2021-2022 Artist-in-Residence Lena Schmid and 2021 Arrowmont VISIONS intern, Jonathan Adams, had a follow-up conversation about his experience as the first Visions Intern for the Arrowmont blog. Read the full interview below.
Lena Schmid: What skills have you gained through the internship?
Jonathan Adams: The majority of it I’ve known and I would say it’s less skills. I didn’t come here and was like, whoa I didn’t know how to do that.
It’s more I came and I now understand the institution for what it is and how they want to operate. I understand that. I love doing that to an institution where I find their history, what they want to do, and where they’re at currently. And what are their plans? And how are they thinking, how is it transforming or generating something? That’s been enlightening to me.
Less so skills. I would say maybe, more organizational skills. Because also I realized that I lack a lot of organization. Not saying that I’m a mess, but I’m a mess. I definitely know I need to organize more. And I see how efficient they organize and I really enjoy that and I would like to do that more so than I have before. I want all the bells and whistles and to have it in a nice little organized chart. So my organization needs help, but I learned so much more about the institution. And that’s been wonderful. Because I can see that they are trying. That is really cool. Because I have seen institutions throw their weight around, and they may have gotten a couple things done, but ultimately they’re either on auto pilot or they’re not thinking about it. But each person I’ve talked to here is generally really helpful. Everyone’s really trying their best. They may not know what’s going on but they’re figuring it out.
I’m like, Ah! Y’all are really trying to do the good work and that’s really happy. I really appreciate that as an Appalachian, from this area. I’m like great, there are people here that believe in the spirit of what this place does and art itself in a larger context. That makes me happy. I’m like, damn, that’s what we need.
You know I’m happy they’re even trying. That’s a big step for anybody. So yeah I really enjoyed the institution more.
JA: The people. Yeah. It’s the people. I really have come to love all of you and admire all of y’all. And I’ve really come to have a special sort of care for the people that work here. And the little things they do and the little esoteric things that they bring and I love them for who they are. That’s a lot for me, to be like, cool, I like being here. Because usually if I’m in a place, it’s ok, and there’s a lot of problems but, yeah I’ve really come to enjoy the people here. More people should know about this place.
LS: What were your expectations of the internship vs your experience?
JA: I usually expect nothing when I go to a place. Because they don’t have to do anything for me. And if I expect nothing going in then I’m not pressed to say, “Hey, you should have done this, or this is what should have happened.” I can remove myself, and be like, cool, here are the base things that you’ve offered me and everything else is frosting. Or a glaze. I’m really happy that I was able to connect with people but then also see how much stuff they’re doing behind the scenes. Seeing that there is a lot of camaraderie. But honestly I was expecting- it’s an institution. I was expecting to walk in and for it to be broken, which most of them are. Just broken and they feel very much like psycho-pumps. It’s on its last legs or it’s always, always changing. It’s always a new thing. And they’re trying to refocus themselves. But there’s none of that either.
I didn’t expect it to feel like home. That is a new thing. It feels like a residence, an actual residence. It doesn’t feel like I’m at a place and they call it a residence and it’s overly heightened. The place knows it has blemishes, but it just owns it. And I was like, oh that’s great, that’s great. So I feel there’s a lot more openness than I anticipated.
LS: Do you have any advice for the next person in your position?
You can make your mark here. I have. I didn’t think that would happen for me. I didn’t think I would come in and immediately my ideas would be taken seriously and then implemented. I’ve had so much push and pull on what I want to do, or how to do, or what I’ve changed already. It’s been really dramatic. Because my role as an intern is completely different. You’re not on autopilot. I’m not an extra pair of hands. And that felt really nice.
Like I am, but also they’re asking me for knowledge, they’re asking me for my benefits. I would say, be brave, put your foot out there, work hard- not too hard- because I think I’ve actually been too busy. But that’s been my life ever since before grad school and after. And during. Just doing the next thing. I think that is just part of being a working artist. But I feel here that I don’t need to make things, which is fine for some other people. But you have that choice. There’s a lot that goes into this position. And I hope to see it not fall by the wayside. I actually really don’t. Because it’s been helpful for me and for them, to think about this position and the way it is.
I don’t know if they think about it as an incubator. I think they do in a way of bringing people in-it works as an initiative. Which feels great. I’m like, that’s cool that you’re thinking about it as an initiative. But then also you could be bringing in other people that aren’t just underserved, but bringing in people that have a whole, wildly different scenario in their heads of how things should be operated. And that could be a radical way of introducing that wild card. That’s where this position lies and not as just an intern.
