As we weather life during COVID-19 and grow into a new studio, Outreach and Communications Director Claire Brassil shares thoughts on Watershed’s trajectory and the values that will shape our next chapter.
Over the past year, the Watershed campus underwent a sea change. Because of — rather than in spite of — the pandemic, we built our new studio a year earlier than planned. The expedited project resulted in a large and light-filled structure that brims with potential and is fit to support artists and art-making in all seasons.
In the spring, we celebrated the building’s completion and collectively reoriented after such a rapid metamorphosis. The studio can contain any program we dream up. But … how will Watershed’s limitless future take shape? As an organization known for its scrappy rough edges, what will it mean to nurture the best parts of our original identity while making the most of our shiny new vessel? These coming-of-age throes find us wrestling with invigorating yet challenging questions of who we’ve been and who we want to become.
To set a solid foundation for our future planning, my colleagues and I have engaged in soul-searching conversations about what matters to us as an organization, what we value most about our mission, and what the “Watershed experience” offers artists. These conversations uncovered surprisingly consistent feelings we share about the intrinsic importance of art-making and creative community. We believe that art matters because it reveals new ways to understand the world and each other. Artists need space and support to do the work of creating, exploring, and even foundering. Place, context, and community shape creative ideas and practices, especially when artists are freed from day-to-day stresses and responsibilities. And, clay as a medium embodies an alchemical magic.
These ideas don’t occupy the forefront of our minds as we plow the studio driveway, return emails, and balance budgets. But they flow like a current beneath the banal tasks that keep Watershed running, and they are the reason we commit to our work each day. While not all staff members work in clay, most of us come to Watershed from a creative background. We engage in the collective venture of growing and sustaining this organization because we have personally experienced the profound need for places that support art-making and creative community. With each new cohort of residents, we help artists reinvent Watershed as a new and different space that champions their practices and goals. We understand the relief that comes from feeling acknowledged, accepted, and fully engaged in artistic exploration, and we endeavor to offer artists that experience at Watershed. This endeavor has been at the heart of our organization since its inception. Watershed was started by artists, for artists, and we continue to be run by artists, for artists who agree on a common vision.
The shape and scope of Watershed’s next chapter will begin to emerge over the coming year. I feel confident that my colleagues, the board, and our greater community share a collective passion for refining and growing this unique place. Watershed is a quantifiable physical space: 54 acres, 7,500 square feet of studio space, 31 dining room chairs, 15 bedrooms, 11 kilns, and one gallery. But in an equally real sense, we are an experience, an idea, and a respite during an era when few places affirm that creative practice and artists matter.