Ray Martinez

My wife and I set out on a journey after three years of living in the Washington, D.C. area. We knew that we needed to do something other than going directly back to southern Colorado where we had met and spent the previous twelve years together. We love Colorado but knew a transition of some kind was needed. That is how we ended up at Arts, Letters and Numbers, (ALN) in upstate New York. A one month stay making art, surrounded by amazing people, at an artist in residency seemed to be an excellent way to transition away from Washington, DC.  It turned out to be the perfect beginning to an amazing journey.

 So here we are almost six months later as we begin to transition from being on the road back to southwest Colorado. Our intentions are to continue living the same purposeful life we lived during our travels as we continue forward. Looking back on our experiences we decided an artist residency to end our travels made perfect sense. Elsewhere Studios in Paonia, CO has again given us the opportunity to make art in an amazing space surrounded by great people.

But much like ALN the best part of Elsewhere Studios is the sense of community shared in Paonia. When meeting locals in town one mention of Elsewhere and you become one of them. Everyone invites you to events happening around town and are willing to help out any way they can. Many of the residency alumni have relocated to Paonia to become part of the community. One of the funniest traditions in Paonia is the "gifting" of zucchini squash. Since everyone has a garden and the fertile land of the valley all but guarantees a bumper crop each year of zucchini they are in abundance. So in an effort to pass them on to neighbors zucchini are left on the front seats of any vehicle in town found with the door unlocked. We have been very diligent in keeping our doors locked.

We have been to concerts, rodeos, community dinners and barbecues and each time we go, we encounter someone we have met previously. One of my favorite places to visit is the Old River Road Trading Post. This place is a combination fresh produce market, restaurant and community meeting place and are the people behind the Farm to Table movement in Paonia. Every Sunday an amazing meal made from locally grown foods is prepared for a community lunch. Anyone and everyone is invited to enjoy the food and the company of neighbors and travelers. The meal is served buffet style with salad made from vegetables grown in gardens and farms throughout the valley. Amazing desserts made from fruit of the many orchards are usually the big hit of the day, peach cobbler and apple crisp being on the top of the list. The meal is always contribute what you can and draws a diverse mix of diners.

At first glance Paonia seems like a sleepy little town with a valley full of farms and orchards. But it is a town that is rich in arts and culture boasting free concerts in the park with world class musicians, galleries, a clay studio, and artists of many genres creating work throughout the valley. It is also a town reliant on the past and looking to the future.

 At one time Paonia was a coal town with several large coal mines operating in the North Fork Valley. Today only one mine remains operational with fears and rumors of its closing. Mine closings have had a great economic impact on businesses in the valley. Along with jobs many natives to the area fear losing it heritage as well. The town is also home to one the largest educational organizations dedicated to renewable energy sources. Emphasizing solar energy methods the organization is dedicated to training individuals in renewable energy sources.

The memories created in Paonia and Elsewhere Studios will be with always be a part of our amazing journey.


Heather Martinez

It's been a long journey since leaving the East Coast this past spring. Elsewhere Studios was the best possible bookend as it gave me the time and space to be in the Flow state as I focused on building a bridge from my commercial work to my fine art.

Inspired by the community, the event of the eclipse, and concepts I have been exploring for years, I worked with both fine art materials, the tools I use in my commercial work, and glass in the house available to me. Each piece included text or letterforms I have been studying while experimenting with materials to capture years of ideas jotted in my sketchbook that I had not had an opportunity to work out on paper until the residency.

Within the first few days of being in Paonia I found myself graphic recording at a Farm to Table meeting at the Old Trading Post where my husband, Ray and I enjoyed weekly meals and meeting the locals. By the end of our time at Elsewhere, I was teaching local students about the value of visuals through sketchnoting and graphic recording.


Robin Arthur

Being a professional artist can be a solitary life due to the private nature of the practice. One of the main reasons I applied for the Elsewhere residency was in order to be around more people. I’d been working alone in my home studio for years with my pet portrait business, www.robiniart.com. I was craving critique and camaraderie from other artists and to see original work other than my own. At Elsewhere, I achieved those goals easily and immediately. It’s a warm, friendly environment that attracts interesting artists and artisans from all over the world.

