/Five months, 10 visits, 360-degree cameras place-based residency pieces together fabric of Hancock County

Five months, 10 visits, 360-degree cameras place-based residency pieces together fabric of Hancock County

The county’s first Homegrown Literary Arts Exchange hosted the video’s premiere. It was the culmination of Mark Geil’s place-based artist residency. Geil shared footage he had accumulated over five months and ten visits to the coast county. Geil created a 360-degree panorama of Hancock County, using small scraps and larger canvas. The 100 Men D.B.A. captured stunning panoramas. The St. Rose de Lima Gospel Choir brought life to the hall in Bay St. Louis. Tiny Planet’s perspective offered fun and loopy views of the Hancock County Fair. Children’s sincerity and honesty were evident in their sweet words and imaginative art. Geil stated, “I was really intrigued with how children view their world.” Geil’s project was part of two community-driven, artist-led, place-based artist residencies that were held in Mississippi this year. They were organized by the Mississippi Museum of Art’s Center for Art & Public Exchange, an initiative supported and funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The community and the artist work together to explore Mississippi’s history and create art that helps build deeper understanding. These projects were born out of listening sessions in the state. Then, there was a call to artists for proposals and a selection made from those who submitted. The projects must reflect the community’s challenges and aspirations as well as the CAPE goals of transparency and equity, truth, and integrity. To support their execution, the short-term residencies received grants of $10,000 each. Artist proposals cannot target their own communities. Geil, who grew up in Jackson, but is originally from Albuquerque, stated that the outsider’s perspective brought curiosity to the project. “Because it’s not where I grew up, I haven’t made any decisions about it. In some ways, it’s all new.” He said that the community quilt metaphor is a way to get in. Geil, an associate professor at Jackson State University of art and photography, is also a skilled in image-making and videography. Geil suggested the purchase of five 360-degree handheld cameras to be used in the creation of the community quilt. Two lenses on the small camera capture 180 degrees in all directions and stitch it together. Geil stated, “It makes it easier to pay attention to the landscape in an entirely different way.” Traditional videography and photography leave something out of the frame. Decisions are made about what to include or exclude. This is where you capture everything. “By nature it’s inclusive. It’s inclusive of all.” Catherine Tibbs (Director, The Arts, Hancock County) was one of his collaborators. She connected him to area schools. Tibbs stated that “Getting our schools and our children involved — it was most important for all of us,” Geil worked with students from second through fifth grade. A high school visit is on the horizon. To draw out responses and connections through interviews and artwork, Geil centered classroom visits around three themes. These themes were: what children loved about their home; kindness; and the most beautiful thing that they’ve ever seen. He said that they told their stories in an earnest manner and shared what was important to them. Interviews revealed that a county was split by Interstate 10. There were piney woods on one end and coastal beaches on the other. Geil stated that children described the land and the freedom of exploring the woods as “that kinda enchantment,” when they grew up in forests. “Interviewing adults, they echoed the sentiment of growing up Kiln… that similar kind of connection with the land and growing up a rural area where your closest neighbor could be a half-mile away.” Another frequent topic was their relationship to water — the Gulf of Mexico, the Pearl River and Jordan River. Geil stated that community resilience was also evident as people who used to mark time prior to and after Hurricane Camille now do the same thing with Hurricane Katrina. After Katrina’s devastating losses, material possessions no longer mattered as much because so many people lost so much. It was incredible to witness that resilience.” The 23-minute video is just one component of the larger community quilt initiative, which also includes interviews and footage. Geil explained that the camera, editing software, interview equipment, and VR glasses purchased during the residency will remain in Hancock County. “So they can keep the story alive,” Geil stated. The premiere video was shown in 2-D, but an app with pivot points allows individual viewers to navigate through the video at their own pace. With VR glasses, they can also see all the footage. The video will be available on museumcape.org in January. Teacher Stacey Ferguson said, “It’s so awesome.” She recalled how the North Bay Elementary third graders took to the project, Geil’s visit to their visual art class, and his interviews. They were able to draw their favorite Hancock County places. It could be in your backyard. It could be your backyard. It could be the woods. “They all did different things.” One time, their art on Vellum paper was covered in a rectangular clear box with the camera inside for a layering, collage effect. They also interviewed one another — the children did. They were comfortable using the technology. She said that they didn’t seem to be bothered by the technology. They did an excellent job with their questions and their answers. I discovered a lot about them — that they don’t require all that scaffolding. Sometimes they just need the courage to do it. She said that the arts open up new avenues than other methods. “Arts are a way to reach everybody, it’s personal.” The video was praised by the people who were featured. Allison K. Craig laughed, saying that she was a bit nervous about her self-portrait. Her friend Gracie Zimmerman agreed, saying that she too was “laughing in my mind” and “it was good.” “I’m going tell my gifted friends that it was fun and tell those I saw in the video. Nel Ducomb of Hancock County Library System, who was the chair of the Homegrown Literary & Arts Exchange, said, “It made my feel very hopeful because the children embraced art.” She was struck by the children’s self-portraits and their openness to sharing the kindnesses of others. Art is an important unifier for me. It unites everyone. It brings everyone together.