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An artist paints alone at the Cloquet Forestry Center.

An artist enjoys the solitude of the Cloquet Forestry Center. Split Rock workshops take place in the Twin Cities and at the Cloquet Forestry Center.

Split Rock Arts Program celebrates 25 years

June 10, 2008

This summer, writers, artists, and designers who represent a variety of backgrounds, interests, and skill levels will once again have the opportunity to work with renowned faculty through Split Rock's retreats at the Cloquet Forestry Center in northern Minnesota or workshops on the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus.

Photography instructor Craig Blacklock began teaching for the program at its inception. "When I started back in the early 1980s, there was a real disconnect between what was being taught in college art photography classes and what photographers actually needed to know to make meaningful images."

Blacklock's goal--and the overall goal of the program--is to go beyond the standard "classroom" experience.

"The best instruction comes from working artists, and Split Rock fosters a tremendous learning atmosphere," he says. "Almost every class becomes a family by the end of the week. The participants are always eager to learn and to help each other out. It is absolutely the best learning situation I've been a part of," Blacklock says.

According to Andrea Gilats, the program's cofounder and longtime director, "the program began--and is still necessary today--because artists need opportunities to develop, gain skill, and practice within learning communities. The impetus for starting it was to give artists at all levels [the chance] to work with outstanding practitioners. Split Rock provides opportunities to make and do art. It's where you actually do the thing, rather than just talk about it. Doing is a powerful form of knowing."

The College of Continuing Education, where the program is housed, estimates that the program has served about 13,000 people, including participants in this summer's workshops. (Registrations doubled the year the program was moved from Duluth to the Twin Cities.)

Gilats retired from Split Rock in 2007 and former associate director Anastasia Faunce took the reins. As she moves into her second year as director, Faunce, who has spent nearly seven years involved with the program, continues to marvel at the unique combinations of people and their contributions, summer after summer.

Split Rock Soir?es

Come celebrate the energy and talent of Split Rock's 2008 faculty over five evenings of readings and artists' talks: June 24 at McNeal Hall, St. Paul; and July 8, 15, 22, and 29 at Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis. Tickets are $5; call 612-625-8100.

"When the workshops are in session," she says, "it's remarkable. To hear the laughter, witness the camaraderie of artists working in the studio, feel the earnestness of writers reading during Open Mic, even see faculty and participants' tears when the end of the week inevitably comes--these are the moments when I feel the energy, the incredible buzz of Split Rock most. I know it's a clich? to say it's 'magical,' but really, what other word is there?"

"Twenty-five years ago, no one even knew if the program would get off the ground--let alone flourish like it has," says Gilats. "Sometimes, I just can't believe it. After all these years, Split Rock remains an ever-changing, vibrant program that transforms the lives of the people it serves."

With a quarter of a century gone, what"s on tap for the future?

"Thanks to the longtime dedication of Andrea and [program administrator] Vivien Oja, both of whom have worked for decades to shape and strengthen the program, Split Rock has a rock-solid foundation," says Faunce.

"[It's my goal] to build on that, adapting and innovating as the times and peoples' needs and desires change, and as technology and the ever-transforming disciplines and notions of art evolve. Hippocrates said, 'ars longa, vita brevis,' which in the case of Split Rock, means we must always have a keen eye on what these art and writing experiences might look like in the future, as well as how they might be best delivered. It's a tricky, but exciting responsibility."

For more information about the Split Rock Arts Program, including a list of summer events and workshops, visit the College of Continuing Education.