Not only did I make life-long friends with many of the other residents during my three month tenure, I also easily found many friends and connections in the good people of Paonia. So many, that I decided to rent an apartment right off the main drag and stay a while. While at Elsewhere, I shifted my subject focus from pet portraits to farm animals and wildlife. I typically paint several custom portraits per year of dogs and cats, but being in Paonia’s rural setting has inspired
me to paint roosters, chickens, Jersey cows, Highland cows, yaks, foxes, goats and cow skulls. I also launched an Etsy shop (www.etsy.com/shop/RobiniArt) to sell giclee prints of my originals, and have hired local printer Brian Maul (www.westslopegraphics.com) to produce my prints.
My time at Elsewhere has been more than I expected. Not only did it provide me with a beautiful space in which to work and live, but it also inspired new work and brought wonderful new people into my life. I will continue to support this special organization as long as I live and work in Paonia.

Claudia Bokulich

Previous to my arrival at Elsewhere, I was developing feelings of stress and uncertainty about my decision to attend the month of July as a resident. This was my first residency, so I was nervous about what to expect, but I could not have chosen one as warm and relaxing as Elsewhere. The house is such a beautiful and unique place to stay, and my lovely studio made it very easy to work every day. The structure is laid back, which I enjoyed. There are weekly meetings, and I managed to have a few informal critiques a week with fellow residents. I was lucky enough to befriend a couple of incredible and talented residents during my stay, and also many people living in town. I was surrounded by good vibes, good people and a plethora of activities to take part in. At times I felt that my immersion in the community and frequent social interaction was a distraction from what I traveled there to do, which was to be alone and focus on my work. But I learned that these people and experiences served as a muse, as my paintings are based on people and social interaction. I was not expecting to fall in love with small town Paonia, but it has an incredibly special place in my heart. 

Sima Schloss

 “My time at Elsewhere was really special. Being in such a beautiful place with such great people where I was able to create was an amazing experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life"

Rhombie Sandoval

When I arrived in Hotchkiss I saw the 9 mile sign to Paonia, then began wondering if I had made the right decision. Coming from Los Angeles there wasn’t much at initial glance, but I quickly realized I was wrong and was greeted by a town that would allow me space to breathe. I spent two months at Elsewhere, where my last month’s focus became centered around setting up the requirements for me to return in August. I photographed my first stranger as I was unpacking my car. He said, “You don’t find Paonia, Paonia finds you.” A statement I found to be true and revealing of what was in store for me. My intended project was to photograph farmers, but I also began to photograph the locals in town with an emphasis on the strong women within the community. 

I am thankful for my time spent at Elsewhere as it introduced me to the next town I will call home. I look forward to returning to Paonia to continue working on my projects.


Nature Loves Courage. -Carol Flueckiger

Nature Loves Courage.  This is the sign painted on the community garden building at Elsewhere Studios in Paonia, CO.  I passed this sign every day - took several pictures of it during my month long artist residency in June 2017.  Bold red cursive words floating on a strong blue background stripe that stretched across a white painted brick wall.  It’s like two lover’s names carved into a tree.  I kept envisioning what Nature looked like and what Courage’s voice sounded like.  Nature looks like the beautiful North Fork Valley.  Courage sounds like the dynamic engaged community.  I like to think Nature and Courage built Elsewhere Studios so they could grow community.  As you walk past the sign, you see the garden, an old building, piles of compost, bikes for use, stacks of wood, work tables, coils of hose, a large ceramic wall filled with pieces of tile and the big green building that houses the studios.  You hear the funky beat of tunes from the shop and see people working.  The environment dares you to grow.  To pick up something, think about something, look at something.  And grow.    

In this environment, I grew my project Solitude of Selfie a visual revision of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s 19th century speech,Solitude of Self.  This poetic musing considers self in relation to family, community, country.  Using a blend of drawing and cyanotype, compositions are a game of quasi feminist paper dolls that have been washed with history at the speed of a spin cycle. 

