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Nevada County artist Ruth Chase launches new project, I AM HERE

Ginny Woods, an ordained Tibetan Buddhist nun, and artist Ruth Chase during an initial meeting for I AM HERE. The participants will be involved in wokshops and will create a final installation.
deeannedinelli; Dee Anne Dinelli | Photo courtesy of Dee Anne Dinel

For the last three-plus years, artist Ruth Chase has been immersed in a series of projects that, at their core, focus on what it means to belong.

Her “West of Lincoln” project, which she completed in 2017, involved more than 300 participants and documented life growing up in the beach town of Venice before gentrification.

This last year, Chase — who now lives in Nevada County — further explored what it means to be a part of a community with “Belonging,” a multimedia initiative funded by a grant from the California Arts Council as part of its Artists Activating Communities Program.

“I think of myself as curious,” Chase said. “My curiosity allows me to have conversations with people who are totally different from me. … One of art’s greatest roles is allowing us to have conversations, allowing us to see things in new ways. I want people to be stimulated by new ways of looking at things.”

Working with local cinematographer Radu Sava, Chase interviewed 10 diverse subjects unified by the land to which they have dedicated their lives — Rick Berry, founder and director of 4 Elements Earth Education; Jeff Brown of Sagehen; Jonathan Collier, executive board member of Nevada County Cannabis Alliance; Shelly Covert, spokeswoman for Nevada City Rancheria; Nancy Lopez, a visual artist in Truckee; Elisa Parker of See Jane Do and KVMR; Philip Oyung, a descendant of one of the first Chinese families to immigrate to Nevada County; Aimee Retzler, co-director of Sierra Harvest; Mike Stewart, a retired fire captain and Washington resident; and Rob Thompson of Legacy Ranching.

Lori Lachman followed the project, taking photographs of the people and places that Ruth and Radu traveled throughout the year of the Belonging project. These photographs, Chase’s large-scale acrylic paintings and a collaboration of work from the community are currently on exhibit through July 30 at Summer Thyme’s, 231 Colfax Ave., Grass Valley.

In an essay that Chase read at a recent YubaLit event, “She persisted,” the artist noted that it is no coincidence that she has been working with the theme of belonging, telling the audience, “That has been the theme of my life.”

Chase launches I AM HERE

Now, Chase is embarking on another journey of exploring what it means to belong, with a new project titled I AM HERE, about how women find and maintain their sense of belonging in a changing rural landscape. The project is an initiative of Nevada County Arts Council and is partially funded by a $13,500 grant from the California Arts Council through its Artists Activating Communities Program.

The Nevada County Arts Council is one of 71 grantees chosen for the Artists in Communities program, and one of just a handful awarded to small rural counties. The grants are meant to support artistic residencies in community settings, demonstrating that artists are integral to healthy communities and that the arts are a societal cornerstone that brings people together, builds community and fosters social progress.

“We worked hard to produce a grant application which expanded upon the first year of our program, Belonging,” said Eliza Tudor, executive director at Nevada County Arts Council, said. “This particular program … demands that the artist expose his or her community not only to art, but art in connection with ideas that shine a light on both our individuality and our sense of togetherness — our ‘belonging.’”

During the year-long project, Chase will act as lead artist to elicit perspectives through the use of social media, public art-making salons, a short film, and a culminating interactive public installation.

As with her earlier projects, Chase will use social media as part of the process, saying it is a good way to reach a broader community to participate in the conversation.

She stressed that I AM HERE is very much meant to be a conversation, and not necessarily one that comes up with any answers. And as part of that, she is striving to make the dialogue as broad-based and wide-ranging as possible by including a wide spectrum of participants.

“It’s a conversation we often don’t get to have anymore,” Chase said. “We usually only do with those who are like us.”

The participants include Cassie Angle, who raises goats; Elma Eden Baker; girls from The Friendship Club; Melinda Booth from Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival; Virginia Rose Covert from the Nisenan tribe; Isis Indriya; and Kayle Martin.

The featured participants are the core of I AM HERE, Chase explained. None of the women are artists by profession and none, probably, have ever been involved with a project like this one.

They will be involved in four workshops through the year and then come up with the final installation, with the theme of women in a rural county, which will be housed in a structure that might be in downtown Nevada City. The details still are being worked out, Chase said, but she envisions a booth where people can look inside and then participate in some sort of “inquiry.”

“The women involved will come up with the specifics,” she said. “I want it to be their great idea, not mine. … Being a facilitator in this conversation is so exciting for me.”

There are multiple other aspects to the project, including the film that will document the process. There also will be a support team of volunteer artists whose work will be exhibited at BriarPatch.

Different this time will be a series of free arts workshops that will be paid for by the grant.

“You don’t have to be an artist to participate,” Chase said, adding that the work produced will be part of the final exhibit.

Exploring a theme with different, evolving aspects to the project has been really challenging, she said.

“Grant-funded projects typically are not linear,” Chase said. “It’s not just, say, a mural. It’s hard to explain.”

In keeping with the process as conversation, Chase has no idea what the end result will look like.

“I hope the stories and the insights will touch different kinds of women in different ways,” she said. “It will be interesting. I’m a little nervous, I gotta tell you.”

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.

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