who's assigned as what we call "the colony administrator.” We've had I think for as long as the colony has been around, a UNCW studio art student who interns for us which is, I mean you'd have to talk to them, but I think is a pretty incredible experience for those students who get chosen for that position. This year it's Barbara Ann Thomas is the young woman's name.
And so that allows us this colony administrator who you don't have anyone now doubling as an artist and trying to make everything happen. You have somebody who's really dedicated to the logistics of making the colony happen. And that's their focus. So that all of the artists get to just be artists.
Gina: Who will be there this year? What artists?
Pam: The the international artist are: Sergej Andreevski from Macedonia. Gerlinde Pistner from Germany. Ganul Nuhoglu from Turkey. Luc Marelli from Switzerland.
Beth: And France. He bounces back and forth.
Pam: Yes. From Rwanda, Innocent—
Beth: Innocent Nkurunziza from Rwanda. And then Arrow Ross is from Denmark but lives here. And then Lone Seeberg from Denmark. Those are our internationals and they are all alumni. So for this year everybody's an alumni for our 20th anniversary. Normally we only have three or four alumni out of the slots. And then our locals are Pam Toll, Gayle Tustin, Dick Roberts, Fritzy Huber, Eric Lawing, and then Arrow.
Pam: On Monday, November 20th, Ganul will be giving a talk at UNCW at the Cultural Arts Building, upstairs.
Beth: And our opening. So there will be an opening reception which, I got to say, is always an incredible party at Wilma Daniels Gallery on the downtown campus of CFCC. That will be from 6:00-9:00 on Saturday, November 18th. And that will all be work that was created during the two weeks of the colony and all the artists should be there for that reception.
Pam: And then on Friday, December 1st, there's going to be an American artist alumni show at Acme arts studios.
Gina: You bring that nourishment to the community inall sorts of different ways. I might believe in trickle-down artist's inspiration.
Beth: Yeah, I mean you know it is amazing to me, maybe it actually expands as it grows and gets its energy ripples on it's a spiderweb. I've wanted to figure out a way on our Web site that we literally could create the web that is no boundaries because when you start in that'll be a fun thing about this year with it being all alumni is. I feel like we just need to have cameras and recorders running all the time to capture all the stories. I met so-and-so at that colony who then came here who met this person who got them into a show there that caused you know I mean it is incredible when you start talking six degrees of separation no boundaries is just spans the entire globe in like one or two degrees of separation.
Gina: Let’s say someone like Fritzi Huber who works with Dreams students a lot. She brings that stuff to young people in this community.
Beth: Well I have to tell you, and I'll put words in his mouth right now. But I think he'll be OK with that. Matt Carvin, the Executive Director at Dreams, said to me one time that the single greatest thing he does for his Dreams kids is the Saturday that some of those kids get to come out to the island and spend a day at the colony. And he said there is nothing greater than our kids getting to see artists at work in their studios and opening their minds to the possibility that “that could be me.”