While conducting Solar Powered Painting Workshops with groups from Solar Energy International, High Country News, Citizens for a Healthy Community, Bike Co-op and Elsewhere Studios, I grew my understanding of the lovely community that was grown by Nature and Courage.

Solar Powered Painting Workshop, Elsewhere Studios, Paonia, CO, June 2017

Elsewhere Studio, Daniel Fonken, Residency Manager

Solar Energy International, Kris Sutton, Director of Operations

Citizens for a Healthy Community, Andrew Forkes-Gudmudson, Associate Program Director

High Country News, Brooke Warren, Associate Designer

Bike Co-op & Elsewhere Studio, Carol Flueckiger, Artist in Residence


When I arrived in Hotchkiss I saw the 9 mile sign to Paonia, then began wondering if I had made the right decision. Coming from Los Angeles there wasn’t much at initial glance, but I quickly realized I was wrong and was greeted by a town that would allow me space to breathe. I spent two months at Elsewhere, where my last month’s focus became centered around setting up the requirements for me to return in August. I photographed my first stranger as I was unpacking my car. He said, “You don’t find Paonia, Paonia finds you.” A statement I found to be true and revealing of what was in store for me. My intended project was to photograph farmers, but I also began to photograph the locals in town with an emphasis on the strong women within the community. 

I am thankful for my time spent at Elsewhere as it introduced me to the next town I will call home. I look forward to returning to Paonia to continue working on my projects.


Robin Grearson

Robin was a writer-in-residence during May & June of 2017, thus a photo blog.

Nishant John

It was in January 2017 that I heard from Daniel & Karen at Elsewhere studios saying that I was offered a residency in May 2017 and I remember immediately being extremely thrilled and nervous at the same time. I still had to apply for my visa, and it would be my first time in the United States. Fast forward 4 months later and here I was, 8000+ miles away from home, surrounded by some of the most beautiful people and landscapes. Coming from Bangalore, a city that has a population of 10 million + people right now, Paonia was such a welcome change and I immediately felt at home at Elsewhere.

I lived in the Suite and shared the house with fellow artists Robin, Other Robin, and Rhombie (all of us got along immediately and had many adventures that month!). My medium is mainly video and Paonia had so much to offer. I spent most of my month shooting a lot of footage that I’m compiling now. The town has so much happening (something none of us expected) and it’s sometimes hard to keep track of all the fun things to go see and do. Live music, workshops, open mic, movies, open studios, art walks, yard sales, thrift stores, radio shows, parades, and so much more!

One of the best parts about Paonia for me was KVNF. I spent a lot of time listening to the station while I was there and I still tune in from India to shows that I follow. They have such a diverse selection of music that’s really well curated. I was lucky enough to do a show with Ali while I was there and we had a fun chat about the music scene here in India and I also got to share music from some of the artists here.

When you live in a city like mine, and you get everything delivered to your doorstep, you kind of forget about what’s really important in life. I love that so many people grow their own food in this town (that’s something I’ve always wanted to do but I live in an apartment on the fourth floor). I definitely plan to come back here and spend more time (one month went by way too quickly). The community here always has your back and I made some really good friends while I was here. People would go out of their way to make sure that we had everything we needed. I still keep in touch with them and dream about living here someday and I feel like that’s not so far away.  

I learnt so much from my time at Elsewhere and I can confidently say that this residency changed me both as an artist and a human being and I feel privileged to have been a part of it. Paonia is truly a magical place and the community of artists and the people who live there make it so. I’m so thankful to everyone at Elsewhere and so glad to be a part of the family.

Lauren Welch

Some things that I learned at Elsewhere that I only could have learned from Elsewhere:

1.     Everything is a dormant volcano.

2.     Sriracha mayo goes with just about any food in the house.

3.     You can cook quesadillas very adequately on the dashboard of Daniel’s car, and it doesn’t even have to be very hot out.

4.     If you let the wooden hot tub in the back soak for a while, the wood will swell and block up all the leaks.

5.     One mountain slope is green and the other is barren because the barren side is south facing and gets the brunt of the sun.

