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How this art farmstead is helping artists survive the pandemic

In the heart of rural Nebraska, near the tiny village of Marquette, is a farmstead like no other.

It is home to a nonprofit artist residency program called Art Farm where abstract sculptures occupy more acreage than center pivots. Some 80 artists from around the world travel to Art Farm, affectionately known as “the Mutant Little House on the Prairie,” each year for the chance to spend time at this eccentric locale that includes a roster of more than 800 artists from 23 countries thus far.

This year, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the annual residency, is wrapping up an unusual season of art making.

Returning artist Grace Wong had no place to go in April when her residency in Finland ended. With virus numbers growing in her home base of Los Angeles, Wong headed directly to Art Farm.

“A lot of residencies closed their opportunities this year (due to Covid-19) or made it a remote experience,” she said. “People want to be creative at this time and to have a change of scenery.”

Other overseas artists slated for this season postponed their residencies until next year due to travel restrictions. Instead of hosting 80 artists between May and November, only 10 artists took part in a residency this year.

By design, Art Farm is very isolated, a quality that may have helped the residency reduce the risks of COVID-19. New arrivals quarantined for two weeks and spent the rest of the season living in the “Art Farm bubble,” minimizing errands and masking up anytime they left the confines of the farm.

With its spare and rustic accommodations, residents in past years have navigated life on the farmstead with a normal degree of caution, which is full of piles of donated wood, rusted metal, and other odds and ends. This year, with a deadly pandemic, those concerns seem almost quaint.

At a time when it seems everyone tried something new while sheltering in place, from experiments with sourdough starter to the reframing of life goals, the artists at Art Farm continue to create and experiment in a strange pocket of the world where, according to founder Ed Dadey, “Time is not money, and failure is an option.”

This report originally appeared on NET Television’s “Nebraska Stories.”

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