Todd and Amanda

Minneapolis-based Todd Melby and Melissa Wray are the newest citizen artists to visit Houston County.

Tyler Anderson photo

As creative voyageurs commissioned by the Crystal Creek Lodge Citizen-Artist Residency program descend upon the Driftless Region, the first-year experimental program has worked its way through its summer-long artist retreat.

“Our first resident, Harry Graff-Kimball was the ideal citizen artist,” said Crystal Creek Lodge Citizen-Artist Residency Organizer Erin Dorbin said. “He jumped right in and got all over the county.”

The program—a brainchild of newly established Houston County residents Dorbin and her partner Taylor Harris—has planned to bring artists to the county to create work based of the unique personalities and beauty of the area.

Four artists are scheduled to spend three individual weeks in the county this summer—with the exception of current citizen-artists Todd Melby and Melissa Wray, who are working collaboratively on their projects.

With a $445 donation by the program’s partner Houston Arts Resource Council, a Tri-County Electric’s MiEnergy $500 grant and a $3,000 donation from the Southeast Minnesota Arts Council the artists are expected to create their own form of inspirational work while also attending a community meet-and-greet and a community workshop.

The citizen-artists are staying in Dorbin and Harris’ Crystal Creek Canyon Lodge, a hand-hewn 1890s Norwegian cabin in Houston County.

New York City-based musician Harry Graff-Kimball was the first citizen-artist to grace the county from July 16 to 22.

“He has plans of coming back and doing more recordings with the participants of his workshop,” Dorbin said.

Graff Kimball created three-quarters of a song with his workshop participants at the Cross of Christ Church in Houston.

“An 11-year-old girl played a snare that boomed through the church,” Dorbin said. “The song has a lot of subtle observations and local identity ... There was a point where we were looking around in the workshop and we had chills.”

There were about 15 workshop participants that included amateur genealogists among the locals.

“I’m excited to find a way to combine creative interests with the community,” said current citizen-artist Melissa Wray. “I grew up writing as an escape so it will be interesting to share that tool.”

The current citizen-artists are focused on audio storytelling.

Caledonia-native and Minneapolis-based Wray—a masters student in the arts and cultural leadership program at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and the marketing coordinator at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis—will create community based podcasts exploring community across the state starting with Houston County.

“There is this nuance in the complex subject that is rural versus urban,” she said. “People are quick to see the difference between rural and urban but there are universal truths like the term community that I think needs to be explored.”

Wray’s artistic partner is Todd Melby, a media artist and freelance journalist with Reuters. Melby has previously traveled to places like Williston, North Dakota to learn about the people and communities participating in the state’s oil boom.

“I’m excited to meet new people and learn new things,” he said. “In the workshop, I want to give people interviewing tips ... A lot of people want to interview their families and parents but they don’t know what questions to ask or how to get the conversation going.”

Although busy with interviews, Melby and Wray plan on attending one of the county’s most anticipated events—the Houston County Fair.

The fourth and final 2017 citizen-artist Cimarron Corpe of Victoria, Canada will come to the county between Sept. 10- 16.

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