6.     Aspen groves are actually just one giant organism network.

7.     California condors lay their eggs on the ground inside caves.

8.     Always bring tissues.

9.     Magpies work in teams. One will perch on top of your car and keep a look out while the other one raids the inside.

10.  I should probably be composting.

11.  The weeds in the community garden make great salad greens.

12.  Tomatoes will love you more than anyone else if you have a heated blanket.

13.  A cactus cat is a cat with bone claws that lives in the desert and gets drunk on fermented cactus juices.

14.  Dill and eggs go well together.

15.  Ask for anything and ye shall receive.

16.  Transients and wanderers welcome.

17.  Paonia is a microclimate.

18.  Talking and adventuring is just as legitimate to the artistic process as the actual making.

19.  Searching for the Woohoos at City Market is a serious skill (that I don’t have).

20.  Direct and explicit communication saves a lot of trouble.

21.  Why buy anything new when you can just get it from the thrift store?

22.  National parks are free on holiday weekends.

23.  Camping is free if you make up your own space.

24.  Aspen ski slopes are free if you pretend like you know what you’re doing.

25.  Everything should be sold through CSA shares.

26.  Water is a valuable resource, especially in the desert, so save jugs of dirty water while the faucet is running.

27.  Ben is great to have around working if you want a solid studio day.

28.  Elsewhere is made for experiences, so don’t just sit inside all day.

29.  The Blue Sage studios are a gem.

30.  There is no better community to live and learn from than the people of Paonia.

The North Fork Dazzled Me - Alyson Davies

Starting 2017 by dancing with the people of Paonia at the New Year’s steam punk celebration was a glorious way to start a new cycle. Being a returning Elsewherian I knew some of what to expect from Elsewhere and Paonia, but was surprised and humbled by the kindness and openness of the community. I found Paonia a loving host for my artistic projects. My co-residents were fabulous humans, absolute gems and kindred spirits. My friendships with them have been inspiring and are shaping into incredible collaborations. Having the basement space to myself was such a blessing, I’m incredibly grateful of being able to make creative messes and attempt new ventues in self directed ceramic play. I learnt a lot about my practice and held many sauna mediation sessions. The North Fork dazzled me with sights, tastes and its residents. My most humble thank you to all of the beautiful souls who do so much to make magic in the world.


Kristina O'Connor

Time works differently at Elsewhere, moving slowly with great generosity. A residency at Elsewhere Studios truly is a choose-your-own-adventure experience.  Arriving into Grand Junction by plane, immediately the landscape drew me into its expansiveness and beauty. I’ve been to Colorado once before, and when talking about Colorado, I always remark how big the sky is…and it’s still true. The colors and textures of the Mesa’s and how open the road appears with rising mountains in the boundless sky- I would have been happy spending the residency looking out the window from the passengers seat in awe. But I did not, only sometimes, on a couple outings with other residents, for which I am grateful.


I strapped in for an adventure looking inward, from the driver’s seat of my own internal and artistic healing- oy. There is no express lane to inner peace and balance; it’s not fair, I know. But, there is a place, that offers time and space to explore the routes and possibilities of what life and the life force of art is and can be.


Elsewhere is the most whimsical place I’ve lived, with ornate décor and stylish oddities, natural beauties, and a vibrant community, events, and happenings to be inspired by. The residence itself is private, right on the way in from one side of town, a walking distance to everything. There is a backyard to explore with a small irrigation creek and an awesome Art Wall. I spent my residency in the basement studio apartment- an absolutely perfect and wonderful safe haven and incubator for personal growth and artistic exploration.


Fair warning, in the basement, there are spiders. They are calm spiders and easy to capture and release, but there are spiders none-the-less. There is an amazing sauna, which is really the highlight of the space. And a cat-door! So Tomatoes the cat can come visit! We had a rough start, but Tomatoes and I became great friends by the end.


Upon arriving, I knew there was a lot of crap inside me to work out. With a huge emphasis on letting go, getting started was challenging. It’s fascinating how, in life, you can become familiar with certain obligations or dysfunction so much so that you develop a type of Stockholm Syndrome for the things that bind you.