And even then I think it’s almost a disservice to call it an internship, for the things that I’ve done or how it’s being operated… Yeah, it’s a brave space, and it’s a nice space. I hope the next person doesn’t just come in and go, Oh I can get money from it, I can live. But that’s the very very base minimum. That should actually just be normal. You should actually just be paid. And it’s not the most money, but it’s enough to be like, damn, I’m here, I can live, I can pay my bills, I can buy stuff, I can travel. I can have a life here, you know.
LS: Can you give me an example of something that you contributed that was implemented?
JA: It’s nothing structurally within, or how the roles within people have changed. But it’s definitely the way they think about it. And the way they interact with me is different than how they would have when I was here earlier. But noticing how ArtReach is put together, and talking to Kelly [Hider, youth education program manager] about how ArtReach could be, or programming with Nick [DeFord, chief program officer], or figuring out Bill [Griffith, partnership & outreach liaison]’s position. This whole position thing has been really interesting in talking with him, of him asking, what do we need? And I think this goes to the conversation we were talking about earlier. I don’t want to be a POC that’s in a place- I don’t want to be in the initiative and then also tell them how to run their initiative. I want y’all to do the work and figure it out. But I also like how they listen to me about lifestyle. Trudy [Hughes, chief executive officer] pays attention to that. Or how their employee handbook should be written. That was really interesting to have that conversation with Nick about the language, just the language of it. I’m like, you really need to pay attention to that. It’s been really interesting. But then also I understand people are just in their ways and I can’t just come and be like, yeaah pssshhht, change this this and this. It’s not been a deep dive, but it’s been enough to where their questions aren’t about the products any more. They’re thinking about how people move and how people think and it’s been really interesting. Especially I think just my presence. I think they’re thinking about outreach differently now. They want people to travel, to go other places. We should be out on the ground, you can’t just do it from home. That’s why I left. It’s all about travel.
LS: You have had the opportunity to work on some of your own artistic projects while you’ve been here. Can you tell me a little bit about those projects?
JA: I’ve been working on a book. I didn’t know it was a book. I thought it was just a poem, and then I thought it was a set of drawings. And then it became a book. When I started putting things together, I thought okay I have a thing, and that’s been very interesting. I’ve also been working on a large piece that feels like an essay to me. The van that we spoke about earlier, that feels very much like an essay. And it feels very much how you spoke about how to enter communities and how to keep that network. How to engage the world as an artist. And it feels very much like me entering the discourse, and understanding and critiquing something that exists outside of me, that’s not just myself…It feels like I’m building within that drawing. And then a couple others that are attached to it as well.
I’ve really been trying to figure out, what do I make as an artist, because drawing and painting are so similar.… But then also I realized that I started worrying about the painting mechanics. I realized that my marks are different, how I operate is different, and I haven’t seen my work sans deadline. It’s been very opening. And I’ve been like, cool, how can I imagine my work, what is it now? And I don’t know. Which is really wild.
Because I even want to change the systems of the way I work. Because if I’m using ink, I can make drawings all day. Banging them out. But I’ve been really interested in graphite. But that takes so long – that’s like a three-hour process for a small drawing, you know? I’ve had time to explore and I can’t say necessarily that I know what artist I want to be anymore. Which is a wild phrase to say out loud. I don’t.
I feel like I solved a lot of the issues of my previous life or the questions that I had with the work that was in my thesis show and after. So now I’m just making things, and I’m just happening. I’m working from a different drive, from a different place now. It’s not the same place anymore.
Jonathan Adams is a 2D artist born at the border of Virginia and Tennessee in Bristol. He attended Chautauqua School of Art and has a BFA from East Tennessee State University and an MFA from Rutgers University. He exhibits his work in solo and group shows in Tennessee, Alabama, New Jersey, and New York. He was a resident artist for Art Letters and Numbers (2018), Chautauqua School of Art (2020), and was the first Arrowmont Visions Intern in Fall 2021. His drawings display an otherworldly confluence of mythical and historical narratives as they relate to personal and collective histories. Conversing with horror imagery, beasts and perversions of religion set in an apocryphal Appalachia, Adams’ strives to understand the absurdities of the world around him. Ultimately, the work seeks to exist as artifact to arrest power of Adams’ bi-racial narrative and correct black Appalachian canon.