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The first snow of the year lingers in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains near Red Grade Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020.

A few lingering Christmas decorations and displays remind us that we safely managed to make it through the holiday season. For most of this year, we shifted to cultural events as local venues switched to virtual concerts, plays and exhibitions. While they refueled our spirits, we missed the social interaction with friends and engagement with the performers. The artists missed the laughter, tears, joy, pleasure and applause from an audience.

And speaking of audiences, I send out a special thank you to all of you who missed Jentel Presents 2020 on the first Tuesday of the month. Neltje, the staff and I appreciate your support for our outreach program, featuring visual artist presentations and readings by writers and poets in residence at Jentel. We miss you! 

After saying goodbye to our last group of residents in mid-May, we opted to reschedule the remaining 2020 residency awards for next year. While the residents from urban centers all over the U.S. looked longingly to the time and space of Jentel, they were relieved to forego the challenges of safe travel, being away from elderly family, leaving partners with work and home-schooling and compromised health issues.

You can only begin to imagine how the staff and I miss having residents on site! While the six residents quickly form their own community and are often invisible as they hunker down in their studios, the staff do interact from time to time. We are aware of a safety-orange-vested runner on Lower Piney Road or are tracking down a contact for an artist interested in photographing ranch life. A weekly trip into town for groceries and errands to local businesses is always a treat. Without getting all touchy feely, believe me, the energy of work and creativity permeates the site. 

Without residents, the staff was busy this fall with minor repairs and maintenance, plus all those stacks of good ideas and updates to implement, which we saved for another time. Now was that time! The facilities, while well-maintained, are almost two decades old. Who doesn’t have a Honey-Do List on the fridge? Plus, good ideas generate more good ideas. Letters to our over 1,200 alumni, heartfelt emails in return and Zoom chats with others, plus correspondence with residents scheduled for 2021 made the weeks short and days shorter.

In mid-January, we look forward to welcoming artists and writers to Jentel. To Jentel, where the equivalent of a residency styled lockdown for a month awaits them in private studios, in a comfortable house, in over a thousand acres of foothills to explore and 7 miles of county road to ramble. To Jentel, a place where they will have the gift of time and space to respect their differences and share their similarities. To Jentel, where they may shape images and words to form a conversation among themselves and with future audiences of viewers, readers and listeners.

To the New Year 2021 filled with many opportunities to celebrate our shared differences and similarities, to respect and honor each other for our convictions and commitments, and to renew the art of conversation after a performance at the Whitney Center for the Arts, a concert at the WYO, an opening reception at SAGE or later this year after an evening at Jentel Presents. Wishing you the best and brightest!

Mary Jane Edwards is executive director of Jentel Foundation.

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