Elsewhere challenged that, simply by offering the time and the space, support and encouragement, flexibility, and understanding truly of the diversity of individual artistic processes and personal functioning.  When you yourself start to do the same, the world reveals much more magic, possibility, and serendipity, as you trust in yourself, others, and the process.


It is the perfect place to be curious…to explore things, infinite passions, and human limitations. It is the perfect place to be brave. Everyone around you is supportive, encouraging of your art practice, and completely encouraging of doing what you need to do to take care of yourself.


As the residency came to an end (a slow and generous end), I had the freedom to create my own presentation- taking selected works and incorporating an installation display, to create an experience, reflective of my residency experience, and also a new and curious one for others to enjoy.  The beauty of a shared human experience is how we can relate on an emotional and empathetic level, despite the specifics our own individual journeys.


The chair from my studio space was made available to get comfortable in and view the work from. The display intended visitors to have an experience. Due to heightened social anxiety, I could not be present for the open house. It was an opportunity to really honor my feelings and self. I made the collection of journals and sketchbooks from my residency available, which took a lot of courage to be vulnerable and expose what I think are my secrets and personal workings, confusions, memories, poems, doodles, hopes, dreams, desires, and humorous run-downs of my anxiety experiences.


As time passes, the perilous parts of the adventure will fade…. or time will at least distance me enough that I can laugh about it.  The opportunity to do this and expose my vulnerabilities is an exceptional realization, that really, you can let it all go. You don’t have to hold on to the things you tell yourself about how you are, the past can be the past, you can own your own being, and so what…so what if you’re afraid or sad or anxious…so what. You can still take action, you can be honest, you can get away from the things that hurt you, you can honor your need for solitude, you can be kind, you can be anonymous, you can matter just as much or as little as you want to. You can be however you wish to be, life is cliché-ly really what you make it, and it is truly a process to be alive. I extend my deepest gratitude to Elsewhere Studios for the experience and opportunity.


Macayli Hausmann

When I applied for Elsewhere my main priorities were to change my everyday environment and change the studio practice I had grown comfortable with. Prior to my arrival I had no idea what form my studio practice would take on but I quickly learned that Paonia would offer me all the direction I needed. Paonia provides. There was a number of times where I had said out loud or even simply thought about something I was in need of and it always showed up, whether that be me mentally summoning tomatoes to come sleep with me or wanting new cassettes to listen to and then finding not one but four boxes of cassettes in the basement. Paonia truly does provide. I made work at Elsewhere that I feel could only be made in that time and place. Paonia and Elsewhere specifically is different than anyplace I have ever been before and I feel grateful to have experienced it.

Since My Time At Elsewhere - Liz Cantrell

It’s been about five months since I left Elsewhere Studios, but the time I spent there is never far from my mind. I cherished my two month residency in creative writing and felt very productive in terms of my writing practice and habits.

As far as life after Elsewhere, much has changed. When I arrived, I was in limbo. I had a strange year before my residency. I quit a job, moved home, and felt in flux. I came to Elsewhere seeking to fill a gap in my summer plans before graduate school, and to have space and freedom to write creatively before turning to more academic writing. When I left Elsewhere two months later, I went on a five week hiking and camping road trip, and then quickly moved to New York City to begin graduate school (as had been my plan.) I’m still on track, am enjoying school, and excited for this phase of my education.

However, swamped as I am by grad school commitments, I hate to admit that I haven’t kept up with personal writing as much as I would like. I do journal regularly, but I have put aside deeper creative writing projects, as I primarily write for school now.

Still, my time at Elsewhere continues to shape other aspects of my writing, my career, and my life. Elsewhere restored a sense of a creative arts community, which I had been craving. Elsewhere taught me not to apologize for my interests or passions, and to protect my creative/artistic time. I found a certain stillness, a peace, at Elsewhere. Living in the hectic environment of New York City, I frequently reach for this stillness. I also frequently romanticize the beauty of the North Fork Valley and the spirit of Paonia. How I miss that quirky town.

As someone who came to Elsewhere not as a full-time artist pursuing a specific project or series of projects, but as a wanderlust soul in transition, I believe Elsewhere guided me emotionally and mentally. My residency was one of reflection, experimentation, and excitement for what was ahead. I am indescribably grateful for my Elsewhere experience. While brief, it will remain one of the most free, open, and rich times of my life.

When Whiplash Is A Good Thing - Siri Undlin

So, before I write, say or do anything else, I was to extend a massive thank you to Elsewhere Studios, Mountain Harvest Creative, the Colorado Creative Coalition and the National Endowment for the Arts, without which this opportunity and residency would not have been possible. I am eternally grateful and will be reminded of that gratitude as the work created during my stay at Elsewhere studios continues to unfold. Now, some reflections:

For the last 3 years, I’ve been moving. By choice and always driven by a (somewhat fanatical) belief in the power of story and song to connect us to each other and the world in which we live. I’m lucky to do this, no matter the discomfort and loneliness that comes with a life on the road and I’m proud to be yet another in a long line of troubadours, stretching back thousands of years. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

That being said, I didn’t realize how tired I was when I arrived in Paonia back in July. As I unpacked my bags and put my clothes in an actual dresser, cooked dinner in the same kitchen for days in a row, recognized faces and settled into the fruit groves and rocky nooks, I came to understand that I had arrived as a shell of myself - a hollowed-out, knobby-kneed scarecrow creature that sang folk songs out of habit. I was dizzy from movement and unable to define home. Part lost puppy, part lunatic.

Paonia taught me how allowing for space creates room for possibility; how collaboration is enriched by friendship, how seasons actually feel as they move across the valley. I learned how rejuvenating a good nights sleep can be, basked in the healing glory of apricot jam and hot springs. Every person has a story, a craft, a way of being – and the tales are particularly rich in Paonia. I feel lucky to have been a witness and to have experienced the sensation of returning to myself and my craft in the midst of it all.

Summer had seemed like a little infinity, but it was over so so fast. I’m back on tour now, feeling whiplashed into a lifestyle I love, but will take some readjusting – whizzing down roads, entertaining rooms of unfamiliar faces, feeling solitary in a world heavy with information. As I adventure on today, I’m thinking about how sometimes, whiplash is a good thing, that it means I found a small slice of the world where I felt at peace, that I made friends who challenged me to root down and be my best self. I don’t know that I’m any closer to slowing down or settling in, but Paonia is a home I’ll carry on my sleeve and also in tucked-away pockets. I’m better for it.

How Elsewhere Inspired the Piney Wood Atlas

Alicia Toldi (Oakland, CA) and Carolina Porras (Gainesville, FL) met as residents at Elsewhere Studios in 2013. Alicia applied while living in Brooklyn after three of her friends had recommended the space, one of them calling it “paradise”. Carolina found the residency through a database and was accepted with a scholarship. Due to a last-minute cancellation and a scheduling mishap, the two artists spent the summer together, and felt a mutual growing regard for residency programs, artist communities, and road travel. Elsewhere gave them something of the utmost importance to artists: space and time to focus on creating and challenging their artistic practice. This time of personal focus and exploration facilitated necessary changes, shifts, and next steps in their lives.

After living together in the Sunset district of San Francisco for two years (Alicia moved back to California after the residency), Alicia and Carolina talked about visiting more residencies as a kind of research tour. They soon formed Piney Wood Atlas, a project that visits and catalogues small artist residencies in the hopes of broadening the creative community and showing that the residency and the journey there can be a fun, productive, and attainable adventure. Carolina’s move to Florida has helped broaden their scope and made the project a countrywide endeavor. Their first trip in July 2016 covered fourteen residencies in Northern California, Oregon, and Washington. More regional trips are in the works, as well as guide book/publications for each region and an interactive website.

website/blog: pineywoodatlas.tumblr.com

Instagram: @pineywoodatlas (or instagram.com/pineywoodatlas)

email: pineywoodatlas@gmail.com



Hannah Davis

I applied to Elsewhere because I was intrigued by how secluded it was, placed in a valley in the middle of nowhere. I had been trying to break myself of all of the bad habits I picked up during undergrad, but I hadn’t been able to. I thought the isolation would do me some good.

When I arrived at the quirky establishment I would call my home for the whole month of June, I immediately felt that I had made a right decision in applying there. I soon found out how Paonia worked-everything seemed to move a little bit slower. No one here was in a hurry. At the house, the only sounds were the quiet noise of the other residents working or talking to the occasional visitor and the ditch water running. Tomatoes would sometimes interrupt by howling, if he happened to catch a mouse in the garden.

I think the slow nature of Paonia helped me rethink my studio practice and what I wanted out of my life in general. Before, I would always pressure myself to make work. While at Elsewhere, I drew when I wanted to, and when I didn’t, I didn’t. I spent time with the other residents, talking about work and life, saw a lot of live music... It felt good not to pressure myself into making work all the time. Something about Paonia makes you slow down and take your time.

My work changed in a way I couldn’t imagine. When I loosened up, so did my work. I lost the harsh outline that all of my drawings had before, allowing edges to blur into one another. I am still working on pushing my work to be a little bit more ambiguous and creepy, but I think I took a step in the right direction while here.

I am back to a place where things move quickly again, but I know now that it is important to slow down, and to have all types of experiences. I can’t even imagine how long it would have taken me to come to that conclusion without my stay at Elsewhere; Paonia is a place that really encourages enjoyment of art and life, and I am so grateful for my time there.

Elsewhere as a bookend by nina semczuk

What would your life look like pieced into volumes on a bookshelf, each life change a new edition? Would you have a slew of paperback disposable books, or slim magazines tipped onto a shelf? Is your life more solid and stable, lending itself to a number of hefty, leather-bound, first editions, standing neatly in a row? 

My life's collection would be framed by two raw agate bookends, crystals pointing upward and outward. Within the brilliant blue bookends would be a collection of books, olive drab and uniform, my life in the Army, embodied by books.

My month at Elsewhere, after almost eight years involved with the military, about five years active Army and three years as a Reserve Officer Training Cadet, is the bookend on the right. The left is my summer after high school at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies.

Both experiences led to an illumination of the arts, community, and an open heart. I'm extremely fortunate for having the opportunity to jump so fully into a different world. Lifestyle and culture whiplash is a theme in my life. To go from a world where there's a prescribed way to do almost everything (see Army Regulations and Field Manuals and Training guidance...), to a world of having the freedom to explore different realms of creativity, create my own schedule, and dive into personal writings, is unique and amazing. The juxtaposition of having both experiences back-to-back makes the contrast that much more distinctive, and also more appreciated by me.

As I drove from Colorado to New York after leaving Elsewhere, I listened to a number of podcasts. During one of Tim Ferriss's episodes, he interviewed Sebastian Junger, author of "Tribe", "The Perfect Storm," and director of Restrepo, among many other works. Ferriss asks Junger what he would do to help integrate veterans back into American society. Junger says he advocates that every town opens up a platform, once a year, where any veteran in the community can speak for fifteen minutes and let their story out.

While I'm not originally from Paonia I had this opportunity, thanks to Elsewhere, to share one of my pieces with the Paonia community. My month has been spent trying to wrestle out all the stories I want and need to share about my time in service. While most of my stories lack the sensationalist twist that many people associate with the military, I still feel compelled to open the window on the day-to-day life of an Army regular. While my project is not nearly finished, I established a firm foothold on what comes next and wrote more than fifteen short pieces.

Paonia and Elsewhere community, thank you so much for the support, open-hearted conversations, and warmth. Walking around Paonia and recognizing one out of three people on the street is a special feeling. I've been swallowed by large institutions most of my life, mainly by choice, but the experience of a close community is one that I have never felt until this August, at my 26th year of life. I feel fortunate to know for certain that there are people out in the world who still enjoy a vibrant arts community, closeness of a small town, and the open creative minds that create such things as Elsewhere.

Now I'm off to Brooklyn! Another place I've never visited, but will now inhabit. Hopefully I'll bring a little bit of the Elsewhere spirit with me. Please don't hesitate to reach out and say hi! Email me at ninakeithcreative@gmail.com.